The Jets practiced at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, getting their first taste of life without fans. They went through several game-day situations, from pregame warmups to TV timeouts to halftime. There was piped-in white noise throughout practice.
It was probably a good thing for the Jets that the 82,500 seats at MetLife were empty on this beautiful afternoon. There would have been boos at halftime had anyone been there to watch.
With two weeks left to go before the season opener against the Bills, the Jets still look like a work very much in progress, but there were some positive signs Sunday. The offense sputtered during the first half of the practice before rallying in the second half with some productive periods, including a 71-yard touchdown drive to end the day.
While the practice was not pretty, it was light years better than the team’s scrimmage last Wednesday when both the starting offense and defense looked terrible.
“I thought today was way better than the last time we had a scrimmage atmosphere,” Jets coach Adam Gase said.
It is hard to argue with him. Quarterback Sam Darnold moved the team effectively on the final drive, completing six of his eight passes on the drive for 52 yards and scrambling for five yards. Running back Le’Veon Bell had a heavy workload and showed more life than he has at any other point in training camp. He caught a touchdown pass during a red-zone period and was heavily involved in the final drive.
“I think we’re leaving here pretty happy with where we are,” Darnold said.
The hard part of getting a read on these Jets is just how crowded the trainer’s room is at the moment. The Jets lost another body Sunday when rookie running back La’Mical Perine went down with an ankle injury. It is unknown how long he’ll be out for, but with the Jets bet the over. Safety Marcus Maye also watched the last portion of practice after experiencing calf tightness. Gase downplayed the injury, but it bears watching.
The Jets currently have two healthy running backs — Bell and Frank Gore. The trade they made for Kalen Ballage on Thursday was reversed Sunday when he failed his physical. There are currently six healthy wide receivers on the team and projected starters Breshad Perriman and Denzel Mims are not among them.
All of this has added up to an offense that has struggled to find a rhythm in training camp. It feels like outside of Jamison Crowder, Darnold has been throwing to different players every day.
On defense, cornerback has been the position hit hardest by injuries. Pierre Desir has yet to practice due to a hamstring injury and slot corner Brian Poole is still working his way back from an extreme reaction to dehydration.
Gase struck an optimistic tone about getting guys back this week.
“Hopefully we start getting these guys back by the bunches,” Gase said. “I think we’re close on a lot of these guys and we can finish the week the right way.”
This is the last week of camp for the Jets before shifting into regular-season mode next week and preparation for the Bills. On paper, Buffalo seems to have advantages with a better roster and a team that was largely together last year. But remember the Jets were up on the Bills in last year’s opener 16-0 before collapsing in the fourth quarter. The distance between these two teams may not be as great as some prognosticators are making it out to be.
One thing that has been talked about constantly around the Jets is the togetherness of this group. There is a collective chip on their shoulders after hearing how they have no chance without Jamal Adams and C.J. Mosley.
“I’m feeling pretty good about the guys,” linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “There are no egos in the locker room. Everyone is 100 percent bought in.”
The Jets are counting on their whole being greater than the sum of their parts. They believe their tight-knit locker room will translate to wins. That is something hard to judge on a practice field or in an empty stadium. In two weeks, we’ll find out if they are right.