A retiring Brett Favre. The Sanchize that wasn’t. Geno Smith (twice). Michael Vick. Pick-happy Ryan Fitzpatrick. Perpetually benched Christian Hackenberg. Thirty-nine-year-old Josh McCown.
It sure has been a wild ride, hasn’t it?
The Jets’ seemingly perpetual search for a quarterback has taken on almost mythic proportions at this point, but with training camp beginning this week and optimism in the air, this team hangs some of its substantial hopes on the arm of 21-year-old Sam Darnold.
And it’s that glint of hope that will be the prevailing theme as camp opens: The Jets, despite their 5-11 record, actually exceeded preseason expectations last year, and all signs point to this team having improved enough to be competitive in the AFC East. In Darnold, they could potentially have the savior they’ve been looking for — and one they haven’t really had since Joe Namath — though he’ll no doubt take time to acclimate to the speed and intricacies of the professional game.
What this all means is a legitimate competition for Week 1 starter, and this time, it won’t be of the “lesser of three evils” variety. For one thing, McCown, despite his age, showed he still had the ability to lead the offense last season, and proved himself a capable teacher and acceptable stopgap. The team signed Teddy Bridgewater, too, giving them more depth at the quarterback position than they’ve had in some time, as long as his surgically repaired knee holds up.
It also means that this training camp should be fairly fun from the outside looking in — a stark contrast from last year, when players were fielding questions about how dire everyone’s predictions were.
Trumaine Johnson — the big offseason signing — gives the Jets the shutdown cornerback they sorely missed last year. He, along with Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye at safety, help make up a strong and dynamic secondary. With that more or less figured out, the Jets can turn their attention to the rest of their tattered defense. There isn’t much behind Leonard Williams and Steve McLendon on the defensive line, and the team has holes at outside linebacker as well.
That means that the Jets will spend the next week looking for answers: Can Avery Williamson replicate the results he had in limited playing time with the Titans last year? Will either of the rookies on the defensive line — Folorunso Fatukasi and Nathan Shepherd — step up and earn a spot?
And the biggie: Can the offense carry this team like the defense once did?
The Jets didn’t make any big improvements at running back, with Isaiah Crowell currently being the only real significant acquisition there. Crowell ran for 853 yards last year, on 206 carries, with two touchdowns. Elijah McGuire, a rookie last year, will try to climb up the depth chart after showing a few flashes last season.
Unfortunately, the Jets’ best offensive weapon is mired in legal trouble, though it’s not yet clear how this could affect Robby Anderson’s season. Last month, the wide receiver pleaded no contest to five charges stemming from a Jan. 19 arrest. Though some of his legal woes seem to be settled — he’s on probation for six months but can travel — the league has not said whether it plans to fine or suspend him.
The speedy Anderson was a revelation last year, jibing well with McCown and leading the team with seven receiving touchdowns and 941 yards.
With the first three spots in good hands — Anderson, Jermaine Kearse and Quincy Enunwa — camp will be a prime opportunity for the corps to bond with the two new quarterbacks. Additionally, the Jets have a tantalizing option in Terrelle Pryor, who was brilliant in 2016 before an injury derailed him.