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New York Jets: 5 Things to Watch For vs Detroit Lions

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New York Jets: 5 Things to Watch for vs Detroit Lions

rex ryan
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Jets officially begin their 2013 season tomorrow night when they play the Detroit Lions in the preseason opener for both teams. The Jets are being picked by most pundits to be among the worst teams in the NFL this season, and this will be their first chance to prove to critics and fans alike that they are better than advertised.

The Jets are in the process of installing a new offense, and Friday’s game will show how far they have come in learning and installing the West Coast system. Defensively, Rex Ryan will resume play calling duties this season, so it will be interesting to see if the defense takes a more aggressive approach.

The Jets released several key veterans over the offseason, and they are allowing many of their recent draft picks to compete for starting jobs. The youth movement is crucial to the team’s future, and there are position battles all over the field. The development of these young players is a storyline for the entirety of the preseason.

In the first preseason game both the Jets and the Lions are likely to give their stars a very limited number of reps, as there is no need to risk injury. Don’t expect to see the Nick Mangold vs Ndamukong Suh or Antonio Cromartie vs Calvin Johnson matchups for more than a series or two, so enjoy them while you can. Most players whose starting jobs are set in stone will be pulled before the end of the first quarter.

Preseason is all about position battles and testing young players, and these are five key storylines to watch for in the Jets’ first preseason game.

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Run/Pass Balance

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Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Under Rex Ryan the Jets have had an identity as a smash-mouth, run the ball type of offense. However, the team hired Marty Mornhinweg to be their new offensive coordinator this offseason, and he runs a West Coast offense that is predicated on short, precise passing.

Last season the Jets were eerily balanced, with 494 rushing attempts and 493 passing attempts. Mornhinweg’s former team, the Philadelphia Eagles, had a 60/40 split in favor of the pass. He will have total freedom over the play calling, and it will be interesting to see if the Jets become more pass oriented.

What makes it so interesting is that the Jets appear to have the personnel for a run game, not a passing one. The offensive line and running backs are far more talented than the quarterbacks and receivers, so finding the most effective balance will be a challenge for Mornhinweg.

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Performance of Rookies Dee Milliner and Sheldon Richardson

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Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

The Jets had two first round picks in April’s draft, and they used them on cornerback Dee Milliner and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. The two rookies will both start, and they will be expected to be major contributors right off the bat.

Milliner is viewed by many as the replacement for Darrelle Revis, even though the team doesn’t see it that way, and his role on the defense will be different from the one Revis had. Milliner is facing a ton of outside pressure to perform, and he must quiet questions about his health. A good start would go a long way towards calming everybody down.

Richardson will be expected to control the point of attack in the run game as 3-4 end while providing a third down pass rush as 4-3 tackle. He has the versatility to do this, but his adjustment to the 3-4 is something to keep an eye on. Neither player will likely see too much time on Friday as they are too valuable to the team, but this will be their first crack at NFL action.

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Can Anyone Get a Pass Rush?

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Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The Jets had an absolutely anemic pass rush last season, and they are desperate for somebody to become a dominant force off the edge. Quinton Coples and Antwan Barnes are the two main candidates, and whether or not they can generate a consistent pass rush is a major concern for New York.

Ryan’s play calling could lead to more blitzes and unique personnel packages in an attempt to create pressure on the quarterback. Several players at both linebacker and defensive end will be given the opportunity to prove that they can get after the quarterback.

There is a roster spot available for anyone who proves they can be the threat off the edge the Jets need, so keep an eye on the undrafted free agents who will play the second half. They will all be given a chance to prove themselves.

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Who Will be a Playmaker on the Outside?

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Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The Jets may have the weakest group of receivers in the entire league. With Santonio Holmes out with an injury, Jeremy Kerley is the only sure thing in the receiving corps. Veterans Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow are looking to revive their careers, but both are aging and have questionable health.

The team would love nothing more than for Stephen Hill and Jeff Cumberland to step up and become top receiving threats, but both are inexperienced and raw. They will likely get a lot of work in the coming games as the team attempts to find out if they are ready to be starters.

The Jets have a huge cast of young receivers in camp, mostly undrafted free agents. The Jets have seen how preseason games can be a showcase for these players, as three years ago an undrafted rookie by the name of Victor Cruz caught three touchdowns against them, showing the first signs of the star he would become.

The Jets are hoping such a breakout will happen for them, and Ryan Spadola is the player to watch, as he has been very impressive in camp.

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Which Quarterback Will Perform?

sanchez & smith
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

This has been the biggest storyline for the Jets all offseason, and will be right up until the moment Ryan names the starter for Week 1. Mark Sanchez will get the start Friday, but don’t think for a second that means he is winning the competition.

Sanchez and Geno Smith will likely get a similar amount of reps, mostly with second team players as the Jets will be careful with their stars. This is a huge opportunity for both players to show the coaching staff what they are capable of.

If either one has an impressive performance then they will become the clear favorite in the QB competition. Starting the first preseason game is not important, but whoever plays better tomorrow should start the second which would be a big sign towards who will start the season under center.

Greg Sulik is a New York Jets writer at Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @GregSulik or add him to your network on Google