Last year it was bounties and Gregg Williams' Power Point presentations that looked like they were made by PFT Commenter (no offense). In 2011, we had billionaires versus millionaires threatening us with no football. This summer, it's crime and grime, mostly headlined by the bizarre, sad story of Aaron Hernandez's first-degree murder charge. NFL offseason stories can be tiring. Still very important to the game, but oh so very tiring.
That's where the New York Jets come in.
There was a lull in the Hernandez story. A hungry media moved quickly to fill the 24-hour news cycle. The Jets, conveniently located in the country's largest media market, fed the world YET ANOTHER ridiculous quarterback controversy.
Geno Smith in the read option? Mark Sanchez ready to lead? Rex Ryan struggling to climb a fence with deadly bulls chasing him as a metaphor for his waning days with the Jets? Finally, the offseason story you've been waiting for.
Let's start in California, where former USC quarterback Sanchez and a ragtag band of Jets players got together for his annual "Jets West" camp last week in L.A. The latest round of QB controversy started when someone noticed that the Jets' rookie, Smith, opted to stay in Florida and work out on his own.
Mark Sanchez was totally cool with it. Here's what he told the NFL Network last week:
"We invited everybody, we emailed everybody, we do it every year. I sent out an email to everybody, some guys got back quicker than the others, but everybody was invited. It's not a big deal that he is not here."
Meanwhile, Geno Smith stayed quiet about the whole thing. A rookie avoiding the spotlight like a seasoned pro -- refreshing.
Sanchez and his teammates dropped a few more well-practiced quotes about competition and feeling good and a team trending up. It was enough to sustain a nation starved for something resembling football news.
Things took a turn for the weird again Monday. ESPN New York wrote up a camp preview about the Jets' quarterbacks that reminded us all Rex Ryan and Co. planned to use Smith as a change-of-pace signal-caller with a heaping helping of read-option plays to run. Never mind the fact that Smith was a pocket passer, not a read-option guy at West Virginia.
Some conclusions to chew on while we wait for the Jets to begin the spiral of dysfunction in training camp later this month.
Mark Sanchez is maturing
And you better watch out, gals. It was only a few weeks ago we were looking at a cell phone video of the guy dancing around at a small get-together with his posterior hanging out, doubtlessly an homage to his greatest moment as a pro football player.
He's over the butt dance incident of '13. And he's learned from it, of course. From his NFL Network interview:
"Obviously the video is a little embarrassing. You got to be smart (about) who you're with. You got to protect yourself at all times."
YOU CAN SAY THAT AGAIN!
Why shouldn't we believe Sanchez? Every offseason Sanchez and/or the Jets promise a more mature quarterback and a tighter-knit Jets team. The wheels usually come off sometime in October.
Even worse, Sanchez's play looks to be in a state of decline. But that might change this year because ...
Mark Sanchez is confident
Just listen to what he's telling the world this summer.
Here's what he told ESPN last week, before departing on his SoCal camping trip:
"When it's a straight-up competition for the job, let's roll," Sanchez said of his battle with Geno Smith. "It really doesn't bother me at all. It really doesn't affect my confidence or anything like that. 'We're competing for something. All right, I'm going to win.' That's just how I am."
Sanchez even got the coveted Kellen Winslow endorsement last week, with the veteran tight end praising his leadership. And if there's one thing Kellen Winslow knows, it's leadership.
Confidence and maturity are wonderful things for a player to have as he enters his fifth season in the league. However, it may not matter for a player who has 52 turnovers in his last two seasons as the Jets' quarterback by default. His struggles continued during OTAs this summer. Sanchez went 6-for-11 with three picks one afternoon session of the contact-free practice sessions.
What about Geno Smith?
Smith had his own problems in spring practices, looking very much like the unfinished product the Jets scooped out of the second round in this year's draft. It's not really a surprise. Smith ran Dana Holgorsen's Air Raid offense at West Virginia. He worked almost exclusively out of the shotgun. Learning and getting comfortable in offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg's West Coast system and the pro game as a whole takes time. The Jets coaches acknowledged that, even while holding out hope for Smith in training camp this year.
Smith packed up after OTAs and headed to Florida for a master class on his footwork, taking snaps under center, reading a pro defense and more. He skipped "Jets West" for that. Clearly then, he's doomed, or so goes the thinking in some quarters of the Internet.
The truth is Smith may be better off in Florida working on his own for a couple reasons. First, he's working on the fundamentals of being a pro quarterback. Smith has to iron out taking snaps from under center before he can master the finer points of the West Coast Offense.
Second, he avoided the spotlight and the chance for any controversy. To his credit, Smith has shown some real savvy in staying above the fray. Might Jay-Z's Roc Nation agency offer some advantage in that department? He at least has Hov to deflect a little, fighting a proxy war with the NFLPA with lawyers and verses.
Ultimately, both Sanchez and Smith may both be doomed this year because ...
The Jets are still the Jets
Whichever quarterback ends up starting Week 1 will be playing behind the oldest offensive line in the league. Center Nick Mangold and left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson are still two of the best players at their positions, but there are major question marks at the other three spots. At wide receiver, the situation is especially bleak. The team's best pass catcher is Santonio Holmes, but the noted locker room pariah might start the season on the PUP list. That could leave Winslow, who played one game last year, as whichever quarterback's top target.
The 2013 Jets are putting their own stamp on rebuilding.
I should point out that the Jets' plans all along looked like making David Garrard the starter and placeholder for Smith. Unfortunately for the Jets, Garrard's knee were made up mostly of broken dreams and scar tissue. He retired.
That brings us full circle, back to Monday's news that Ryan and Mornhinweg are thinking of using Smith as a "change of pace" guy, with an emphasis on the read option.
Smith did not run the read option at West Virginia. His athleticism is definitely one of his strengths, but that doesn't automatically translate to the read option. I'd say the Jets coaches are lumping their black quarterback stereotypes together, but they thought the same thing about Tim Tebow last year, when the Jets were using wildcat and read option interchangeably.
Like a fair number of the NFL media world, the Jets don't really know what this whole read option thing is. But at least they seem willing to try it!
Rex Ryan wandering through coaching purgatory. A no-win situation at quarterback. The Jets are once again headed for a spectacular flame out. It's as sure of a sign as any that football is almost here again.
We couldn't be more delighted.