THE BELIEF Looks
grim, folks, but there's a 35-year-old coach, Eric Mangini, one of the cum
laude graduates of the Bill Belichick system, and he's switching the defense to
a 3-4 with lots of variations. The Jets are going to be smart and versatile
and, hopefully, respectable.
THE REALITY Where
to start? for a while, nobody was sure who the quarterback would be. The
featured running back looks like a memory. The offensive line is minus its Pro
Bowl center ( Kevin Mawae, gone to the Titans). The defensive line is without
its leading pass rusher ( John Abraham, off to the Falcons). There is no
prototype 3-4 nosetackle to eat up gaps and blockers.
O.K., let's start
with Mangini. His finest moment came in 2004, when he was New England's
secondary coach and everyone was getting injured. He turned a wideout, Troy
Brown, into a nickelback; started a linebacker, Don Davis, at free safety; and
filled in spots with a pair of street free agents. The end product was the
Patriots' third Super Bowl victory. "We were scrambling, and we got
lucky," Mangini says. "You can do stuff like that in an emergency
situation, but not for a whole season."
the quarterback, has suffered a serious shoulder injury in each of the last two
seasons. He has been carefully scrutinized on every throw and has delivered the
ball with a more relaxed motion than last year-not trying to drill it.
"I've always been a passer, not a thrower," he says. "Besides, the
shoulder has had four more months to heal this year."
Curtis Martin was
the team's emotional leader. He's also 33, and only two runners in NFL history,
Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton, have carried the ball more. He dragged a bad
knee through most of last season, finally undergoing surgery in December. He
was inactive in training camp, and when asked about the knee, he said,
"It's hard to talk about it." The Jets picked up Kevan Barlow from the
49ers, but without a healthy Martin, there is no serious running game. And
right now there is no healthy Martin on the horizon.
traded for a first-round choice. At the time the move looked bad. Now it looks
good. Kimo von Oelhoffen, the 300-pounder the Jets brought in to replace him,
is a typical 3-4 end; Abraham isn't. And the draft choice turned out to be Nick
Mangold, a promising center.
defensive star is middle (now inside) linebacker Jonathan Vilma, active and
far-ranging, but undersized at 230. Former first-rounder Dewayne Robertson is
the nose man. He can shoot the gap but has never been called on to control it.
That's where coaching comes in.
coached for 10 years in Belichick's 3-4, isn't stupid. There are a lot of
things one can do with the inside linebackers, and forcing the 230-pound Vilma
to stand tall while the 320-pound guards draw a bead on him is not one of them.
"He'll figure something out," Vilma says. "The system isn't
expecting great things from this team, which lacks gamebreakers on both sides
of the ball-just stability from the new coaching staff, the right players in
the right spots and concerted effort. It's a rebuilding year. A 7-9 record
would be good, anything better than that remarkable.