New York Giants: Evan Engram speaks on Freddie Kitchens’ influence

New York Giants, Freddie Kitchens, Cleveland Browns

When the New York Giants announced joint practices with the Cleveland Browns, many noted the connection between head coaches Joe Judge and Kevin Stefanski. However, not as many noted the connection between the Browns and another member of the Giants coaching staff.

Freddie Kitchens was the head coach in Cleveland before coming to the Giants as a tight ends coach, a role which has been increased to senior offensive assistant for this season.

His return to Cleveland brought some praise from his former players despite things not working out when he was the head coach.

“Freddie, that’s my guy. He was my first NFL running backs coach of my career,” Cleveland running back Nick Chubb told reporters on Thursday.

But it’s not just some of Kitchens’ former players with the Browns who appreciate the coach. Kitchens will likely play a larger role in planning the Giants offense this season as a higher ranking staff member than last year, and Giants tight end Evan Engram already took note of his expanded role and impact.

In his position now, he’s able to work with the line and then kind of work with us and kind of oversee the offense. His input on a lot of stuff helps us and he’s been around ball a long time. He’s been in every position room, so he knows a lot. Last year it was good working with him. For him to have a little bit more freedom this year around the offense is a big help for us,” Engram said Thursday.

Evaluating Kitchens’ impact on the coaching staff

The decision to promote Kitchens to senior offensive assistant is widely seen as a response to Jason Garrett’s offensive struggles in his first season. The Giants didn’t have a very good offense under Garrett, but with a full offseason to make changes, one of the minimum expectations is that the Giants try different things in offensive schemes and playcalling this year.

Kitchens has coached running backs, tight ends, and quarterbacks during his career at both the college and pro level. Before his stint as a head coach, he served as both an assistant head coach and an offensive coordinator in Cleveland. In other words, he brings plenty of experience coaching offense and may be an influence in spicing up a dry offense that led to many struggles for the Giants this year.

The statement from Engram seems to confirm that Kitchens has taken well to a role looking after the entire offense rather than just the tight ends, and with the Giants adding a number of new weapons this offseason and getting back Saquon Barkley, we should expect to see a lot of new offensive looks come September.

New York Yankees Recap: Yankees get 8th win in a row, now only 4 games out of the AL East lead.

The New York Yankees entered the night facing the Minnesota Twins in the second game of a four-game series. In the first game, the Yankees fought out a 7-5 win over the Twins. Tonight the Yankees had Nestor Cortes Jr. on the mound facing the Twin Charlie Barnes.

To begin the game, Jorge Polano against Nestor Cortes Jr., flew out to Joey Gallo in left-field foul territory. Luis Arraez went down fanned by Cortes Jr. Josh Donaldson struck out swinging for a perfect inning for Nestor Cortes Jr. At the bottom DJ LeMahieu walked. Aaron Judge worked a back-to-back walk. Joey Gallo struck out swinging. Barnes threw one in the dirt, and both runners advanced. Giancarlo Stanton reached on a hit by a pitch to load the bases. Luke Voit got a two-run single to the left, scoring both Judge and Stanton for the Yankees’ two-run lead. Rougie Odor popped out to the catcher. Gary Sanchez singled to the pitcher to load the bases for Andrew Velazquez, who walked in a run. Brett Gardner gound out but scoring Voit. New York Yankees 3 Twins 0.

Mitch Carver led off the second by a ground out to third. Rob Refsnyder flew out to center. Nick Gordon struck out swinging for Cortes’s 3rd strikeout. At the bottom, it was LeMahieu singled to the left. Judge homered a lazer to right. Galo flew out to center. Stanton popped out to the catcher. Voit singled to left. Odor ground out into the shift. New York Yankees 6 Twins 0.

The third inning was led off by Willans Astudillo, who flew out to Judge.  Cave lined out to Gallo in left. Andrelton Simmons walked on a very bad ball call. Polanco flew out to center for another scoreless inning for Cortes Jr. At the bottom, ahead by six runs, Sanchez ground out to short. Velazquez was tagged out at first. Gardner singled to left. LeMahieu flew out to Gordon in the center to end the inning. Yankees 6 Twins 0.

Luis Arraez led off the fourth inning by grounding out. Donaldson went down looking. Carver walked. Refsnyder singled to center for two on and two outs. Gordon was hit by a pitch. Astudillo popped out, leaving the bases loaded with Twins. At the bottom, Judge flew out to center. Joey Gallo worked a walk. Stanton walked. Voit singled, and Gallo scored.     New York Yankees 7  Twins 0

The fifth inning was scoreless for both teams. At the top of the sixth inning, the Twins scored two runs on Josh Donaldson’s two-run homer. Aaron Judge answered at the bottom of the sixth with a two-run homer of his own, making it New York Yankees 8 and the Minnesota Twins 2.

