Desperation Means Experimentation in New York

The Jets are willing to try anything—and we mean anything—to spark an offense that was moribund and ridiculed in 2012

Jenny Vrentas
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CORTLAND, N.Y. — For the price of free admission, on a wide-open practice field at the state university here, more than 1,000 fans watched yesterday morning as the Jets worked on becoming a certain kind of offense.

What kind of offense? Well, personnel deployment, and formations, and offensive schemes are forbidden from being reported—a policy most NFL teams share during training camp, despite the fact that anyone could grab a ticket and watch every installation from the grandstand.

But we can say this: The Jets are open to exploring all kinds of ways to move the ball and score some points, two things they were among the worst in the league at doing in 2012.

“It’s either that, or you better be really good,” coach Rex Ryan says. “And if that’s the case, then why create something?”

To Ryan’s point, there are a few paths to take when designing an offense in the NFL. Some teams keep it simple because they have a really good traditional passer. Some teams scheme for the unique dual-threat quarterbacks rising from the college ranks.

The Jets are in another category: They don’t know yet who their starting quarterback will be. Mark Sanchez has four seasons of experience, but yesterday’s practice displayed his limitations: Of his nine passes in team drills, he completed just three, with one interception. Second-round pick Geno Smith’s throws stand out for their strength and smoothness, but he is untested against NFL defenses, which showed on a play yesterday when he held onto the ball too long then unwisely fired into double coverage.

The Jets do know, though, that they can’t afford to be the third-worst offense in the league again—not if they want to finish better than 6-10—so they’re practicing with an open mind. New offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is installing a West Coast offense that was extremely productive during most of his seven years with the Eagles, but the boundaries of his system are not the boundaries of the Jets offense.

On the Road

The last time Rex Ryan signed a traveling media bus, in Aug, 2010, he wrote, “Soon to be champs.” Three years later, times have changed. The Jets coach inscribed only his John Hancock on The MMQB RV yesterday, when he joined us for a quick interview (see bottom of the story) after the team’s morning practice.

We hit the road right after Mark Sanchez’s press conference, bound for Ohio. Our drive took us around Seneca Lake, past a sandwich shop called “King’s Market” and over to Jamestown, N.Y., where we watched five (scoreless) innings of the minor league Jammers. Can’t say enough about the good people of Jamestown, whose warm welcome went above and beyond giving us directions to Ashtabula.

Today, we’re spending the day with the Browns in Berea. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will also be in town, announcing a partnership with Pop Warner to endorse USA Football’s Heads Up Football program, as part of a push to make the game safer from youth football up.

“You’ve got newer-school players who are used to stretching the field,” receiver Jeremy Kerley says, “so he’s open to all kinds of ideas. He’s not just set in his ways.”

Ryan drew some eye rolls in the public when he said yesterday that the Wildcat would be “part of what we do.” Go ahead: Is this 2009? Moreover: Is this 2012? Haven’t the Jets been here before, with a guy named Tim Tebow? There’s no way of knowing how much the Jets will actually use the Wildcat or, probably more accurately, a wider package of read-option-type plays, during the regular season. But Ryan’s commitment to this being a part of his team’s repertoire goes back to the notion of “creating something.”

Ryan views the game with a defensive mind, so he uses an example from his days as the Ravens defensive coordinator, when a depleted lineup pushed him to use Adalius Thomas, all 270 pounds or so of hulking linebacker, at safety. “You better come up with something,” Ryan says. Essentially: Where you don’t have an advantage, you’ve got to scheme one up.

Both the Wildcat and the read-option help an offense do that, because when the player taking a snap is a threat to run, it takes away the defense’s man advantage and creates 11-on-11 football. Back to the earlier point: Didn’t the Jets promise this last season, with Tebow? The hype a year ago—stoked by moves like practicing the Wildcat in camp practices closed to the public and partially shielded from the media—never came close to being matched.

With former offensive coordinator Tony Sparano at the helm, Tebow only played 77 offensive snaps and averaged just two carries per game. This summer, though, people around the team say there seems to be more of a commitment to actually running these packages. The new quarterbacks coach, David Lee, spearheaded the Wildcat’s graduation to the NFL with the Dolphins in 2009. And Kerley, who has run the Wildcat for the Jets in the past, said one difference is that instead of having a so-called designated Wildcat quarterback, the Jets are rotating about three players.

Then, there’s this: Ryan likes the advantage “even better” when a quarterback, rather than a receiver or running back, is at the helm. Does that open the door for Smith to see more playing time, or earn the starting job?

