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Over the next few weeks, the Jets should be getting several starters back from injury or suspension, headlined of course by Sam Darnold. This should provide a much-needed injection of talent for a team that has mostly been over matched in losing each of their first four games.
However, while the team as a whole has been struggling, there have been some positive flashes here and there from young players who have been making the most of their opportunity for additional playing time.
While the returning players should send most of these individuals back to the bench, it would be a shame if their playing time dried up altogether. Let's explore some players who deserve to continue getting chances to contribute even as the team approaches full strength:
Guard Alex Lewis
The Jets got solid play out of Lewis in his first start of the season on Sunday. He had no penalties,made good contributions against the run and didn't give up any pressure in pass protection although the rest of the line struggled, with the other four starters each giving up at least one sack. Lewis was filling in for the injured Kelechi Osemele, who hurt his shoulder in practice during the week.
By the time Osemele is ready to come back, Lewis might have had a chance to show that he deserves to retain a starting role. This could also lead into next year, where the Jets should be able to re-sign Lewis for considerably less than the $11.7 million Osemele is scheduled to earn.
Wide Receivers Braxton Berrios and Vyncint Smith
With Chris Herndon's return from suspension looking set to be delayed after he pulled his hamstring in practice, that should create further opportunities for playing time for tight ends Ryan Griffin and Trevon Wesco. However, the players standing in for Herndon have been so underwhelming that perhaps the team should vary up their personnel packages and go with four wide receivers more often.
Berrios filled in against the Patriots and caught a couple of passes out of the slot, showing some speed and elusiveness on one catch-and-run. The recently signed Smith scored a touchdown on an end around in his first game on Sunday, again injecting some speed into the Jets' pedestrian offense. He also pounced on a Luke Falk fumble.
Mixing in young talent with potential like Berrios and Smith will give the coaching staff some idea of whether either of them could be a potential future contributor instead of just leaning on veterans that might not be part of the team's long-term plans. Operating out of more two-back sets to get Ty Montgomery and Bilal Powell involved is another viable possibility.
Edge Rushers Jordan Willis and Tarell Basham
With both Jordan Jenkins and Brandon Copeland on the brink of a return, the Jets' pass rush could get a boost. The pair combined for 12 sacks last season as each started at least 10 games. However, there had been some encouraging signs from some of their reserves over the past few weeks.
Willis played for the first time against the Eagles and was impressive in his first action. He had a run stuff and two quarterback hits, including one where he impressively beat Pro Bowler Jason Peters. As for Basham, while he only has one sack, he's played more reps than anyone else on the edge and leads the team with 13 total pressures.
With Kyle Phillips, Frankie Luvu and Harvey Langi also having been part of the rotation, at least one of them is destined to find themselves sidelined and possibly even moved to the inactive list or cut loose altogether.
Linebacker Blake Cashman
The rookie Cashman has made the most of his opportunity to start while CJ Mosley has been out and has held up well, especially in coverage.
On Sunday, the Jets operated out of some packages where Neville Hewitt was the only linebacker on the field, so Hewitt - who has also played well - might find he loses some playing time when Mosley returns. It would be good if the Jets could develop Cashman into a coverage linebacker so both he and Hewitt can be employed situationally to maximize their strengths.
Defensive Lineman Folorunso Fatukasi
Finally, Fatukasi was placed back onto the inactive list when Quinnen Williams returned on Sunday, but could Henry Anderson's injury bring him back into contention for some reps? Fatukasi has shown some promise against the run and could be an eventual heir apparent to the 33-year old Steve McLendon at the nose tackle position.
With Nathan Shepherd set to return from his suspension in two weeks, the Jets will need to make a decision as to which of these players they retain.