By Sam Farmer
Rex Ryan is going to have to be part coach, part chemist this season.
The New York Jets coach, whose team surprisingly came within a victory of the Super Bowl last season, let three locker-room fixtures go — Thomas Jones, Alan Faneca and Leon Washington — and made some high-profile and dicey additions, including Santonio Holmes, Antonio Cromartie, LaDainian Tomlinson and Jason Taylor.
The whole football world will get an up-close view on what unfolds, as the Jets are the featured team on HBO's reality series "Hard Knocks." What's more, Ryan will have a biographer following him around all season.
Making things even more interesting, the Jets — along with the Giants — will be opening their new stadium this season, and are looking to garner more headlines than their New York NFL counterparts. Positive headlines, that is.
At least for the Jets' sake, there doesn't appear to be a "Hard Knocks" curse. In the six seasons of the show, the participating teams have gone a combined 47-49 the fall after they were featured. The only team to win a division title in the immediate aftermath of filming was last season's Cincinnati Bengals.
New York Jets
Mark Sanchez played well at the end of the season, but he also had five multi-interception games. Can he step up his game on a consistent basis? Will the addition of Cromartie help bolster the pass rush by strengthening the back end of the defense? How much does Taylor have left? How big of a gamble was it to let kicker Jay Feely go and replace him with Cowboys castoff Nick Folk?
Rookies: July 29. Veterans: Aug. 1, in Cortland, NY.
Will the Patriots resolve their contract squabble with linchpin guard Logan Mankins? There is a youth movement afoot, with 24 draft picks from the last two years all expected to be on the roster. What will be the residual growing pains? Wes Welker looks as if he'll return earlier than expected from his knee injury, but will he be the same player? Will Darius Butler nail down a starting corner job opposite Leigh Bodden?
Rookies: Sunday. Veterans: Wednesday, in Foxborough.
Is Chad Henne ready to step up his game and join the realm of top-shelf quarterbacks? Is Ronnie Brown healthy, and how much is Ricky Williams able to shoulder at this point in his career? With Joey Porter and Taylor gone, is there a pass rusher primed to pick up the sack-count slack? How long is Bill Parcells going to stay involved, seeing as he's now into the third year of his four-year deal?
Rookies and veterans: July 30, in Davie, Fla.
Who is going to be the starting quarterback? Can the creativity of Chan Gailey pump some life into a moribund Bills offense? How hard will it be for the Bills to cobble together an offensive line, particularly with all the trouble they had at left tackle last season? Lee Evans is the No. 1 receiver, but who is his counterpart now that the Bills have parted ways with Terrell Owens and Josh Reed? Will the switch from the 4-3 to 3-4 defense be a good thing for a team that only had its defense to lean on last season?
Rookies and veterans: July 29, in Pittsford, NY.