FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The Jets will play their fourth preseason game against the Eagles on Thursday . . . wait! Don’t stop reading yet.
While the final preseason game has long been a tedious exercise for NFL teams — so much so that the league has discussed nixing it altogether — the Jets and coach Todd Bowles are looking at this week’s contest as a prime opportunity to answer some very pressing questions that will factor into the season. That’s right: For them, Thursday matters.
“We have some roster spots up for grabs, so it’s valuable to us,” Bowles said after practice Monday.
By then, the Jets had already cut 11 players, and will need to cut three more before Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline to bring them down to 75. On Sept. 3, that number will have to go down to 53. As it turns out, injuries, a talented young receiving corps and a few other factors have made that whittling process more difficult.
“There are quite a few guys I want to see, quite a few guys that were nicked up that didn’t get a chance to play and have a chance to prove themselves,” Bowles said, adding that there were “quite a few” spots for the taking.
“You get to play a whole game, you get to see them when they’re fatigued, you get to see them when they play special teams. You get a good look at them when they play offense and defense, so you get a good gauge of what kind of guy you’re getting. They get a lot of playing time in this game so we’ll see.”
Players to watch Thursday include the three rookie wide receivers that have fully impressed veteran Brandon Marshall: Jalin Marshall, Charone Peake and Robby Anderson. (Brandon Marshall last week said the Jets should keep all of them, and that was before the team cut Kyle Williams on Monday.)
Cornerback Dexter McDougle, who’s been battling a hamstring injury, is also a bubble player, as is CB Dee Milliner. Brandon Bostick might also need to distinguish himself in the Jets’ thin tight end pool.
Basically, there’s no shortage of tough decisions, though the wide receiver battle may be the most intriguing. Though the Jets certainly don’t need to take Marshall’s advice and carry all of them, contributions on special teams could certainly bolster individual cases.
“They’ve all flashed at certain times,” Bowles said of the three. “Obviously, they all have a long way to go. They’ve got to play to get some more experience. Everyone hasn’t thrown their best coverages and everything at them. They have a little more to go as far as reading coverages and everything like that. This game is important so they get some valuable experience. All of them are still fighting and there are going to be some tough choices to be made.”
Ryan Fitzpatrick has been on both ends of those tough choices, and knows all too well that while others may write off this last game, it means everything to players vying for their NFL future.
You’re “trying to help out as much as possible” going into the week, said Fitzpatrick, who, with most other first-string players, won’t be on the field Thursday. “This is a huge week for some of the guys that are kind of on the bubble, I think. I certainly understand that, I understand how important this is for them, not just for this year but for their careers.”
Asked if he had any advice for them, Fitzpatrick made it easy: Just don’t overthink it.
“Just go out and play,” he said. “Don’t think about the outcome, don’t think about the what-ifs, just go out and play. As long as you put everything you have into it, you’ll be satisfied with the outcome.”