Catching up with the New York Jets:
1. Welcome mat? Curiously, the Jets' players were relatively quiet on Twitter when Michael Sam made his announcement last Sunday. How would they feel about an openly gay player on their team? Sheldon Richardson spoke highly of Sam, his former college teammate, in a TV interview. Another player, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told me, "Besides the amount of media, you're dealing with some guys who might not be comfortable with it. He was the Defensive Player of the Year in the SEC, so, obviously, the guy can play some ball. At the end of the day, it's all about playing football. If we could use him, I don't see why not. I think we'd welcome him. We know he's a heckuva player."
As the player noted, the media factor would be significant. Anybody who doesn't think it wouldn't be a distraction is fooling themselves. Some teams handle distractions well; some don't. The Jets didn't exactly stage a clinic during the Tim Tebow circus in 2012. The team has yet to comment on Sam, but general manager John Idzik and Rex Ryan will address the media Thursday at the scouting combine in Indianapolis.
1a. Not a Jets fan: Six days ago, I examined the possibility of whether the Jets might be interested in Michael Sam. Maybe the question should be, why should Sam be interested in the Jets? A Sam acquaintance -- Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of OutSports.com -- doesn't think the Jets would be a good landing spot for Sam. Zeigler, who was involved with Sam's agents and publicists in the strategic planning of his announcement, trashed the Jets and other teams in an interview with a CBS radio affiliate in Washington, D.C.
“He can work on any team with decent leadership,” Zeigler said. “I pray to God he doesn’t end up on the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Jets or the Washington Redskins. I think those three teams -- they have poor leadership, but most of the other teams in the NFL have guys -- the coaching staff, the front office and locker room -- who are equipped to deal with this.”
2. Under the microscope: Aside from the social and cultural aspect to the story, Sam's football skills will be under intense scrutiny, starting this week at the combine. He'll generate more attention than any middle-round projection in history. Many scouts will be looking to see if he has the athleticism to make the conversion from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker. One NFC scout, who watched Sam closely at the Senior Bowl, doesn't think he can do it.
"He's not a linebacker," the scout said. "He doesn't have the instincts or the movement skills. ... He's a tenacious, tough kid, but he's not a space guy."
The scout also was surprised to see Sam play defensive end in the Senior Bowl game after practicing primarily at linebacker during the week. He took that as a sign that Sam doesn't feel comfortable at linebacker. If the Jets agree with the assessment that he can't play linebacker, it's hard to imagine them drafting a defensive end whose size (6-1 5/8, 255 pounds) isn't a fit in their scheme. Besides, they don't have a pressing need for an edge player.
The scout also said "there's no question in my mind" that Sam's sexual orientation will have an impact on his draft position. "I know it's the 21st century, but you still have people who were brought up a certain way," he said. "Forget about the coaches and administrators, what about the players? You have to think twice about putting the player in your locker room."
3. Double-E: The pre-draft speculation has focused on the Jets' need at wide receiver, but let's not forget, their tight-end depth chart is almost barren. Word is they're very intrigued by North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron. Projected as a mid-first-round pick, Ebron will be linked to the Jets in plenty of mock drafts over the next 2 1/2 months. He's the kind of pass-catching threat they need, but there are some questions. "I don't think he's tough enough to run down the seam and catch the ball in the middle," an AFC personnel executive said. "Is he a great athlete? Yes. Does he have good hands? Yes. Can he catch the ball in traffic? I don't think so." Ebron is the kind of athlete that will wow evaluators at the combine and workouts, but teams will have to rely on game tape to determine if the toughness questions are accurate.
4. The Idzik way: Under general manager John Idzik, the Jets have tweaked some of their player-scouting methods. Terry Bradway, the team's senior director of college scouting, told the team web site, "We're putting a huge emphasis on the person and the character issues, both football and personal. We've done that in the past, but there's an added emphasis." Holding true to that philosophy, they didn't take any significant gambles in last year's draft -- at least not in terms character questions.
5. Say hello to T-Mac: There hasn't been much written about new Jets special teams coach Thomas McGaughey (the team hasn't made him available to the media), but I talked to someone who worked with him on an NFL team and the feedback was positive. He was described to me as, "A really sharp guy ... a straight shooter ... takes a lot of pride in his work." McGaughey (pronounced: Mc-GAY-hee) spent the last three seasons as LSU's special-teams coach. His insight into SEC players will be valuable during the pre-draft evaluation process. Remember this name: Odell Beckham, Jr. He was a top receiver/kick returner for LSU, and McGaughey is said to be very high on him. A postscript on McGaughey: He interviewed with the Jets in 2008, when Mike Westhoff took a medical leave of absence.
6. Down on Geno: Former longtime Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, who interviewed for the Jets' job last season, offers an insightful quarterback analysis on sidelineview.com. Grading players on a nine-point scale, the way teams grade college players on their draft board, Angelo rates Geno Smith as the 29th quarterback. He puts Smith in the 6.0-6.4 grouping, which he describes as: "Can start and compete with him with a good supporting cast and quality coaching, but lacks something, i.e., arm talent (strength or accuracy), poise, instincts. Not good enough. To win with him 2 of the 3 of the phases have to be dominate or surround him with high caliber players."
Commenting specifically on Smith, Angelo says, "Got a lot of playing time, which may have helped him or hurt him. Too many interceptions and negative plays. His numbers were terrible. His progress will depend on his learning from this year’s struggles. Otherwise, defensive coordinators will have a field day with him. Quarterbacks make a living from the neck on up, not the neck on down." I agree. We know Smith has the physical talent; now we'll see how well he can process what he learned last season.
7. Brown and green: The Cleveland Browns' dysfunction (clown car, anyone?) reminds me of the turn-of-the-century Jets. In a span of 364 days, from Jan. 3, 2000 to Dec. 31, 2000, they saw three head coaches quit -- Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick and Al Groh. Ah, memories. The Browns are on their third coach and third GM in three years. Former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is a promising, young coach, but you wonder if he'll get swallowed up by the Browns' ineptitude.