While Smith was used as a traditional pocket passer at West Virginia, the Jets can see him in that role, a player with a strong arm who can also run. “I see Geno as an athlete,” Kerley says. “If you’ve got a guy that can really do that, and who can do it well, he’s going to be a factor.”

One week into training camp, Smith has been holding his own on the practice field. Ryan gushed about Smith’s “96 mile-per-hour fastball,” before quickly adding that Sanchez has “a good enough arm” to start in the NFL. One practice doesn’t tell the whole story, but the feeling around the team is that while Sanchez had the early advantage, the quarterback competition is about even right now—and if it stays even, that bodes well for Smith.

So would helping the offense be able to create something, in whatever way that comes.

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The MMQB crew has hit the road for training camps. Check out all our coverage.

More from The MMQB

Having watched everyone of Geno's game while at WVU, I can say the read option w/ Geno is not a great idea.  He's a pocket passer who has scrambling ability.  He's not a RG3/Kapernick type athlete.


@sportsjunkie29 do you think it would be a good idea to start him this year, even though the Jets core of receivers is rather subpar? Sometimes not having anyone to throw to will stunt the development of a young quarterback. Idk if you feel that Geno turned Tavon Austin into a stud or if Austin is simply a stud regardless.


Bringing in competition for Sanchez didn't really work too well last year.  So the Jets did it again.  But I think this time, it is notice to Sanchez that he is on the way out.  If it were not for that horrible contract, Sanchez would not be on the Jets roster right now.  They probably hope that even if Geno doesn't start, he can learn from the sideline.  That said, it would be interesting to see what the Jets do if Sanchez actually has a good year.  Right now, Geno is the heir apparent.  It's just a question of time when he is given the offense.  Miami and Buffalo have both gotten better, so there's little margin for error or time for experimentation with the Jets this year.


jenny vrentas is shaping up as a smart pickup. watch out peter. that is all.


Wow Rex is almost unrecognizable!  He looks great.  With that being written, I surely hope Geno isn't going to end up like Tebow.  Looking forward to the start of pro season!

jack theungry
jack theungry

It's just so clear that Rex still doesn't get it. If you don't know by now what kind of offense you want to be, how did you even draft offwnsive players for your system. You want to run read-option, but you drafted a qb who's never done it before? I'm embarrassed for him. He's just grasping at straws in a game where everyone successful has vision as an innovator.


Who should the Jets have drafted? Aaron Rogers was in the shotgun only 8% of the time at CAL & rarely ever ran empty sets, 5-wide, looks like he figured it out. Brady never ran an up-tempo, no huddle offense at Michigan, seems like that worked out in NE. Joe Montana was considered an accuracy liability coming out of ND, he ended up being one of, if not the greatest West Coast offense (accuracy important) QB in NFL history....If you have the ability athletically, you could run a different offense from year to year, none less from college to pro-ball.

You literally know NOTHING about the sport. You're just another fool trying to jump on the hahahaha lol giggles, I ripped Rex bandwagon & in doing so, you just looked stupid & proved you have a very very very VERY low football IQ...go back to spanking it in mommys basement to Jenny Vrentras photos & playing madden w/those 12 yr old boys you want to touch...And hey, maybe one you'll realize what an absolute moron you looked like on Aug 1,'re a joke.


@Spedman24 the problem with your post is all those QBs you listed were considered students of the game and smart.  Smith fell so far down because they felt he did not have a high enough football IQ.  I really like Smith and hope he succeeds but I agree with the original poster.


Rex is the man. Gets such a bad rap. He was given a horrible roster the past year or so and did the best he could...the guys lives for football. Everyone loved this guy 2 years ago when he was winning playoff games against the Pats (which was never a game) and the Colts w/Manning...Yeah Rex has said some dumb things, but he is a football guy, period. He isn't the smartest guy in the world, unless you're talking about football and frankly that's all that matters in this league. He has an awful owner and had a terrible GM in Mr. T. If he had the talent Bill B has he'd win a heck of a lot more games or a real QB, forget it. The guy coached a team that got a Mark Sanchez QB'd team a game away from the SB 2x. Yes, that's history and very well should be, but he is not a bad guy and he is certainly not a bad head coach. It's ashame the NY media creates these ridiculous stories, especially Manish Mehta that smelly Indian from the NY Daily News. Every story he writes has anonymous sources....which in NY means, it was made up to create headline. Keep your head up're a great coach & an even better man (unlike Billy Badboy, who not only cheated in SBs, but cheated on his now EX wife.)