The New York Jets wrap up their preseason by hosting the Philadelphia Eagles, tomorrow night. And while most teams are seemingly prepared for the regular season and using their exhibition finale as a way to gauge the fringe guys before Saturday’s massive cut-down day, head coach Todd Bowles continues his curious and unorthodox approach, noting that he may play his starters some.
Bowles, who has butchered the quarterback race, hinted that he’ll play some of his better players in the most meaningless of meaningless games. The embattled coach said most, if not all, of his healthy starters could be available. And although he wouldn’t reveal his full intentions for the game, that means his trio of weary quarterbacks – starter Josh McCown (minimal reps) and backups Bryce Petty (sprained knee) and Christian Hackenberg (albatross preseason) – may all see work.
McCown, who was named the starter on Monday, has played just one preseason series and almost won the job by default. Petty has looked the best of all the Jets’ quarterbacks, by far, but he was always the odd-man out in the derby. While Hackenberg, who was given chance after chance to wrestle the reins from McCown, was a miserable failure – but as a second-round pick ahead of the fourth-rounder Petty, he was always going to be provided more leeway.
During this juncture of the preseason, most coaches deem this an evaluation of the guys on the bubble, and play those guys the entire game. But not the Jets, and not Bowles. He reasoned, via conference call, that Gang Green still needs to “do some things, so we’ll work on them … if I decide to play or not play them [starters], that will be my decision.”
The Eagles will most certainly do the prudent thing and not risk stars like quarterback Carson Wentz, wideout Alshon Jeffery, or defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. It’ll be the most Jets-ian thing ever, though, if the Eagles’ reserves and fringe guys give the Jets’ starters all they can handle.
That being said, Salute Magazine takes a look at the top storylines to watch, tomorrow night, at MetLife Stadium.
#1 Is McCown ready?… The journeyman has only played the opening series of the preseason, leading the Jets to a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans. It’s highly unusual for a team to have its starting quarterback get such little work in the preseason, but Bowles, offensive coordinator John Morton, and quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates believe the 38-year-old doesn’t need many reps and that his vast National Football League experience has prepared him.
McCown also noted he’s not concerned with the lack of playing time and will be ready to go, tomorrow night and especially for the opener in Buffalo.
“I’ll be ready to go,” McCown said. “We’ve got good work in practice this week … and I’ll be ready to go.”
#2 Will Sheldon Richardson be one of the starters to see action?… According to Rich Cimini of ESPN, the Jets could once again start shopping the talented defensive lineman. And if that is true, would Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan risk injury to their best trade asset or sit him? Maccagnan and co. swear they aren’t tanking, but their moves have all the looks of one, so shedding $8 million in payroll and getting a high 2018 draft pick in return would suit the Jets nicely. Plus, the addition of talented but underachieving defensive end Kony Ealy, who was recently claimed off waivers from the New England Patriots, could make Richardson expendable. While Ealy isn’t even a lock to make the team, he’ll definitely get a long look to see if can be a situational pass-rusher and recapture that Super Bowl 50 glory when he tallied three sacks and an interception in a valiant losing effort. Richardson is the lone major available trade chip, and he was already on the block, last season, so Cimini’s report is no surprise. Richardson is set to become a free agent, next summer, so now could be the time to broker a trade, especially after the stellar preseason he’s had.
#3 Players to keep an eye on in the finale… Hopefully Bowles won’t play his main stars for too long, as there are a few relative unknowns who could use the opportunity. Offensively, a primary focus will be on rookie wideouts ArDarius Stewart, a third rounder from the University of Alabama, and Chad Hansen, a fourth rounder from the University of California. They’re both currently behind starters Robby Anderson, Charone Peake, and Jalin Marshall, but that trio only combined for two catches, last week, against the New York Giants. And one Anderson drop resulted in an interception that was returned for a touchdown, so none of the aforementioned three should feel like locks to start every game this season. Both newbies had impressive outings against Big Blue, with Stewart garnering five catches for 82 yards and two touchdowns and Hansen averaging 22.5 yards per reception. If either, or both, rookies have similarly impressive showings against the Eagles, they could impress Bowles and Morton enough to actually play them in the regular season.