2013 New York Jets: Five Players to Keep an Eye On

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After a pair of near-misses when it came to reaching the Super Bowl, the New York Jets took a step backwards in 2011. In a season of ups and downs, Rex Ryan's club started 2-0 but when it was all said and done it would end with a three-game losing streak to finish 8-8.

Last season, the slide continued. After splitting their first six contests, Ryan's team dropped seven of its final 10 games to finish 6-10.

But onto 2013 and hope eternal for a team that did its share of housecleaning this offseason. Here we will take a look at five players who could be critical to the team's success this upcoming season. While in some cases the obvious will be stated, in other instances the focus will be on a newcomer to the team or a performer looking to rebound from a disappointing year.

So here are five players to keep an eye on this season when it comes to the New York Jets:

QB Mark Sanchez: Yes, the four-year veteran signal-caller is in a battle for his job with rookie Geno Smith. But Sanchez still appears to be the frontrunner and is hoping to snap out of a two-year funk that has seen him commit exactly 26 turnovers in back-to-back seasons. That's quite a turnaround for Sanchez, who helped lead the Jets to back-to-back AFC title games his first two seasons. To be fair, Sanchez did not have much support last season but 52 turnovers (36 interceptions, 16 lost fumbles) are hard to justify.

RB Chris Ivory: With the free-agent departure of running back Shonn Greene to the Tennessee Titans, the team worked a deal with the New Orleans Saints and grabbed Ivory, who showed flashes of big-play ability with his former employer. New York's running game finished 12th in the NFL in 2012 after being ranked 22nd in the league the previous season but it was still inconsistent at best. Ivory ran for 214 yards and two scores on 40 carries last year but led the Saints with 716 rushing yards in 2010.

WR Santonio Holmes: The one-time Super Bowl MVP (XLIII with the Pittsburgh Steelers) comes off a season in which he missed the final 12 games. That means in three seasons with the Jets, Holmes has missed 16 games due to injury or suspension. But there's no denying his talent when available and Sanchez was severely hampered by his absence in 2012. Still recovering from the Lisfranc injury of a year ago, his return to health is vital to the Jets' passing game regardless of who is throwing the football.

OLB Quinton Coples: A year ago, some were surprised when the Jets grabbed Coples with the 16th overall pick. However, the former North Carolina standout had an impressive summer and would wind up leading the Jets with 5.5 sacks during the regular season. The team has loaded up on defense in the first round in recent years and Coples will line up at left outside linebacker this season, although the talented and versatile prospect could wind up playing several roles in Dennis Thurman's defensive unit.

OLB Antwan Barnes: The Jets' pass rush was far from effective last season, in part because the defense struggled to stop the run. Hence only 30 sacks for the Green and White in 2012, a season which also saw the team force only 23 turnovers. Barnes has made his share of stops around the league but getting to the quarterback has been his biggest strength. His last stop before signing with the Jets came with the San Diego Chargers, where he totaled 18.5 sacks in three seasons, 11.0 of those sacks in 2011.

So what can we expect from the Jets in 2013? Two straight playoff appearances have been followed by a pair of disappointing seasons. And who else will play an extremely pivotal role in the team's fortunes this season? What we do know is that it is never boring when it comes to the Jets.

Russell S. Baxter has spent the last 40-plus years watching football. He is the founder of ProFootballGuru.com, writes for numerous websites and publications across the country and is blessed with an encyclopedic memory. Ready to talk NFL? Follow him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru.

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