Originally written on Turn On The Jets  |  Last updated 11/8/14
There’s a few tell-tale signs that the season’s are on the precipice of change: the distinct smell of an over-the-top tailgate, Ray Lucas handing out grades that aren’t in the alpha-numeric system, and the collective groan of a beleaguered fan base as Mark Sanchez throws yet another pick to a lineman, this could only mean one thing: Jets football is back. With it comes a post series that I have been doing for quite some time; during the season I hand out “Game Balls” after every win but since this is the Preseason and the games don’t count, we honor those who had stand-out performances with the Black Jersey. This is a tradition that dates back a couple years now with Rex and the Jets as the unit who performed the best in practice on a given day is rewarded with the black practice jerseys. Anyway, enough from me, let’s jump into it: Kenrick Ellis: With his legal troubles finally behind him, the big fella is beginning to emerge as the force that the Jets thought he could be when they spent a Third-Round Pick on him in 2011. Ellis was very strong at the point of attack last night, opening up the rush lanes for the linebackers (whether they were able to take advantage of it is another story entirely). The Jets are banking on him to take that next step in his development this season and anchor the middle of that defensive line, filling the void left by the departure of Sione Pouha. Austin Howard:  It comes as no surprise that the offensive line is going to take some time to gel and become a cohesive unit, given that they are indoctrinating two new Guards in Willie Colon and Stephen Peterman. Brick and Mangold were the only real “givens” on this unit and the success of the line would really hinge on the continued development of Right Tackle, Austin Howard. Although the line looked slightly shaky at times, Howard was pretty outstanding in his first game action of the season, leading many a Jets fan to think that we may actually have a player as opposed to his predecessor who was more like a turnstile. Muhammad Wilkerson:  What can I say, the guy is just an absolute beast, hence the nickname (Beast Mo). At the rate he’s going, he might become the new Darrelle Revis in terms of this list as the most redundant name because he just brings it game in and game out. Although he only played limited reps, Wilkerson still recorded a sack, which was also his lone tackle of the night but it’s a harbinger of things to come this season. Third-Drive Sanchez: After a very appropriate and typical first drive, where he managed to yet again thrown a pick to a defensive lineman, the Quarterback formerly known as the “Sanchise” bounced back and methodically marched the offense down the field for a touchdown on the team’s third drive. On that drive, Sanchez was 5-5 with a nice pass to Jeremy Kerley, who did a great job of getting open and a Touchdown pass to a wide-open Jeff Cumberland. His night as a whole wasn’t too pretty but its what we’ve come to expect from Sanchez. Kellen Winslow: The thing that landed Winslow on this list was that he played in a game and managed not to get hurt and for that alone he deserves to be here. That said, he did have a pretty good game, showing that he still has some play-making ability as he hauled in a couple of passes for 30 yards, including a 24-yard “catch and run” along the left sideline. However, his biggest play of the night was the hit he laid on Lions’ Safety, Glover Quinn, breaking up what would have almost certainly been another Mark Sanchez interception. With his soldier days behind him, Winslow could add some play-making ability to a unit that has been bereft of any for quite some time. Honorable Mention: Greg McElroy: With many speculating that he would be supplanted by Matt Simms as the Jets Third Quarterback, McElroy has shined both in practice and on game day as it appears the job is now his to lose. The Alabama-product showed some nice poise and pocket presence especially on his 11-yard Touchdown-pass to Zach Rogers. Tommy Bohannon: Although you won’t see much from him on the stat sheet (1 Reception for 2 Yards) Bohannon had a more-than-solid game as a blocker, lining up both at Fullback and H-Back in the Shotgun set. The Jets see him as a Tweener ala Josh Baker and I’m betting his versatility and blocking ability will make him tough to cut. Coach Wants to See You (Bring Your Playbook): For every guy that had a stand-out performance/made plays there are a slew of players who screwed the proverbial pooch. During the season, we usually make these guys do a little extra running by having them “Take A Lap!” but during the preseason it’s a little more cut-throat around here with guys fighting to make the team so let’s see who’s going to be cleaning out their lockers: Antwan Barnes: Maybe it was the crowd noise or maybe it was that he was chomping at the bit to get back on the field but the pass-rushing Outside Linebacker was a little too antsy last night and was flagged for two Offsides penalties. Barnes did flash some of that pass-rushing ability that helped him notch 11 Sacks in 2011 but boneheaded plays will cancel that out almost every time. Zach Rogers: Overall, not the worst performance but there’s no excuse for dropping a perfectly thrown pass by Greg McElroy, the thing literally hit him in the breadbasket and that had six points written all over it. With the Jets incredibly thin at Wide Receiver, it’s guys like the Zach Rogers and Ryan Spadola’s of the world that need to take advantage of opportunities like those if they want a shot at making this team. Rest of Game Sanchez: It’s a classic case of same “you know what,” different day with Sanchez, after what was the most Sanchez-esque ways to start a game: throwing a pick-six to a rookie defensive lineman. I, like probably a host of other Jets fans was willing to end the competition right there and then. There is just simply no discernible growth, year after year it’s the same mistakes if he can’t figure it out after five years, he probably never will. That said, say hello to your Week One starter Jets fans, hopefully he can begin to figure out how to stop making bone-head plays between now and then. And on a side note, he looks absolutely ridiculous with the headband and the goatee.
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