Because it’s preseason and because it’s the Jets, the talk so far leading up to their first preseason game has centered squarely on the quarterback competition.
Though Christian Hackenberg’s reps have been tabulated with the care of an accountant during tax week, the truth is vast swathes of the roster remain in flux going into the Jets’ preseason opener against the Titans on Saturday night.
So much so that, even when we do see Hackenberg go out there with the first-team offense, it’s, well . . . not exactly a first-team offense, coach Todd Bowles said.
“First team line is questionable right now because there are a lot of battles going on at the tackle spots and the center spots so, when you see him in there it’s not a matter of a certain group of guys,” Bowles said Thursday at the Florham Park training facility. “There’s about eight of them vying for spots right now.”
Who Hackenberg plays alongside won’t necessarily be the starter when the season begins.
Bowles’ comment is interesting in that it raises more questions to answer. In the last few weeks, it had been believed that Wesley Johnson would assume Nick Mangold’s role at center, but Bowles confirmed on Thursday that this wasn’t the case. Along with the competition at right tackle — Brent Qvale and Brandon Shell appear to be neck-and-neck — it now looks like Johnson will have to duke it out with Jonotthan Harrison for the starting role.
Bowles said Saturday night’s game won’t necessarily portend what we see in Week 1 against the Bills. Though preseason games are important, the number of lingering questions means that a true decision won’t happen until later on, when one cohesive unit has played together for enough time, and only then “will [it] start to separate itself,” he said.
One of the few who doesn’t have to worry about his job security — defensive end Leonard Williams — said he relished in watching the competition blossom. The defense this training camp has been humming with position battles. There’s a race at both outside linebacker positions, and though Buster Skrine appears to be up for the last cornerback position, Juston Burris is on his tail.
“Competition is what pushes your talents to come out,” Williams said. “And when you have someone competing with you, you’re both going to be a better player at the end of the day and that’s what we need and that’s what I like about having a younger team. Everyone is competing and we’re constantly getting evaluated and they’re always pushing us to be the best we can be.”
Jordan Jenkins — one of half a dozen players vying for an outside linebacker spot, and a presumed favorite — categorized the process as “very intense.”
“We might have one day when one of us is ahead,” the second-year player said. “One of us will make an exceptional play. The next day, three other guys make an exceptional play . . . There’s almost no lulls between us.”
And come Saturday night, probably not many answers, either.