Shutdown Corner

Shutdown Countdown: 2013 is a ‘make or break’ season for New York Jets QB Mark Sanchez

Shutdown Corner

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Over the last year, many pixels have been spilled in attempts to document the circus atmosphere of the New York Jets. Between the "Just Because" contract extension that guaranteed $19.5 million to struggling-to-develop quarterback Mark Sanchez, and the decision to trade for quarterback Tim Tebow, the Jets were the NFL equivalent of Ringling Brothers merging with Barnum and Bailey.

A brief recap of the Jets' miserable 6-10 season might go something like this: Shirtless Tebow running in the rain, Darrelle Revis' torn ACL, "butt-fumble" and "the three touchdowns allowed in 52 seconds" meltdown in a 49-19 loss to the New England Patriots on Thanksgiving night, Tebow declining to play a "wildcat" role, Greg McElroy's first NFL start and Woody Johnson firing Mike Tannenbaum after a second straight non-playoff season.

[Related: Mark Sanchez makes a bold statement]

The Jets kept Rex Ryan as head coach and have hired Seattle Seahawks vice president of football administration John Idzik to replace Tannenbaum. Idzik, who was inaccurately and unfairly characterized as a "cap guy" when he was hired, has begun the process of folding down the big top. Idzik traded Revis to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, drafted a potential replacement for Sanchez and released Tebow. Idzik's plan may take a season or two to take hold, but he's creating a meritocracy. Who plays and who sits will come down to who competes the hardest and earns a role.

It's a smart plan that is long overdue with this franchise. It should work, too, provided Johnson is patient enough to let it.

Is the roster better, worse or about the same?: On paper, the Jets' roster has taken a step back from a season ago. Before his torn ACL, Revis was regarded as being the best cornerback in the NFL. As talented as first-round cornerback Dee Milliner (the player the Jets selected with the pick acquired for Revis) is, there's an Pro Bowl-sized hole at the position. One way or another, the Jets parted ways with Dustin Keller, Bart Scott, Sione Po'uha, Eric Smith, Shonn Greene, LaRon Landry, Mike Devito, and Matt Slauson this offseason, while largely eschewing the free agent market.

Best offseason acquisition: Idzik certainly warrants a mention, but let's focus on the roster he is assembling. In this case, we'll go with Idzik prying running back Chris Ivory away from the New Orleans Saints. In 24 games, including eight starts, in his three seasons with the Saints, Ivory ran for 1,307 yards and eight touchdowns on 256 carries, an average of 5.3 yards per attempt. The 6-foot, 222-pound Ivory is not much of a receiver, but he brings a pounding, physical running style to the Jets offense that is similar to what Marshawn Lynch brought to the table when he was acquired by the Seahawks in 2010. Now, we're not saying that Ivory is as good as Lynch — he's not — we're just noting similarities between the two runners. It's worth mentioning that Idzik was in Seattle when they traded for Lynch in 2010, the same season Ivory gashed the Seahawks for 99 yards and a touchdown in the regular season.

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Mark Sanchez (USA Today Sports Images)

Biggest hole on the roster: : The Jets let tight end Dustin Keller hit the free agent market, where he found a one-year, $4.25 million contract with the Miami Dolphins. Keller, a 2008 first-round pick from Purdue, was an ascending player, improving his receiving totals each year from 2009 through 2011 before suffering through an injury-plagued 2012 campaign. Jeff Cumberland, who has 32 career receptions, is slated to replace Keller, though the team did add Kellen Winslow to a veteran minimum deal after a tryout during the team's minicamp. Winslow, who turns 30 on July 21, has chronic knee issues that prevent him from practicing and it would be a surprise if he's actually on the roster in Week 1. Beyond that, there's Konrad Reuland and Hayden Smith, a former rugby player from Australia.

Position in flux: : It's somewhat serendipitous that the Jets' preview runs on July 11, 2013 because today is the day that Mark Sanchez's "Jets West" camp begins in Southern California. Sanchez earns points and deserves credit for organizing his teammates in the pre-camp workouts, but it's going to take a lot more than that to remain at the top of the depth chart. Simply put, Sanchez has to improve his accuracy, make more plays in the passing game and protect the football to remain the Jets' starting quarterback. If he doesn't, second-round pick Geno Smith is waiting for his shot.

Player you may not have heard of yet, but will soon: : With the Jets moving on from Bart Scott, 2012 third-round pick Demario Davis has the inside track on the starting job next to David Harris. Davis, who played his college ball at Arkansas State, was a core member of the special teams units as a rookie and had 27 tackles and recovered a fumble in 28.9 percent of the Jets' defensive snaps, playing mostly on passing downs in place of Scott. Last offseason, Rex Ryan compared Davis to Ray Lewis, so, uh, no pressure, kid.

Stat fact: Sanchez has accounted for 52 turnovers over the last two seasons, 26 in each season comprised of 18 interceptions and eight lost fumbles. Tom Brady of the New England Patriots has a total of 22 turnovers over that same time period.

This team’s best-case scenario for the 2013 season: Sanchez plays well in training camp and the preseason to win the starting job, allowing Smith some more time to work on his mechanics. An improved Sanchez and a rushing attack, led by Ivory and Mike Goodson, puts points on the board, Rex Ryan's defense returns to its usual spot among the best in the league and the Jets make the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

And here’s the nightmare scenario: Sanchez is terrible in training camp and the preseason, forcing Smith into action before he's ready. With inconsistent quarterback play, the running game struggles and the defense cannot carry the additional load. The Jets locker room falls apart as the season spirals out of control and Ryan is fired on Dec. 31.

The player who could swing this team’s season one way or another: The 2013 season is all on Sanchez. If he can improve on his accuracy and cut down on the turnovers, the Jets are solid enough on defense to contend for the playoffs.

The Shutdown Countdown previews you might have missed
32. Oakland Raiders
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
30. Arizona Cardinals
29. Buffalo Bills
28. Cleveland Browns
27. Tennessee Titans
26. Kansas City Chiefs

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