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Injuries to key WRs force QBs to make do with backups

Joseph Collins, left, stands alongside fellow wide receivers

Joseph Collins, left, stands alongside fellow wide receivers K.J. Stroud, center, and Royce Pollard during the team's second day of rookie camp at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. (May 11, 2013) (Credit: James Escher)

After taking the final rep of an abysmal two-minute drill period, Mark Sanchez headed toward the sideline for a sip of water. Then, he walked over to new wide receiver Vidal Hazelton.

For several minutes, Sanchez motioned with his hands as he and Hazelton, a Staten Island native, went over various play-calls and routes. Following a bunch of miscues on the practice field, both quarterback and young receiver were intent on getting back on the same page. Quickly.

This is where Sanchez and Smith now find themselves: fighting for a starting job with limited resources at their disposal. Four of the team's top receivers were sidelined Wednesday due to injury: Stephen Hill (knee swelling/fluid build-up) and Jeremy Kerley (heel) participated in individual drills, but were forced to sit out the team period as a precaution. Meanwhile, Clyde Gates is still nursing a hamstring injury.

The good news for the Jets is all three are expected to be back on the field for the start of next week’s mandatory minicamp. But Rex Ryan said there’s a possibility Santonio Holmes (Lisfranc) will begin training camp on the PUP list.

Sanchez and Smith have raved about Marty Mornhinweg’s West Coast offense (“I feel like this is the kind of coordinator and system that puts you in a good spot,” Sanchez said Wednesday), but both QBs have had to adjust to a new offense without a full complement of weapons.

Receiver injuries, however, are nothing new for the Jets.

Sanchez reminded the room that the Jets "didn't have a healthy wide receiver from the beginning of the season until the very last game” in 2012 when they went 6-10.

“Whoever’s out there, you trust them and expect them to run the right route, to be at the right spot at the right time," he said. "And if they’re not, you just go to your next progression and move on. And if that means it becomes a throwaway drill, then that’s all you can do.”

“…We’ve got to try to avoid those injuries at all costs cause this is the time where you really develop timing and chemistry with your wideouts. And when you don’t have them out there you just have to do the best you can with the guys you have. And I’ve thought they’ve done a great job of stepping up.”

But the patience of position coach Sanjay Lal wore thin Wednesday, making the absence of Hill, Kerley, Holmes and Gates all the more glaringly.

Smith was intercepted by second-year linebacker Demario Davis after his pass to Thomas Mayo ricocheted off the receiver’s hands. And later, another Smith pass – intended for Hazelton – was intercepted by cornerback Darrin Walls. But when the receiver failed to immediately chase down Walls, Lal chewed him out and told Hazelton to sit out the next play.

For the remainder of pracitce, both Sanchez and Smith struggled to find their groove with the backups.

Ryan sa id it's been "brutal" trying to assess the WR corps because of injuries.

“If we had to play, obviously there would be major concerns,” said the coach. “Now, some of those guys probably would be able to play. But obviously, you’re going to look a lot different when you’re top four guys are out there than you would right now.

“We had some guys that were really making strides. I really like the way Gates was progressing. And Stephen Hill was really progressing I thought. And that was really encouraging to see. Obviously, those two guys have top-end speed…Those two we want to have take a big jump – and we need them to.”  

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