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 Tuesday, September 7
Jets now high-flying targets
By Jim Corbett
Pro Football Weekly

 The soaring Super Bowl expectations can be best quantified by the media swarm.

Keyshawn Johnson
Keyshawn Johnson
Last year: 12-4, first place in AFC East
Key returnees:: QB Vinny Testaverde (259-for-421, 3,256 yards, 29 TDs, 7 INTs); RB Curtis Martin (369 carries, 1,287 yards, 8 TDs); WR Keyshawn Johnson (83 rec., 1,131 yards, 10 TDs); WR Wayne Chrebet (75 rec., 1,083 yards); LB Mo Lewis (7 sacks)
New faces: LB Roman Phifer (Rams), FS Steve Atwater (Broncos), TE Eric Green (Ravens), TE Johnny Mitchell (FA)
New places: TE Kyle Brady (Jaguars), QB Glenn Foley (Seahawks), WR Alex Van Dyke (Steelers)
Watch out: Bill Parcells smells another championship before calling it a career.
Better than '98: Atwater will be an enforcer in the secondary.
Worse than '98: Jets lack depth on OL.
-- Scripps Howard News Service

The Jets have received more national media attention this summer than Brandi Chastain's sports bra. You name the media outlet, and it's probably done a piece on Bill Parcells and the Jets.

CBS's "60 Minutes," HBO's "Real Sports," Sports Illustrated, Sport, GQ, ESPN and CNN/SI have all been intrigued by what is arguably the hottest NFL property outside of Denver and the team picked by many to overtake the defending two-time Super Bowl champions.

Consider it a foreshadowing of the way opponents will be stalking the Jets this season, starting with the opener against New England.

"Everybody is going to be after the Jets," safety Victor Green said. "Everybody is picking us to win the Super Bowl.

"It's not going to fall into our laps. We still have to go out there and play great football. If we don't, we could wind up like we did a couple of years ago, sitting out watching the playoffs."

Sensing the onset of early complacency, Parcells has been on his team like the searing sun during this summer of drought in the East.

After the Jets looked lackadaisical in their second exhibition game, a 10-9 victory over Philadelphia, Parcells screamed at his team in the locker room, threatening jobs. To make his point, he waived disappointing quarterback Scott Zolak to make room for new backup hopeful Rick Mirer.

"I can tell you I have seen this type of behavior on other teams that I've had," Parcells said. "I have never seen this exist without a hard lesson being learned. "If we don't change, we won't be successful."

A tough schedule, including 10 games vs. '98 playoff teams, leads Parcells to worry that reaching the AFC Championship Game will be difficult enough -- never mind atoning for last season's 23-10 loss to the Broncos in the conference title game.

"Just because John Elway retired does not mean we're going to be back to that championship game, playing to get into the Super Bowl," Jets linebacker Bryan Cox said. "We're the hunted now."

Here's a position-by-position look at New York's roster:

Vinny Testaverde has achieved professional peace at age 35 after proving himself as a championship-caliber quarterback during a career season. He played well enough last season to get the Jets to the Super Bowl, even though their season ended one game short of that goal. He hungers to take that next step and honor the memory of his late father, best friend and biggest booster, Al, who died of a heart attack in the offseason.

The Jets lost both their starting guards in Matt O'Dwyer and Todd Burger. Although Burger was not playing well, the changing of the guards is a big area of concern for Bill Parcells -- especially since this is a team that wants to run. Right now, it looks like second-year pro Kerry Jenkins and rookie Randy Thomas will fill the guard spots.

Another area is concern is backup quarterback. If Vinny Testaverde goes down, the Jets will be depending upon Rick Mirer, who has really proven nothing in the NFL, and Ray Lucas, who can run the option but is an unknown as a passer. In the NFL, you need two solid quarterbacks, and right now I don't think the Jets have that.

So, everything will ride on Testaverde. The Jets have good receivers and a very good defense, but depth at quarterback is a big concern for them. Parcells has left his team a bit vulnerable there.

Still, the Jets have to be considered one of the favorites in the AFC. They should battle it out with Miami, Jacksonville and possibly a few other teams.


