We know the New York Jets will be re-embracing their “Ground and Pound” identity this season under newly hired offensive coordinator Tony Sparano. However, Sparano and the rest of the offensive unit has emphasized a large part of the new offense will be looking to acquire big chunks of yardage off the play action passing attack, which Mark Sanchez has been productive with so far in his career.
When taking a broader look at the Jets passing game, which struggled desperately to create big plays last year, it is impossible not to focus on wide receiver Santonio Holmes. Despite second round pick Stephen Hill’s endless potential, Jeremy Kerley’s quickness in slot and Dustin Keller’s notable chemistry with Sanchez, it is Holmes who is without question the Jets biggest playmaker in the passing game and on the entire offense.
Like many parts of the team, Holmes disappointed last season. Yet, don’t become victim to a short memory and forget his heroics from the 2010 season and the Super Bowl MVP he has under his belt. The Jets need Holmes to be the number one receiver they are paying him to be and that he has the talent to be.
How will Holmes fit in Sparano’s offense? Last season, Holmes had 102 targets and 51 receptions. Here are the targets and receptions for Sparano’s number one receiver the past 4 seasons -
2008 – Ted Ginn (93 targets, 56 receptions)
2009 – Davone Bess (113 targets, 76 receptions)
2010 – Brandon Marshall (147 targets, 86 receptions)
2011 – Brandon Marshall (145 targets, 81 receptions)
The past two years were the only time Sparano had a true number one receiver and Marshall received substantially more targets in both seasons than Holmes did under Brian Schottenheimer last year. Obviously, the playcaller has far from exclusive control over targets but at a minimum I would expect Holmes to see more plays called that are designed for him as the primary option than he did in 2010.
Holmes is most productive in the intermediate passing game and running after the catch. I would expect Sparano to move him around the formation a good amount and in certain instances, use him how he used Bess in Miami by giving him shorter passes in space, where he can create yards on his own after the catch.
While Holmes deserves his share of the blame for struggling to get open last season. He was hampered by having the immobile Plaxico Burress opposite of him and not much else. Stephen Hill’s speed and a more experienced Jeremy Kerley will allow the Jets to line up Holmes at split end, flanker and in the slot and use him on a higher variety of routes.
Ideally, Holmes is going to be a primary target on many intermediate crossing routes off play action, where he can catch the ball with a head of steam and should also be a reliable target on deep comeback routes with Sanchez rolling out. Outside of an occasional double move off a short or intermediate route, I don’t think you will see him sent deep frequently. Hill has the raw speed and size for the go route and should also see more favorable match-ups, at least early in the season.
Tony Sparano has an unenviable list of challenges this year as the Jets offensive coordinator but he can maintain a big play element to his unit by keeping Holmes properly involved.