The New York Jets descended upon East Rutherford for the first time in 2020. There are several storylines that warrant attention.
It had been just over eight months since the New York Jets made the Sunday drive down Route 3 to MetLife Stadium. It’ll be even longer before fans accompany them with the stadium’s seats left empty due to COVID-19 regulations.
The Jets certainly looked different when they took to the turf at East Rutherford on Sunday, with several starters missing from their last descent against Pittsburgh on December 22. A training camp scrimmage was the Jets’ first on-field action in what will certainly be the most unusual season in recent memory. The official home slate gets underway on September 20, when the Jets take on the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers.
New York practiced on Sunday and the proceedings will be available for fans to watch on Monday evening on tape delay (6:30 p.m., SNY). Fans can expect at least a somewhat decent showing, as head coach Adam Gase seemed enthused by what he saw, as remarked to the New York Post’s Brian Costello that “I thought today was way better than the last time we had a scrimmage atmosphere”. Sam Darnold agreed in the same report, declaring “I think we’re leaving here pretty happy with where we are”.
Here’s what you should keep an eye on as New York finally welcomes back its green gridiron proceedings.
The Jets may be already be dealing with the toughest opponent on their schedule…and they don’t even face the defending champions from Kansas City until November.
Injuries are perhaps the Jets’ most formidable adversary on their 2020 slate thus far. When it comes to the receiving group, the injury bug is winning. Breshad Perriman and Denzel Mims were expected to be the top targets for Sam Darnold, but their camp participation has been minimal with respective knee and hamstring issues. Rare returnee Vyncint Smith (core muscle) probably won’t be back until mid-to-late September. Second-year man Jeff Smith had an opportunity to rise, but he has a shoulder ailment that might keep him out until the regular season. Even the undrafted hopefuls, like Lawrence Cager, haven’t been exempt from injury woes.
Reliable slot prescience Jamison Crowder is set to bear a good burden of the responsibility, as are veteran newcomers Chris Hogan (a two-time Super Bowl champion in New England) and Donte Moncrief (who is still working through COVID-19 protocols). Undrafted Cleveland standout D.J. Montgomery has also been added since Sunday’s proceedings wrapped up. But behind them, there are major question marks, which would the Jets in the early portions of their schedule.
Rare veteran returnee Braxton Berrios (six career receptions) has been primarily been used as a receiver but earned himself an opportunity in the corps. He had a nice opportunity on Sunday, catching a touchdown pass from Mike White. Undrafted free agents may also be called into the fray, with Jehu Chesson and George Campbell inserting themselves into the conversation. Fourth-year veteran Josh Malone (seven career receptions) was also showcased.
Run All Right
Kalen Ballage’s reunion with Adam Gase will have to wait, as Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that a failed physical will keep him in Miami. The Jets ran into a bit of a snag on Sunday, as fourth-round rookie Lamical Perine is set for an MRI after sustaining an ankle injury during Sunday’s proceedings (per Connor Hughes of The Athletic).
Thus, the roles of Le’veon Bell and Frank Gore, already expanded with the plethora of medical woes at the receiver spot, have gotten bigger, at least until some assistance arrives. The 37-year-old Gore has received some strong reviews from camp, while the supposedly icy relationship between Bell and Gase has been placed under a microscope.
Both Gase and Bell have spent the weekend quelling rumors of a struggle both on and off the field. Gase admitted that he wasn’t expecting tweets from Bell when he was pulled from a scrimmage in Florham Park for what he later claimed was hamstring issues. Bell denied the allegations to his followers, but peace has prevailed through what Gase referred to as “a good talk”.
“We talked about a lot of stuff,” Gase said, per ESPN’s Rich Cimini. “We talked about some things that maybe we can do a little different. He understood how I was going to do some things in practice. He’s a veteran player that’s been around for a while. When I explained some things to him, he understood what I’ve been trying to do in practice. He knows we’ve been trying to thread the needle on quite a few things with reps, making sure we’re doing a good job of getting guys in the right shape heading into Week 1.”
Despite struggling through the worst full-time rushing season of his career, Bell did rank in the top amongst running backs with 461 yards on 66 receptions. It appears that prowess carried over to Sunday’s events, with Bell earning a touchdown grab from Sam Darnold.
Be Very, Very Quiet
In perhaps the upset of 2020, more fans of the XFL’s New York Guardians will support their team at MetLife Stadium this year than fans of both the Jets and New York Giants combined.
Sacrifices will have to be made to work our way through the 2020 NFL season, and one such forfeiture will be the legions of “J-E-T-S” chanters that will be forced to shout from their couch. It will certainly take some adjusting, and the Jets had some practice with the concept during Sunday’s proceedings.
“Nobody’s really played a football game in an empty stadium,” Berrios remarked of the empty stands, per Costello. “The constant crowd noise is (something) they’re trying to replicate or simulate what it would normally be like, but it’s not even close. It’s different and it’s something we’re obviously adjusting to so it’ll be a non-factor come game-time.”
We’ve seen other sports adjust to the lack of spectators through fake crowd noise. Fox has continued its practice of creating virtual spectators for the proceedings. It’ll be good for New York fans to see their team back in action, but also prepare both they and the Jets for a (temporary) new normal.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags