2:05 pm May. 4, 2012
A weekly column about what the Jets are doing when they're not playing football.
Offensive coordinator Tony Sparano responded to a question about Tim Tebow the other day in a way that said a little and a whole lot: “Well, I won’t give you the vision on what I think his role will be in the offense. But I would just say that to be best of my knowledge, I believe that what Coach said is he can play anywhere from one to 20 snaps, something like that. And I would say that coach is 100 percent correct. As far as how we’ll use Tim or what we’ll do with Tim that way, we’re going to keep that to ourselves right now.”
Pause here for a second. Most of the criticism of the Tebow trade has assumed that the Wildcat has been marginalized and basically proven ineffectual. Therefore, this line of thinking goes, the trade is inconsequential at best, disruptive at worst, and either way amounts to a pathetic, short-sighted attention grab by a franchise with an inferiority complex.
This viewpoint is reinforced by the media gang-up on the Jets, which is in the exact same proportion as the media love-fest that surrounded the Jets' every move heading into last season.
So let’s pretend it's a year ago and give Sparano and the coaching staff the benefit of the doubt for a second. Maybe this thing that they’re “keeping to themselves” is something really unique and innovative, something that will make the Jets offense better and more exciting.
Why is there so much resistance to “reinventing the wheel" anyway? God knows, the Jets’ offensive wheel isn’t working so great as is. The Jets ranked a putrid 27th in the league in yards per play, seven-tenths of a yard worse than the average team. Just pulling this offense up to mediocrity could make a huge difference.
Also, for as much as the Wildcat is being put forth as a non-starter, it’s worth noting that pigeonholing the Tebow offense as the Wildcat is inaccurate, and sells it short. In Denver, the Broncos ran a read-option offense, which is popular in the college game. Innovations from the college game often are reflexively pooh-poohed as bush league, but this is unfair: The modern N.F.L. passing game, for instance, with its four and five wide formations and horizontal routes, is heavily influenced by stuff that many college teams were doing long before the pros were.
For all the skepticism about whether Tebow was in fact acquired to play “one to 20” plays or take Mark Sanchez’s job, the Jets' company line makes sense: that the best use of Tebow is as an experimental adjunct to an offense that could use all the help it can get.
I WROTE A STORY ON WAYNE HUNTER MIDWAY through last season. This was right when it appeared he had turned his season around after a rough start and was fulfilling the potential Jets coaches thought they saw in him when they handed him the starting right tackle job, after parting ways with incumbent Damien Woody.
It seemed like a nice redemption story: Hunter was a part-Samoan guy who came from a rough background, raised by a single mother in the projects of the Kalihi section of Honolulu. His high school coach discovered him because he was constantly getting into fights in school with kids who picked on him.
His early N.F.L. career was beset by problems, some of bad luck, as when an injury took him out for a season, and some self-imposed (two arrests, one for a bar-fight and one for domestic violence).
But here he was, in 2011, starting for the first time and finally thriving. During the game against the Bills in which I focused on him, he allowed a sack after forgetting the snap count, but he performed well overall in a game in which the Jets offensive line physically overwhelmed the guys across from them. Wayne Hunter had arrived, and Ground and Pound was back.
Then, the next week at home against the Patriots, the roof began to cave in both on Hunter's and the Jets’ season. He allowed a sack in that game, and then two more the next week in a discouraging loss to the Broncos. Over the remaining six games, he allowed three more sacks and many other quarterback pressures. A strong middle of the season was subsumed by an awful start and an awful ending. The Wayne Hunter experiment had failed.
According to the play-by-play charting ratings of Pro Football Focus, Hunter was the fifth-worst of the 60 tackles who received more than 50 percent of their team’s snaps. He gave up the third-most sacks, and the most quarterback hits, of any tackle in the league.
With the Jets trying to upgrade positions of weakness coming into this season, one area of improvement was obvious. To this end, the Jets were reportedly shopping Hunter in March. But they found no takers. Then the draft came and went, and the only offensive line help the Jets had to show for it was a sixth-rounder.
So Hunter will likely enter training camp as the presumptive starter, given one last chance to salvage the talent that coaches throughout the league have glimpsed but never seen consistently.
During his session with reporters, Sparano praised Hunter, but not without some hedging: “Well, I mean, we obviously have a long time to go here before we get to opening day, but one of the reasons, and I think Rex might have mentioned this before, as well, when I was in Miami and Wayne was [a free agent], prior to the Jets re-signing him, we thought an awful lot about [signing] him. We wanted to bring him down there at that time. I’ve had some history with him. I know his college line coach really well, and I know what he has thought of Wayne, as well. Wayne has been tremendous here right now with us, so were excited about him.”
IN CASE YOU MISSED THIS STORY OF G.J. KINNE, the undrafted free-agent quarterback the Jets signed out of Tusla, check out this E: 60 segment. It's nuts.
In short, Kinne was coached by his father in high school in Canton, Texas, around 60 miles outside of Dallas. In 2005, a nutjob parent who had already been banned from the school for shoving and verbally abusing coaches, knocked on Kinne’s father’s door in the athletic office, and shot him point-blank in the chest.
He was given a 10 percent of living. Things looked so grim that a cop knocked on the door and told G.J., the Jets guy, that his father had died, delivering the news by saying, “Son, you have to grow up and be the man of the house now.”
Anyway, after three weeks in the hospital and five surgeries, the dad survived, and everyone lived happily ever after. Last year, Kinne was named Conference USA Player of the Year. His father is still coaching.
AMONG THE MANY DEPRESSING ASPECTS OF JUNIOR Seau’s suicide was its juxtaposition with the N.F.L. draft several days before.
There’s the obvious completion of that grim arc: The fresh-faced, newly minted millionaires become hard-used by the game, emerging from it as damaged combat veterans. Those kids beaming and shaking hands with the commissioner at the podium seem secure in the faith that football will give them something, and make something of them. It will, temporarily, but after that, it might give them and make of them something else entirely.
The second disturbing thing on this point is that the draft represents the apotheosis of commodification of N.F.L. players. This is nothing new in sports of course, but there was something jarring about the orgy of 40-times, broad-jumps, short-area-quickness, suddenness, high-pointing and character concerns giving way to an actual human being taking his own life.
It's a queasy juxtaposition, the football-industrial complex’s draft frenzy and the fact that nobody knows what in the world to do about head injuries.
If only it were as easy for the sports media to decide what to do about our national game as it was for them to regurgitate mock drafts, or hand out post-draft grades.
Essentially, all draft speculation is repackaging of received wisdom from the Mel Kipers and Todd McShays of the world, who themselves are repackaging a handful of sources, many of whom are probably using them for misdirection. But it’s fun, light, easy and low-stakes: Nobody really remembers or cares if a guy Mel Kiper says is going to be a great player turns into an average one. The game moves on and the machine keeps churning. Soon, there will be quarterback controversies, holdouts, Tebow and What’s Wrong With the Cowboys storylines to glom onto.
The questions about human beings and their brains will be left behind. There’s no received wisdom to repackage there. It's a serious issue with high stakes, and nobody knows what to do or say.
More by this author:
- Gary Cohen, the anti-Michael Kay, also broadcasts during his time off
- Blue blood: The harsh logic behind the cutting of Bradshaw, Canty and Boley