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Jets trying to fill holes on offense, and face learning Sparano's system

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All eyes on Tim Tebow, who is struggling to deliver the football quickly enough. (Getty Images)  
All eyes on Tim Tebow, who is struggling to deliver the football quickly enough. (Getty Images)  

CORTLAND, N.Y. -- After two days with the New York Jets, figured I would empty out my notebook of what I gleaned and what some of the buzz was in camp among the coaches and players before I shove off for Buffalo and a preseason game there Thursday night.

From a big picture standpoint, it's been easy to see the offense is going through some learning pains to grasp Tony Sparano's system. And with Santonio Holmes off the field and battling a rib injury, it's also apparent there are not an abundance of weapons here. The good news is rookie receiver Stephen Hill is making some plays, but we'll see how it translates when the games count (Rex Ryan has been gushing about rookie receiver Jordan White).

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The running game remains a mystery. There is excitement on the staff about the development of second-year back Bilal Powell, and he's someone I figure we see an awful lot from in preseason games, beginning Friday in Cincinnati. This offensive line is not nearly as dominant as it was a few years back, either. The right tackle spot, with Wayne Hunter, Austin Howard and Stephon Heyer the top three candidates, is a particular concern. Hunter, the returning starter, has been nursing a lower back injury, so Howard, in his third year out of Northern Iowa, is working with the starters.

I would expect this team to be all over the waiver wire as tackles are released and cuts are made following the failed Jeff Otah trade. And Vlad Ducasse, a second-round pick not that long ago, has effectively lost out already in his "competition" with Matt Slauson for a starting guard spot.

Sparano has become the central figure on that side of the ball, after his stint as Miami's head coach, and the offensive coordinator is as vocal as it gets through the three-hour practices. His presence has taken a lot of things off Rex Ryan's plate, and allowed him to branch out some, but this team is going to need time to grasp Sparano's terminology and to perform at the tempo he demands.

Let's just say that the man has had a lot to bark about in sessions I watched. With that in mind, Ryan said some starters could end up playing beyond the first quarter Friday night against the Bengals.

"It's a new offense," Ryan said. "Everybody needs reps."

Frustration with Coples

On the other side of the ball, you can already hear whispers of frustration with first-round pick Quinton Coples. I'm not saying this is another Vernon Gholston situation, but more than one person has intimated that Coples has a ways to go and he needs to get his motor running high all the time. Something to keep an eye on.

However, youngster Muhammad Wilkerson is getting high marks and the coaches see some Trevor Pryce in him, a player Ryan had great success with in Baltimore. "He looks tremendous," Ryan said. Another recent high pick, however, Kyle Wilson, is still struggling with his tackling and to adapt his overall game. He projects best as a slot guy for now, and if Darrelle Revis or Antonio Cromartie went down for any reason, people would have their fingers crossed about Wilson on the outside.

Scott's perspective

Had a great chat with veteran lineman Bart Scott about just how different it is to play in New York, for this particular team, than anywhere else. After spending time with the Giants, there is definitely a sense in that front office that it takes a certain make-up and mentality to thrive in this media market with all of the unique challenges players in The Big Apple face.

Scott, always outspoken, agreed wholeheartedly. I buy in, too.

"It's like the old adage, if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere," Scott said. "Because they'll turn on you in a second, and you'll get critiqued every day. No matter how great you were in the past, you don't get a pass. You don't get a game off, a play off. They're going to ride you, and you have to be able to handle that.

"Everything that happens here, it's going to get amplified and it's going to get multiplied by five. It comes with the territory and you have to know what to absorb and digest and other stuff just to ignore. If you have what we call 'Deer skin' around here, you won't make it. You have to have armadillo skin. You've got to have layers of it."

Throw in the Hard Knocks stuff and tabloid fodder and past Super Bowl boasts, and the Jets have certainly brought some of the limelight and glare on themselves. And then add in playing for Rex Ryan -- "This is Buddy Ryan's son; if Rex doesn't have a good defense he gets kicked out of the will" -- and you had better be tough to survive here.

"Guys from New York, they go other places and they're coveted," Scott said. "Because you know they have thick skin and they competed when the pressure was on all the time. I mean look at the Patriots [they] had a fight and Bill Belichick made them run and you might have read about it. We had a fight, Rex Ryan made us run and you read about it, you hear about it, you see it, it's on the ticker, you hear about it every hour on the hour. That just comes with the territory."

And Scott believes the fans also have a different edge in New York.

"The city of New York believes it is the best city in the world," he said. "They honestly believe that. And they believe every other city is inferior. So they want their teams to be successful. That's what the economy moves better the world moves better when New York teams are doing well ... It's like the universe is in balance.

Camp rumblings

  Center Nick Mangold returned from watching his sister perform in the Olympics and said it was the overwhelming support of teammates and coaches to make the trip that led him to ultimately leave the team for a few days to do so.

  Tim Tebow remains a work in progress. He got a few reps with the starters Wednesday but in general is not where he needs to be delivering the football. "We're trying to get him to get the ball out quicker," Ryan said.

"It's a lot different from what I've done before," Tebow said.

  In general, I think this team will live and die with its defense. If they can hold teams to around 17 points a game, it could be a successful season. The onus will be on Ryan to scheme up the pass rush, unless guys like Aaron Maybin really turn it on, and speed on defense over 16 games could be an issue. This seems like a team in transition and I'd have tempered expectations if I were a Jets fan.

 Guess it's mandatory I stop in Syracuse on the way to Buffalo and hit The Dinosaur Bar-B-Que for old time's sake. Haven't been there in 15 years since I graduated from college. But if I go that route, then a trip to The Anchor in Buffalo for wings on Thursday is out of the question.


Before joining CBS Sports, Jason La Canfora was the Washington Redskins beat writer for The Washington Post for six years and served as NFL Network's insider. The Baltimore native can be seen every Sunday during the season on The NFL Today.
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