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The time from now until training camp can be filled with a mix of vacations and training regiments for players and personnel, but for hardcore NFL fans it’s more of a time filled with vodka and despair.
We’ll be counting down to the July 23rd, report-to-Cortland date, by featuring current players with roster numbers that correspond with the number of days left. For days without a corresponding player, we’ll be featuring other players and maybe (like today) some surprises.
18 Days = #18 Michael Campbell and…?
Wide Receiver Michael Campbell, out of Temple University, joined the New York Jets as an undrafted free agent in 2011. He has spent the majority of his career on the team’s practice squad, but did spend some time with the St. Louis Rams organization, during the post-2011 offseason.
Having been stashed multiple times on the Jets’ practice squad, one would be led to believe that the team sees some future value in Campbell, and has attempted to develop him into an NFL-caliber player. Last season, Campbell spent about a month (from October to November) on the active roster due to injuries at the wide receiver position, before being relegated back to practice squad duties.
As Campbell has yet to catch a pass in the NFL, or be a player that looks primed to stake a claim for an active roster receiver position, we’ll shift gears for today’s countdown piece. We do wish the best of luck to Campbell — as seen in a player like Damon ‘Snacks’ Harrison, surprises do exist.
1 More Topic, 8 Players with Something to Prove in 2014
Arranged in last name alphabetical order, not importance, etc.
OLB Antwan Barnes
Signing with the team prior to the 2013 season, Barnes was expected to bring the Jets pass-rush, first and foremost, before any coverage acumen. In the Jets’ fifth game of the season versus Atlanta, Barnes suffered a knee injury that caused his to miss the rest of the season. Rex Ryan called the injury ‘tough,’ noting that Barnes was an underrated piece to the defensive successful, up to that point. (NJ.com, Oct 9, 2013)
Barnes had managed two sacks before his injury, but the team never really got to see him fully blossom in Green and White. He has been a late-season riser in his career, having accumulated 12.5 sacks of 18.5 total sacks in Week 9 or later, in his previous three seasons. Barnes will be expected to come back from his setback with a renewed energy, to hopefully bolster a weaker pass-rush.
OLB Quinton Coples
Speaking of pass-rush, here’s a player that has not (yet) lived up to the expectations the Jets placed on him, by drafting him with the 16th overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft. Coples was initially drafted as a defensive end, but was converted into an outside linebacker following the Jets’ selection of Sheldon Richardson in the 2013 NFL Draft. This transition, which requires both a physical and mental change, may have stunted Coples’ growth, thus far.
His statistical impact in games has remained near flat in the transition, but a hairline ankle fracture sustained in a preseason matchup against the Jaguars, may have flown under-the-radar. Coples returned in Week 3 of the regular season, but there did appear to be some hesitancy in his play, due to the injury.
Coples has slimmed down from his initial 290 lbs size, and that will perhaps allow him to move quicker and get to opposing quarterbacks.
ILB DeMario Davis
Davis enters is third season with the Jets. In his first two seasons with the team, Davis has been a very vocal leader — providing both inspiration and instruction to his teammates. However, the game is played on the field, and Davis will have to step up his play if he is to remain a starting linebacker.
In Jared’s feature on Davis, he noted that the linebacker is a ‘jack-of-all-trades but master of none.’ While possessing the speed to recover on missteps, Davis has to take better angles and better recognize offensive decisions. In 2013, under a greater spotlight, he didn’t necessarily cave to pressure, but there is definitely room for improvement in a Rex Ryan defense that asks so much of its players.
ILB David Harris
Harris, unlike the previous players listed, had a very impressive 2013 campaign. He recorded his third-highest tackle total of his career (124), of seven seasons of work. Beyond the numbers, he looked very comfortable on the field and was consistently directing teammates to their assignments.
So why does he make this list? Harris will be asked to continue his production, while now in his 30s and having missed just five games in his career (all in 2008). That takes a toll on a player’s body, but the Jets cannot afford to lose out on a player that is consistently in the mix of things — always aware of where the play is taking place. He will also be asked to continue to mentor his younger partner, Davis.
WR Stephen Hill
Where do I start? Besides two great performances against the Buffalo Bills, 2012 second-rounder Stephen Hill has looked even rawer than his pre-draft naysayers led on. Having played in somewhat of a ‘trick offense’ at Georgia Tech, Hill had produced plenty of flash, while not being asked to do nearly the same number of things that an NFL wide receiver is asked to do. That includes understand a full route tree, fighting off big-body defenders, and finding space in coverage on a consistent basis.
Through 23 games of work (as Hill has battled the injury bug), he has recorded just 45 receptions for 594 yards and four touchdowns. That would be expected out of a later round, third through fifth-option wide receiver. However, being a second-rounder that also cost the Jets a fifth and seventh-round selection via a trade-up, Hill has been expected to produce much more.
Training camp will be Hill’s first test in 2014 — can he even remain a 53-man roster player? Even if the Jets remain confident in the potential of Hill, he’ll have to fight for playing time against a newly stocked wide receiver group.
The speedster CJ2k has less to prove to the New York Jets or NFL at large, and more to prove to the Tennessee Titans organization and all of his fantasy football critics.
After providing the Titans with 1,000+ yards of rushing production each year from 2008-2013, Johnson felt slighted when the team released him in April. He has just one season in which he’s earned the ‘CJ2k’ moniker, but his blazing speed and high yards per carry averages, have justified his frustration.
With New York, Johnson will look to show that he hasn’t lost much of a step, and will especially be pumped up for the team’s game against the Titans in Week 15.
WR David Nelson
Nelson is one of the nicest players you’ll meet or hear about — his constant charitable work in Haiti and general upbeat demeanor will back that up. In 2013, Nelson was perhaps rewarded from above when the New York Jets signed him in October to bolster a weakened receiver group.
Call it good scouting or good timing, but Nelson quickly became a favorite target of Geno Smith, probably for his height (6’5″) and reliable hands. In 12 games, Nelson recorded 36 receptions for 423 yards and two touchdowns.
As with any receiver on the roster not named Decker or Kerley, Nelson will have to fight for his right to play on the 53-man opening day roster. His production in 2013 wasn’t enough to make him not expendable, but it was enough to impress some doubters to his mid-season addition. Nelson will have to show that he’s more than part-time player to earn a full-time paycheck.
Our final player was one of the weakest in the bunch this previous season, after being thrusted into a starting guard role, as the Jets moved forward from the Valdimir Ducasse experiment.
Winters, a 2013 third-rounder from Kent State, was not afforded the luxury to learn off-the-job, as some of the Jets’ other offensive line selections have been. Still, Winters is just as accountable for his play as any other starter. In December, ProFootballFocus.com ranked Winters 72nd of 76 eligible players at the guard position. He consistently allowed pressure in Geno Smith’s face, causing a fellow rookie to make snap decisions that may have cost games.
The Jets don’t have that many options at the position in 2014, but they’ll surely not allow Winters to remain a liability, should he not improve in training camp, preseason, and/or the regular season’s early goings. Players like converted guard, William Campbell, will be licking their chops for the opportunity to showcase their abilities in relief duty.