A Super Bowl championship would be the ultimate retort to those out there who might still be doubting Testaverde. Surrounded with the best coaching and talent of his career, Testaverde fired 29 TD passes and just seven interceptions in '98. Parcells liked Mirer's potential when, as the Patriots' head coach, the Tuna scouted the quarterback leading up to the '93 draft. (Parcells settled on Drew Bledsoe with the No. 1 overall pick.) The Jets need Mirer to emerge as a backup version of Testaverde just in case. Grade: B+

Running backs
Curtis Martin has set his sights on a 2,000-yard season. That figure might be unrealistic for a back who has had a difficult time staying completely healthy. Regardless, Martin needs to average better than the 3.5 yards per carry he did in '98, when he gained 1,287 yards despite nagging leg injuries.

If rookie ORG Randy Thomas and veteran OLG Kerry Jenkins are the real deals, and TE Eric Green is the blocking upgrade he is supposed to be, Martin could gain as many as 1,600 yards.

The plan is for Leon Johnson to get more carries and lighten Martin's load. Of course, that was the plan last year before Martin carried a career-high 369 times. Punishing Jerald Sowell and F-back Richie Anderson are capable backups. Grade: B

Keyshawn Johnson and Wayne Chrebet are literally the Jets' bookends now. Chrebet has his own book, three years after Johnson's controversial autobiography hit bookstores. Johnson and Chrebet might not be fast friends, but they get along and were the league's most productive receiving tandem last year with a combined 158 catches, 18 for touchdowns. What really distinguishes them is their unselfish blocking for Martin and each other.

Johnson earned Pro Bowl honors with 83 receptions. He also had two rushing touchdowns (one of which came in the playoff victory over Jacksonville). Dedric Ward emerged as a home-run threat last season with four TD grabs, including a 71-yard game-winner against Buffalo that clinched the AFC East championship. Quinn Early is a veteran upgrade at the No. 4 spot.

Green is a potential Pro Bowl tight end if he stays healthy. Keith Byars, Anderson, Fred Baxter and Blake Spence are weapons as either F-backs or tight ends. Grade: B+

Offensive linemen
Kevin Mawae should have been a Pro Bowler last season, when he distinguished himself as arguably the best center in the game with his tenacious run blocking and excellent pass protection. Jumbo Elliott is still one of the game's better left tackles at age 34. ORT Jason Fabini was a rookie revelation as an excellent technician who played with veteran's poise.

If Thomas and Jenkins prove to be the upgrades Parcells sought over Matt O'Dwyer and Todd Burger, the Jets could have one of the AFC's better lines. Ian Beckles, Doug Karczewski, David Loverne and Ryan Young are capable backups. Grade: B

Defensive linemen
In the 3-4 defense that is Bill Belichick's forté, veterans Rick Lyle, Jason Ferguson and Anthony Pleasant comprise a savvy front that sets things up for the linebackers. Ernie Logan is a solid veteran backup, and second-year DEs Dorian Boose and Eric Ogbogu and rookie Jason Wiltz help keep the group deep and fresh. Grade: C

Mo Lewis finally earned Pro Bowl recognition last season. He remains this talented group's most complete playmaker. Roman Phifer can blitz or drop into coverage with equal ease from the weak side, and Bryan Cox and Marvin Jones are a tandem of intimidating inside bangers.

James Farrior, Dwayne Gordon and Chad Cascadden add excellent talent and depth. Grade: A

Defensive backs
CB Aaron Glenn earned his second consecutive Pro Bowl appearance as one of the league's best cover men, and Ray Mickens polished his reputation as one of the game's best nickel backs last season. Now Mickens must give the Jets inspired play at right corner in place of the injured Otis Smith, out with a broken collarbone, as Mickens did late last year while stepping in for the injured Glenn.

Steve Atwater and Victor Green are fierce hitters who must prove they can do the job in deep coverage. Corwin Brown and Chris Hayes are savvy backup safeties, while Scott Frost has come on at strong safety. Kevin Williams and Marcus Coleman add good CB depth. Grade: B-

Special teams
Strong-legged kicker John Hall allayed some concerns about his consistency by connecting on 25 of 35 field-goal attempts (71.4 percent) last season. Hall, who excels on kickoffs, won the Kansas City game with the biggest kick of his career, a 32-yarder in a hard rain.

Tom Tupa is a tremendous directional punter and a huge upgrade at a position where the Jets struggled with three punters last season. At its best, the return game of KRs Glenn and Leon Johnson and PRs Johnson and Ward is dangerous. But they haven't shown the consistency Parcells demands. The same goes for the coverage units, which slipped to ordinary last season. Grade: C+

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