FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. Unkindest cut for QB: Pro football is a fast and cold business. On Thursday night, Jets quarterback Sam Darnold was hanging out with backup center Jonotthan Harrison, just a couple of good friends chilling on a couch, watching sports and enjoying the end of their third training camp together.
The next night, Darnold was blindsided by a text from Harrison, who reached out to tell his quarterback he had been released.
“At first, I really couldn’t believe it,” Darnold told ESPN on Saturday. “For the last 2½ years, for lack of a better term, he’s been kind of like an older brother to me, showing me the ropes. It’s been fun, man, watching him come to work every day. He works harder than anyone I know. … Jon is an incredible human being, a great leader and a great friend. He understands how much of a business football is. That’s how we both have to look at it, but it does suck.”
In the big picture, Harrison’s departure isn’t major news, but it shines a light on a dizzying trend: more change on the Jets’ offense.
Harrison, who arrived in 2017 as a free agent, was the longest-tenured player on offense, a title he held for a month. (Previously, it belonged to guard Brian Winters, who was cut Aug. 3.) It leaves Darnold and tight end Chris Herndon — both 2018 draft picks — as the only holdovers from the previous coaching staff. Remarkable.
In Darnold’s two seasons, the Jets have started 20 different skill-position players and 14 different linemen — way too many. He’s already on his fourth center, Connor McGovern, who followed Harrison, Ryan Kalil and Spencer Long.
The objective is clear — the Jets are churning the roster in an attempt to build a formidable offense — but the revolving door has to stop at some point. This is no way to groom a young, talented quarterback. Eventually, he must be given the opportunity to grow with a core group.
“For me, I know I can’t control any of that stuff, so I’m not going to sit here and worry about it,” Darnold said. “Everyone knows that eventually we’re going to need stability, but we have to find the right pieces. We all trust Joe [Douglas], Rex [Hogan] and Adam [Gase], all those guys, to find the right pieces. That’s all I’ve really got to say on that. My job is to play football and play at a high level, and make sure everyone is on the same page.”
2. Did you know? Barring unforeseen changes, there will be five Week 1 matchups between starting quarterbacks in the same draft class, the most in any week in the common draft era (since 1967), according to the Elias Sports Bureau research. One of the matchups is Darnold versus Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (Class of ’18), close friends who worked out together in the offseason.
Darnold is 2-1 against Allen, although it’s probably not fair to count the 2019 finale. Allen didn’t play much, as the Bills, preparing for the playoffs, pulled their starters and lost 13-6.
3. Lost in space: There’s a lot of talk about how the Jets are going to use running back Le’Veon Bell as a receiver, how they’re going to get him the ball in space. Let’s separate fact from fiction.
Bell caught 66 passes last season, seventh among running backs, so it’s hard to question the volume. The issue is location: Where was he getting the ball? He wants to be able to cross the face of defenders at full speed, giving him the chance to gain yards after the catch — “a chance to be special with it,” he said.
That didn’t happen too often.
In 2019, Bell made 55 of his 66 catches out of the backfield (83%). That included 13 screen passes. In five seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the number was 78%, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The Steelers liked to use him out of the slot, as 14% of his overall catches came from there. With the Jets, the number dropped to 5%.
Former Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley once told me he felt Bell had the skill set to be a factor when split out wide, but the Steelers scaled back his usage because quarterback Ben Roethlisberger didn’t feel comfortable with Bell lining up outside the backfield.
So, yes, there’s a lot that goes into the deployment of a player. In Bell’s case, Gase should absolutely try to find ways to get him the ball in space. I wouldn’t be surprised if he uses Bell and Frank Gore in the same package. That way, they can split out Bell and try to exploit a mismatch against a base defense.
Matthew Berry thinks there is real tension between Jets RB Le’Veon Bell and head coach Adam Gase, and thinks the Jets will go with a running back-by-committee.
4. The long hurt: There’s an old saying about free agency: When you sign a player, you get everything, including his past. The Jets are finding that out with wide receiver Breshad Perriman, whose history of knee problems has bubbled to the surface. He hasn’t practiced in two weeks because of knee swelling, costing himself valuable reps.
In 2015, Perriman underwent major surgery on his right knee to repair a posterior cruciate ligament. In 2016, he needed a scope on his left knee for a damaged ACL. To be fair, he didn’t miss any games from 2017 to 2019 because of a knee issue, though you have to wonder if there was an effect on his performance.
Perriman, who signed a one-year, $6.5 million contract in March, is expected to be ready for the Sept. 13 opener at Buffalo (1 p.m. ET, CBS), but there’s concern this could be a chronic problem that will have to be managed throughout the season.
Yates buying the Perriman buzz in Jets camp Field Yates is intrigued by the hype coming out of Jets training camp surrounding Breshad Perriman, and is considering moving him up in his rankings.
5. From walk-on to walker: Jets rookie safety Ashtyn Davis is a football guy. He doesn’t care about the trappings of fame. To paraphrase a certain AFC East coach, he just does his job.
For instance: Davis, who grew up in Santa Cruz, California, and made the Cal football team as a walk-on, doesn’t have a car in New Jersey. He lives in a complex near the Jets’ facility and walks to work (about 15 minutes) on most days.
“It’s pretty much here — the facility — and back home,” he said. “I’ve just been diving into football.”
6. Camp Atypical: The weirdest training camp ever ended on Thursday. It included no preseason games, daily COVID-19 tests, contact-tracing devices and virtual meetings.
McGovern said he missed in-person meetings, the chance to interact with teammates and enjoy a few laughs. Conversely, defensive end Henry Anderson liked the virtual meetings because they allowed for a change of scenery. Instead of remaining at the facility for 12-hour days, the players went to the hotel or home for the meetings.
Anderson said being away from the facility allowed him to focus on his body-recovery routine, saying, “Recovery is something you can do easier when you’ve got space at home as opposed to a meeting room. My legs feel better than they typically would at this point in camp.”
7. Kudos to the coach: You can get on Gase for some things, but I thought he did a good job of managing a ton of injuries in training camp. A lot of players missed time, but there’s a very good chance all 22 starters will be ready to face Buffalo.
He also did a nice job with the COVID-19 protocols. The league sent a memo to teams that said: “If meeting in a socially distant and safe manner becomes problematic, then clubs are strongly encouraged to conduct virtual meetings.” So he did, protecting his players. That’s what coaches are supposed to do.
8. Music men: One of the great traditions of training camp — the rookie show — didn’t happen because of the restrictions. The Jets adjusted, having every rookie sing in a virtual meeting. I bet there were some performances that deserved to be muted.
9. The last word: “It’s kind of unfortunate the world can’t be like our locker room, just a whole bunch of guys from a whole bunch of different places, just coming together for one common goal.” — Jets cornerback Brian Poole