New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles was asked whether or not the starting quarterback for Saturday’s preseason game would have an advantage over the two backups. Bowles’ expressionless face cracked a smirk as he shook his head back-and-forth: “You can interpret absolutely nothing.”
The third-year head coach was talking about the quarterback competition, which he described as “pretty even” after Thursday’s practice — the final one for his team before its preseason opener. He may as well have been talking about the battle at outside linebacker.
Over the last two weeks of New York’s training camp, Bowles and the defensive staff have lined up several different outside linebacker combinations. Freddie Bishop, Lorenzo Mauldin, Jordan Jenkins, Dylan Donahue, Frank Beltre and Josh Martin have all seen time as the starting ‘backers in multiple different pairings.
That constant rotation is part of why Jenkins called the competition “very intense.”
“We’re going to have one day where one of us is ahead — one of us makes and exceptional play,” Jenkins said after Thursday’s practice. “The next day, three other guys make exceptional plays.”
Over the duration of training camp, several players have made noteworthy plays. Beltre, Mauldin and Donahue have all recorded multiple “would-be” sacks (of course, they cannot hit the quarterback) during camp.
“Everybody’s flashing, everybody’s putting in good work,” Jenkins said. “There’s almost no lulls between each of us and it’s going to be a tough decision for coach [Kevin] Greene to decide.”
The intensity of the competition has even rubbed off on Greene, a Hall of Famer and Super Bowl champion who played 15 seasons in the NFL. One of the more memorable moments of Jets training camp occurred on Aug. 3 when Donahue blew past right tackle Brent Qvale in 1-on-1 drills. Greene exploded with enthusiasm, hollering at Donahue while hitting him on the helmet.
That’s far from the only thing Greene has done in the early stages of his Jets’ coaching career.
“Kevin Greene’s big thing [is wanting] pass rushers to be physical,” Mauldin told Jets’ team reporter Olivia Landis. “I was a finesse player, but I feel like now that I’m a physical player now, it makes it so much easier to get to the quarterback.”
It’s certainly a big year for Greene’s unit, which looks to improve after a disappointing 2016 season. Jenkins was the bright spot of the group, as he proved his worth as a reliable run-stopper at the second-level of defense. He also sprinkled in some pass rushing abilities late in the season. Mauldin, however, saw his sack total decrease to 2.5 in his second season.
The incumbent starters may not even be the starters Week 1; that’s what makes this competition so fun.
It’s a position group deserving of lots of attention as Gang Green suits up for preseason action. What makes it even more entertaining is a new NFL rule — there is no day that forces a team’s roster to be trimmed down to 75 players. That means this competition may be only just starting.