QB battle, defensive makeover on deck for Jets this summer

2007 season recap

Sophomore slump: Following a 2006 season in which they went 10-6 and made the playoffs under new head coach Eric Mangini, the Jets stumbled out of the gate, winning just one game out of their first nine. Wavering between quarterbacks Chad Pennington and Kellen Clemens and lacking a strong run defense, the Jets finished 4-12.

Key camp questions

Can the run defense improve?
The Jets were one of the more active teams this offseason, making moves with the intention of improving the league's 29th-ranked run defense. LB Jonathan Vilma was traded for a conditional fourth round pick, and Calvin Pace was acquired to take his place. The team traded two draft picks to the Panthers for nose tackle Kris Jenkins, and drafted the 6-4, 258-pound Vernon Gholston with the sixth overall pick. Mangini will surely focus on the team's run defense in camp, as the former defensive coordinator knows the 2,156 yards (134.8 yards per game) allowed last season must improve if they are to compete.

Will Chris Baker report?
The Jets' starting tight end has not been shy in expressing his displeasure with ongoing contract negotations, going as far as asking for a trade prior to the NFL draft. The seventh-year tight end, drafted by the Jets in 2002, is a key offensive cog (41 receptions, 409 yards, three touchdowns), but the Jets have prepared themselves in the event that he holds out or is ultimately traded, acquiring former Packers TE Bubba Franks and drafting Dustin Keller of Purdue in the first round.

How much of an effect will Alan Faneca have on the run game?
With the addition of Faneca at guard, the Jets will spend plenty of time focusing on the run this summer, looking to improve their 19th-ranked run game. NFL.com's Pat Kirwan writes, "Jones should have a lot more good-sized holes to run through with Faneca blocking the point of attack. The average jump in league ranking when the elite guards switched teams was 14 spots in the team ranking in the first year, so a Jets move of seven spots could be considered conservative."

Key position battle

Chad Pennington vs. Kellen Clemens: Mangini has yet to declare his starting quarterback, but will likely give Clemens every opportunity to win the spot over Pennington, the team's incumbent starter since 2003. Pennington has proven capable of leading a team to the playoffs (most recently in 2006), but repeated injuries and a lack of arm strength may finally force the ninth-year QB into a backup role. Clemens was inconsistent at best last season, but given the chance to play a full season as a starter, the team is hoping the young QB out of Oregon will rise to the challenge.

Rookie spotlight

LB/DE Vernon Gholston: Playing in the Jets' 3-4 scheme, Gholston will have the opportunity to make an immediate impact. His critics will say he has to show more consistency, but the Jets will likely give him reps at defensive end and outside linebacker in camp in an attempt to rotate him in as much as possible to what looks on paper to be a much improved front seven.

Player on the spot

RB Thomas Jones: Jones' 1,119 rushing yards were right around his average output from his days in Chicago, but he only managed to reach the endzone twice all season long (only once on the ground). Last season was Jones' first as an every down back, a situation he welcomed when he asked for a trade out of Chicago following a trip to the Super Bowl. But Jones failed to provide the consistency the Jets were looking for when they traded a second round pick for the running back and subsequently signed him to a four-year deal. Leon Washington is a nice third down option, especially as a pass-catcher, but the Jets will continue to lean on Jones and the ninth-year back has no excuses but to respond with Faneca now blocking for him.

Fantasy focus

RB Thomas Jones: Jones could be one of the more undervalued players in all fantasy drafts this season. He'll run behind an improved offensive line that now includes Alan Faneca and Damien Woody, and he'll remain prominent in the Jets attack. Look for Jones to be a valuable No. 3 fantasy back.

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