Todd Bowles is entering his third season as the head coach of the New York Jets and we are readying ourselves for another version of who this man is. Is he the coach that won ten games in his first year at the helm, or is he the guy who was in charge of last year’s ugly 5-11 disappointing debacle?
We’re all eager to find out, and already we’re seeing a slightly different side to this low-key, reserved life-long football disciple and now, leader. At the Jets’ OTAs this week at their headquarters in Florham Park, Bowles hasn’t changed his public persona much, but the narrative has gone from him comandeering a veteran team to trying to make a cohesive unit out of collection of inexperienced and discarded players.
There is some optimism vibrating throughout the building, however, with a new offense being introduced by first year offensive coordinator John Morton and a slew of new faces gearing up to implement it.
“It’s a new offense so obviously whether it’s veterans or rookies on that side of the ball, it’s the same because nobody knows the playbook right now so everybody’s learning at the same time,” Bowles said on Tuesday.
One position in particular has piqued the interest of the media and the fans. The quarterback position, which is up for grabs according to Bowles, will be closely watched this season. They brought in Josh McCown, a 38 year-old journeyman who looks much more virile and capable than most his age, as a free agent this past March and is the leading candidate for the starting job. So far, he’s looking the part.
But it will be the performances of the Jets’ other two quarterbacks, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg that will actually determine the club’s future beyond this season. Hackenberg is expected to participate at a much higher level than he did last season as a rookie, when he was held back from taking any snaps in a live regular season game.
“For it being the fourth practice, he’s coming along pretty good,” Bowles said of Hackenberg. “He’s getting a grasp of the offense and learning it. With 11 guys out there for the first time, there are going to be mistakes on both sides of the ball but he’s coming along.”
What that means is anyone’s guess. Bowles has vowed to immerse himself more into the offense this season but it’s unclear how the defensive-minded coach plans on doing that. He seemed to be more open about talking about Petty, who has been with the team for three springs now.
“He had a lot to learn,” said Bowles. “When you put a guy in the last four games of the year for his first four games after being in the league for a year and not having played, it’s going to be tough for him. There’s going to be some tough things. Obviously the game should slow down for him a little bit having played as far as anxiety and being a young player. Mentally, he’s going to have a lot to learn and it’s going to be different for him every week. But I think that he saw a lot of things that he wouldn’t normally see just standing on the sideline.”
From a thousand feet up. it’s apparent that the Jets’ intended plan at the position is becoming clearer. McCown is the stopgap with Hackenberg being given every opportunity to mature into the role. Petty? Well, it looks like he’s on the verge of becoming the odd man out this season.
With all three QBs getting equal reps this spring, new QB coach Jeremy Bates will be keeping a close eye on the group as the competition heats up this summer when the bullets start to fly at training camp. Petty is determined to keep pace with the others. After all, at last glance, he was the Jets’ starter.
“My mindset hasn’t changed,” Petty told reporters Tuesday. “We like competition. We’re getting better as a group, as a unit in that room. That means our team is getting better. All three of us have done a really good job here with the offense. Coach Bates has done a good job of teaching it to us, so it’s a process. Everyday, we’re just trying to get better. We’re trying to work as a unit to make each other better, and like I said, from that, we’ll get better as a team.”
Bowles agreed. It’s way too early in the process to make any type of definitive judgement.
“He’s learning the offense just like everybody else – him and Hack obviously,” said Bowles. “McCown has been in it before somewhat so he knows it a little more than the other guys. In the fourth practice, it’s slowing down for them and they’re starting not to turn the ball over as much. They turned it over some last week and haven’t turned it over as much this week. It’s a process. As OTAs go, we’ll look for them to improve even more.”
The one player he and GM Mike Maccagnan are hoping improves the most is Hackenberg, the second round pick out of Penn State in last year’s draft. Both of their futures are tied to how well he progresses. Everyone is seeking for any type of improvement out of Hackenberg however incremental it may occur.
“I have to watch the film. I’ve seen spurts of it,” said Bowles of Hackenberg’s performance on Tuesday. “I haven’t watched the film yet to tell whether he got better or not.”
They are hoping Hackenberg gets better to the point where they are not entering next year’s draft still seeking a franchise quarterback.