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Jets @ Falcons Preseason Preview

All eyes on the preseason clash between the Jets and Falcons
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The kicking battle

Things took an unexpected turn at the kicker position for the New York Jets, as Chandler Catanzaro surprisingly decided to hang up his helmet following the team’s first preseason game.

Catanzaro was signed to replace Jason Myers, who received a rich deal from the Seattle Seahawks following a Pro Bowl season with the Jets a year ago.

Curiously, Catanzaro was the only kicker that was signed by the team following Myers’ exit. Since 2016, no kicker has missed more field goals and extra points than Catanzaro has. It certainly didn’t seem Catanzaro was good enough a player to be handed a starting job.

It did not take long for that curious decision to come back under the microscope. Catanzaro struggled to convert with consistency throughout training camp, and the Jets were without a fallback plan on the roster if he failed to improve.

Those struggles persisted when the team took the field against the Giants, as Catanzaro missed a pair of extra point attempts.

Most likely, the Jets were already on the hunt for kicking competition following Catanzaro’s performance in that game, but he made things a little easier on them by removing himself from the picture entirely.

Joe Douglas’ first move at the position post-Catanzaro was bringing back a familiar face in Taylor Bertolet. The 26-year old Texas A&M product kicked for the Jets throughout training camp and the preseason last year, doing a mostly solid job. However, he lost the kicking battle to Jason Myers.

Bertolet kicked in the Alliance of American Football during its brief existence, playing for the Salt Lake Stallions. Unfortunately, he struggled, converting only 9 of 14 kicks.

The Jets need somebody to emerge here. They are without a doubt hoping Bertolet can step up and be that guy.

Who is going to win the battle at cornerback?

The Jets have found themselves in dire straits at the cornerback position. Players are dropping like flies, and those that have remained healthy have not looked good on the field.

Top corner Trumaine Johnson is reportedly week-to-week with a hamstring injury, putting the spotlight on the team’s poor depth at cornerback. Johnson has a lot of questions to answer this season, needing to rebound following a down year in 2018, but even at his worst he is a step above the players who would be replacing him. That’s simply because most of the backups the Jets are currently sporting at cornerback have not proven a single thing in the NFL.

The Giants easily shredded Gang Green’s secondary in game one. The Falcons, who possess a very deep wide receiver group, will present an even bigger challenge.

Who will step up and provide the Jets with some security at this position?

Second-year slot corner Parry Nickerson has plenty of speed, but he struggled as a rookie. Against the Giants, he was picked on often.

A bunch of other miscellaneous names are also in the mix, such as Montrel Meander, Arthur Maulet, Alex Brown, Tevaughn Campbell, and Kyron Brown. Brown (Kyron) was actually the man to replace Johnson, but then he left practice with an injury as well. Maulet was the next man up.

The Jets did recently make a move in an attempt to bolster their depth, adding veteran corner Marcus Cooper, who was just cut by the Lions.

The 29-year old Cooper, who is now with his fifth team, brings some experience to the table with 75 career games played. He has struggled to stick with a franchise, and has been extremely inconsistent overall, but he is capable of providing good play in spurts. In 2016, he had four interceptions and 11 passes defended for the Cardinals. As a rookie in 2013, he posted three interceptions and a whopping 19 passes defended for the Chiefs.

As it stands right now, Cooper appears to be the third-most reliable outside corner on the team after Trumaine Johnson and Darryl Roberts. Can he prove worthy of that distinction against the Atlanta Falcons this Thursday night? Or will somebody else seize control of the competition?

Where is the pass rush?

A variety of Jets flashed in run defense against the Giants, but there wasn’t much to be found when it came to the pass rush. The Jets only notched one sack and one knockdown on Giants quarterbacks.

There are a few names in particular that I will be keeping an eye on in the pass rushing phase. For one, I would like to see second-year defensive tackle Nathan Shepherd finally start winning some battles in the passing game. Fellow 2018 draft pick Folorunso Fatukasi was dominant last week, and to see more of that destruction from him this week would be a huge plus for the depth of the Jets defensive line.

Starting outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins had a breakout season last year, but his role may be changing a bit this year. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will likely run more four-man fronts than the Jets have in the past, which could potentially call for Jenkins to play with his hand in the dirt more often. It would be promising to see Jenkins prove he can maintain his improved pass rushing ability while playing as a 4-3 defensive end.

However, at the top of my list of pass rushers to watch is rookie third-rounder Jachai Polite out of Florida.

Polite was widely regarded as a top-15 talent going into the 2019 Draft, but a rough pre-draft process tumbled him all the way down to the Jets at the top of round three. Now-former Jets GM Mike Maccagnan happily scooped up the speedy edge rusher with the 68th overall pick, and most evaluators around the league gave the Jets a ton of praise for the selection.

Polite is a ball of energy who brings a ton of burst, bend, and electricity as an edge rusher. The Jets have not had a pass rushing talent like him in quite some time, so both the team and the fanbase are excited to see what he can become.

In his debut, Polite made a few impressive stops in run defense, showing off his trademark non-stop motor. He was quiet as a pass rusher, though. Hopefully we will see more flashes from him over the next few games, but fans should be patient with Polite. He is the type of prospect who will likely need a year to round himself out before he can reach his peak.

In 2019, Polite will most likely be used as a situational pass rusher, but down the line, he has the upside become a stud every-down edge defender. It would be delightful to see flashes of that potential from Polite over the next few weeks, starting in Atlanta.

By Michael Nania

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