Fourth of five-part series — a Jets trio of note.
Position battles are always a highlight of training camp.
Rookies and new acquisitions fight for jobs with holdovers. At some positions, the competition can be fierce in practices and preseason games. This year, those preseason games appear to be in jeopardy so practices will gain even more importance.
There are some camp battles that are not just for starting spots, but for roster spots. The Jets have a few players who played big roles in recent years now just fighting for a spot on the team, including one who has been around longer than any other Jets player.
Here are the three Jets fighting to hold onto their jobs:
Brian Winters, guard
Winters stands as the longest-tenured Jet. He has been with the team since 2013 when then-GM John Idzik took him in the third round. He has lasted through three GMs and three head coaches. The question now is: Can he make it to September?
The Jets signed Greg Van Roten in free agency to compete with Winters for the right guard spot. They can save $7 million by cutting Winters, so it is surprising that he has even made it this far. GM Joe Douglas is a fan of Winters, though. The veteran guard impressed his new boss last season by playing through a serious shoulder injury for half the season. Winters is as tough as they come and he won’t go quietly. Van Roten is going to have to beat him out.
Avery Williamson, inside linebacker
One of the biggest issues last season was the Jets’ injuries at inside linebacker. It all started when Williamson went down during a preseason game with a torn ACL and was lost for the season.
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Williamson is expected to be healthy for training camp, but he will have competition for his spot. The silver lining for the Jets with all of the injuries at inside linebacker is several players got playing time they normally would not have. Now, Neville Hewitt, Blake Cashman and James Burgess will be fighting for playing time along with Patrick Onwuasor, whom the Jets signed as a free agent.
Inside linebacker is probably the team’s deepest position. Williamson showed what he could do in 2018, his first season with the Jets. He was a high-impact player for Todd Bowles’ defense. He led the team with 120 tackles and had three sacks, an interception, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
Williamson has a salary-cap figure of $8.5 million, so the Jets could save some money by going with a cheaper option at the position. He is a talented player and is popular in the locker room, though. The Jets are going to have to weigh this decision carefully.
Sam Ficken, kicker
The Jets went through three kickers before getting to Ficken in Week 2 of the season. After years of having Nick Folk as their kicker, the Jets have been mowing through different guys in recent years.
Ficken kicked decently but was not very consistent. He made 19 of 27 field goals, 3 of 6 from beyond the 50-yard line and missed three extra points.
The Jets signed former Cowboys kicker Brett Maher just after last season ended to compete with Ficken in camp for the starting spot. Special teams coordinator Brant Boyer recently said it will be an open competition. The Jets drafted Braden Mann in the sixth round this year. Mann is expected to handle not just the punting duties but also kickoffs. So, Ficken and Maher will just be worried about placekicking. It will be a battle to watch in camp.