HOUSTON -- The Jets return to the scene of Rex Ryan’s first win as coach – Houston, where they opened the 2009 season with a rout of the Texans. This time, it’s only a pre-season opener, which means the starters will play only about a quarter. But, hey, it’s Monday Night Football on ESPN, and that’s always a cool thing.
Things to look for:
Quarterback Protection: Two of Mark Sanchez’s trusted bodyguards – C Nick Mangold (neck/shoulder) and RG Brandon Moore (hip) – won’t play. They’ll be replaced by Rob Turner and Vladimir Ducasse, respectively. Turner is no stranger to the NFL, but Ducasse still is a neophyte, learning a new position. The coaches won’t expose Sanchez by asking him to hold the ball too long; it’ll be chuck and duck, if necessary. If Sanchez is under duress, it will be hard to gain a true evaluation of the offense.
Prime-time rookie: Backup QB Mark Brunell is out with a finger injury on his left/throwing hand, so that means rookie Greg McElroy will get plenty of work on the national stage. He should be used to it, having played at Alabama. McElroy is a former Texas schoolboy star, so it's only fitting that he debuts in the Lone Star State.
New Old Guy: With Plaxico Burress (ankle) sitting out, newcomer Derrick Mason will start opposite Santonio Holmes, the $50 million man. Mason, 37, has been around the block (and around and around), but this will be his first chance to get a feel for Sanchez and the overall operation. Watch for Mason on third down; he knows how to find the soft spots and keep the chains moving.
Little Big Man: Rookie WR Jeremy Kerley has been tearing up the practice fields in Florham Park, N.J., but now we’ll see how he fares under the bright lights against a real opponent. Kerley, raised in Texas and a TCU alum, will get a long night’s work. He will return punts and kickoffs and play with the starters in three-receiver packages. You’re going to like this guy; he’s fun to watch.
The Rookies: There’s a reason why the Jets let Shaun Ellis walk to the Patriots – and his name is Muhammad Wilkerson. The first-round pick is expected to start at defensive end, adding much-needed youth and athleticism to the defensive line. Fellow rookie Kenrick Ellis (6-5, 345), a third-round pick, brings the size. You’re going to need a roster to keep up with the new faces on the D-line.
Third time a charm?: Two third-year players, RB Shonn Greene and OLB Jamaal Westerman, are expected to fill bigger roles this season. Greene, lackluster last preseason, needs to strong start to validate the coaches’ faith in him. Westerman, primarily a special team in the past, will fill Jason Taylor’s role as the first OLB off the bench. Westerman has one job: Pressure the quarterback.