After watching a week’s worth of Jets training camp practices, here are some thoughts and observations:
1. Third-year quarterback Sam Darnold enters the season under the microscope. Is he the answer? Many Jets fans are hoping to say yes by the end of the season. So far in camp he’s looked a lot like … the Sam Darnold we’ve gotten used to. He has had some really strong practices, but there have been other practices where the ball has been hitting the ground too much. The good news is he has shown an early chemistry with new receiver Breshad Perriman and has rekindled his rapport with tight end Chris Herndon. He also has not thrown any interceptions in practice.
Don’t overreact to the first week of training camp. Darnold is surrounded by new players on the offense. Jeff Smith is one of his starting wide receivers right now and everyone looks like they are shaking off the rust of this unusual offseason. The Jets still have three weeks to get ready for the regular-season opener in Buffalo. Coach Adam Gase has said Darnold is processing everything quicker. It is hard for a sideline observer at practice to know whether that is happy August talk or a real thing. Darnold sounds confident and seems to be taking more ownership of the offense. No one in the starting lineup was on the Jets when he arrived in 2018 other than Herndon, so even though he is still only 23, Darnold no longer needs to defer to any veterans.
2. I am encouraged about the chances of the season happening after seeing the NFL protocols up close. It appears that the Jets are taking this very seriously and I have to imagine the other 31 teams are as well. I expected more positive cases (there were only five players on the COVID list as of Friday). We have seen with baseball that one outbreak can change everything, but football is different than baseball. The travel is much more limited and football players are used to following a ton of rules. Football coaches are more authoritarian than baseball managers. I also think the way the NFL schedule is, with just one game a week, makes it easier to manage if a player does test positive unless it happens the morning of a game.
3. You may view this as a positive or a negative, but there isn’t much drop-off from the Jets first-team defense to its second team. The positive side of that is the Jets have depth and can manage if there are injuries. The negative side of it is the Jets do not have top-level talent on their defense with Jamal Adams and C.J. Mosley gone. Marcus Maye and Quinnen Williams have shown the potential to get there but other than that, the Jets lack star power.
4. One position on defense that has to be a concern is cornerback. They are entering the season with a lot of unproven players at that spot. Their top free-agent pickup, Pierre Desir, has not been on the field yet because of a hamstring injury. Nickel cornerback Brian Poole has missed the last week after dehydrating at the team’s first practice. Bless Austin, Nate Hairston, Quincy Wilson and Arthur Maulet have been getting most of the reps. Gase talked about the team’s approach to rushing the passer this week, saying he did not believe the team needed a star edge rusher but rather a team-defense approach. He used the Patriots as an example. This is true, but what do the Patriots always have? A great secondary. You can afford to have your pass rush not getting to the quarterback quickly if the receivers are covered and the quarterback can’t get rid of the ball. The Jets are lacking both an elite rusher and a shutdown secondary.
5. You can see what appealed to the Jets about rookie punter Braden Mann. He has been booming punts in practice. It remains to be seen if he can do it in games consistently, but you can see the skill he has that made him a college standout at Texas A&M and a sixth-round draft choice.