Commentary

Jets rookies possess a lot of versatility

There's no star attraction like Mark Sanchez, but these rookies are ready to roll

Updated: April 29, 2010, 11:38 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

There was nothing mini about the Jets' rookie minicamp last year. It was a full-blown circus, with 14 TV cameras and 60 media types watching the first practice from a landing above their indoor practice field in Florham Park, N.J.

They came, of course, to see the unofficial start to the Mark Sanchez era.

The scrutiny figures to be less intense when the Jets open their doors Friday for the start of rookie minicamp. There won't be a franchise quarterback in the house, but there will be a handful of players that could emerge as contributors in the upcoming season.

The minicamp will include all four draft picks, 10 rookies signed as undrafted free agents, at least 20 tryouts (players looking for contracts) and 13 younger, bottom-of-the-roster veterans.

[+] EnlargeJohn Conner
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesJohn Conner, the Jets rookie fullback out of Kentucky, loves contact. He earned the nickname, "The Terminator" in college.

Actually, it will be the Jets' first time on the field -- Jets Lite, if you will -- since their loss to the Colts in the AFC Championship Game. It's the embryonic stage of the season, a time when the high draft picks get a chance to make a strong first impression and when the undrafted players can chase the dream. By Monday, a good chunk of these players will be back in the real world, working 9-to-5 hours. For coaches and scouts, it's like Christmas morning, unwrapping new toys from the draft.

Here are the players and things to watch:

Wilson's feet and hands: Every great cornerback relies on sound footwork, and the Jets believe the first-round pick from Boise State had the best footwork of any corner in the draft. He should stand out in this camp facing inexperienced receivers. The Piscataway, N.J., native will get a chance to field punts, which should tell us about his hands. Wilson was a prolific punt returner in college, but that doesn't always translate to the NFL. In 1994 the Jets drafted cornerback Aaron Glenn, the nation's leader in punt returns, but he struggled with the dropsies and never returned punts for the Jets. Played a mean corner, though.

Vladmidir Ducasse's new position: The second-round pick was an outstanding left tackle at UMass. He's sliding inside to left guard as a candidate to replace Alan Faneca. The big fella will find out it's a whole different world inside. Since there is no contact in a rookie minicamp, it will be impossible to get a good read on him. This camp will be all about getting his feet wet, learning technique. There will be one-on-one pass-rushing drills, so we might be able to get a peek at his pass-protection skills. Ducasse struggled in that area against top competition at the Senior Bowl.

"He's so developmental that it's going to take some time," said an NFC scout, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "He's going to need so much work. He's a big, strong kid, but our people don't think he can come right in and play."

Joe McKnight's receiving skills: It's tough to evaluate a running back in non-contact drills, but his ability to run routes and catch the ball out of the backfield is a skill that can be spotted immediately. The Jets drafted the former USC running back in the fourth round because they believe he can replace Leon Washington as the third-down back. Scouts say he's explosive in the open field, with very good ball skills. If McKnight is as good as advertised, he should light up this camp. Presumably, McKnight will get a chance to return punts and kickoffs in camp, too. He was a punt returner early in his college career, but he had trouble holding on to the ball. That needs to be watched.

John Conner's blocking: This could be a frustrating camp for the former Kentucky fullback, who was known in college as "The Terminator." His bread-and-butter is pulverizing linebackers, but he won't get the opportunity because it's non-contact. There will be some watered-down drills, with players using blocking pads, but it's probably not going to be a true test of Conner's skill.

Tanner Purdum. Who? Purdum could be the new James Dearth. The Jets opted not to re-sign their longtime long snapper -- a risky decision -- giving Purdum (6-3, 270) first crack at the job. Tight end Matt Mulligan also is competing. Purdum played at Baker University in Baldwin City, Kansas, an NAIA school, and went into coaching for a couple of years. He has no NFL experience, save for a training-camp gig with the Chiefs. He has been snapping under the watchful eyes of special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff since Feb. 1, and has displayed good technique. He can't truly be evaluated until the lights come on.

Donovan Warren's switch: Of the Jets' undrafted free agents, Warren has the best résumé. He was a three-year starter at cornerback for Michigan, but the Jets are listing him as a safety. Makes sense, considering his speed. He ran a 4.65 in the 40 at the scouting combine, the kind of time that gets cornerbacks converted to safety. He has at least one supporter in the organization. New defensive line coach Mark Carrier is his godfather.

Arms shortage. None of the quarterbacks from last season will participate in the camp. Because the Jets didn't draft any quarterbacks or sign any from the undrafted pool, the chores will fall to a couple of "tryout" players -- Alex Brink (Washington State) and Eric Ward (Richmond).

Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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