FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — There have been plenty of times in the past two weeks when the Jets seemed to be missing half their team — a viable running threat in Week 1, a punt returner in Week 2, a defensive lineman in both. But for all they’ve had to endure with their rebuilt roster, it appears their greatest challenge yet will come Sunday.
They won’t just “seem” to be missing key players, they likely will.
The picture appeared gloomy after practice Thursday when Todd Bowles went through his litany of injured. There was right guard Brian Winters (abdomen) and both young tight ends, Jordan Leggett and Neal Sterling — all of whom didn’t practice. Another name on that list was defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, nursing the shoulder he bruised in Oakland. Almost as concerning was that Leonard Williams, who was a full participant in practice Wednesday, was limited Thursday, still hurting from the wrist sprain he received in the preseason game against the Giants.
Wide receiver Robby Anderson (knee) also was limited.
Bowles did not officially scratch anyone for the game against the Dolphins, but the possibilities aren’t in the Jets’ favor. They might have to face an explosive defensive tackle in Ndamukong Suh with Dakota Dozier instead of Winters. Or defend against Jay Cutler (and really, wide receiver Jarvis Landry, one of the most targeted players in the league) without Wilkerson and a less-than-healthy Williams.
“I’ve been having some ups and downs with it,” Williams said when asked if his wrist — what he called a bone bruise — has affected his play (he has no sacks and seven tackles, one solo, this year). “It’s been bothering me at times, not overall. I’ve been staying in the training room as much as possible to keep it healthy and coach Bowles has been doing a good job of making sure I’m not using it too much, and like I said, it’s his decision [whether Williams plays Sunday] after that.”
He added that he didn’t feel an exorbitant amount of discomfort during the game, thanks to “a lot of adrenaline,” but often pays the price after.
“It’s a little tender, and that’s why it’s up to me to stay on top of it and make sure that I’m in the training room getting the swelling down and getting everything corrected,” he said. “It’s up to me to get it healed as fast as possible.”
If Wilkerson, who doesn’t believe his injury is serious, is out Sunday against the Dolphins, it will severely hobble a defensive unit that went from preseason bright spot to a fairly dark cloud. Considering that neither defensive end managed a sack Sunday against the Raiders, the Jets can ill afford any sort of downgrade up front.
“I think we need better play from everybody on defense,” coordinator Kacy Rodgers said. “Everybody needs to step their game up. Everybody should be on notice. We take a lot of pride in playing defense and right now we have to get better . . . I’m not discouraged, but it’s still early in our season and we got a ways to go.”
Bowles and offensive coordinator John Morton expressed confidence that the understudies can step up. In particular, Morton said he trusts Dozier to fill in for Winters. The unspoken part was, yes, even against Suh.
“I was real pleasantly surprised with how well he did [last week]. He was physical and that’s how we want our line to be, and he finished guys,” Morton said of Dozier. “You saw a couple times, it was good stuff, good stuff . . . I don’t have a problem [starting him]. I have the upmost confidence in any guy that comes in.”
Added Bowles: “I think it’s time for him to play.”
Come Sunday, there might not be much of a choice.