After the top of the seventh inning, Nestor Cortes Jr. left the game with a 7-2 lead for another good start for Cortes Jr. In the game, he walked two while striking out 7 Twins. New York Yankees 7 Minnesota Twins 2.

In the top of the eighth, with Joely Rodriguez on the mound, striking out two, J-Rod had a 1-2-3 inning. At the bottom, Tyler Wade in for Brett Gardner walked. DJ LeMahieu hit a homer to left field just to the right of the foul pole driving in Tyler Wade for the 8 run lead. That did it for Twins reliever Baraclough. New pitcher Juan Minaya faced Aaron Judge with no outs and two runs already in struck out swinging. Joey Gallo struck out looking. Giancarlo Stanton walked. Voit flew out to center to end the inning. New York Yankees 10 Minnesota Twins 2.

At the top of the ninth inning, with the last licks on the line for Minnesota, the Yankee reliever that made his major league debut on August 3rd, Brody Koener, and with 16 days rest, walked  Mitch Carver, the first batter he faced. Refsnyder went down on strikes. Nick Gordon hit into a force out at second. Odor tried for the double play, but Voit couldn’t complete it. Willians Astudillo lined out to short to end the game and give the Yankees 8 wins in a row.

The New York Yankees have played so many close games recently; tonight is the first time the Yankees have scored 10 runs since August 4th against Baltimore. The final score was the New York Yankees 10 and the Minnesota Twins 2. The winning pitcher was Nestor Cortes Jr., and the loser was Charlie Barnes.

With the Tampa Bay loss, tonight against the White Sox the New York Yankees are now only four games out from the AL East division lead.



New York Liberty: 3 stars from Friday’s loss vs. Seattle

A respectable rematch effort against the reloaded defending champs wasn’t enough for the New York Liberty to steal a sweep.

The New York Liberty needed an impossible perfect game to topple a Seattle Storm team welcoming back Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird from load management. They nearly got in the first half before the visitors from the Pacific Northwest did what they did best.

Jewell Loyd followed up a career-best in scoring on Wednesday night with 29 points, while Stewart put up a double-double with 19 points and 14 rebounds. Through their efforts, Seattle turned a 47-46 halftime deficit into a 99-83 win on Friday night at Barclays Center. The Liberty (11-13) previously earned an 83-79 win over the defending champion Storm on Thursday night, erasing a 15-point deficit en route to victory. They’ll visit Seattle (18-6) on September 2 at Angel of the Winds Arena.

Samit Whitcomb (26 points) and Sabrina Ionescu (16) led the way in scoring for the Liberty. New York will return to action on Sunday afternoon against the Los Angeles Sparks (2 p.m. ET, YES). Liberty legend Crystal Robinson, the team’s all-time leader in successful three-pointers, will enter the Liberty’s Ring of Honor in a pregame ceremony.

ESM has three stars from Friday’s game in Brooklyn…

3rd Star: Bec Allen

13 points, 2 rebounds

Allen reached double-figures in scoring for the first time since June. A triple in the second half allowed her to join a vaunted New York club, as it was the 100th three-pointer in a Liberty career that began in 2015. She becomes the 16th player in franchise history to reach such a milestone.

2nd Star: Natasha Howard

11 points, 13 rebounds

Forced into a three-games-in-six-days stretch after returning from injury, Howard’s rust was apparent through a 4-of-19 shooting night from the field. Nevertheless, she was able to earn her first double-double as a member of the Liberty and first overall since last season’s bubble deflated. Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins was pleased that Howard was able to contribute despite her shots failing to fall.

“She didn’t shoot it well, but she did a ton of things well defensively,” Hopkins said. “Her footwork’s a little rusty. She’s rusty around the rim. She just needs to get her balance, her feet back. She’s going to be just fine.”

1st Star: Sami Whitcomb

26 points, 8 assists

Whitcomb might as well have still been in Seattle when she gave the Liberty the lead with a deep triple, one that brought a surprisingly bipartisan Barclays Center crowd to its feet. It was part of a strong return to form for the three-point contest bronze medalist, as Whitcomb’s five triples were her most since she had six in a July win over Dallas.

“Splitting, I think, was probably our mentality,” Whitcomb, the two-time champion with the Storm said. The loss hurts, but it doesn’t hurt (as much) if we learn something from it…I did like our looks. We just weren’t hitting them as  we were in that first half.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Knicks officially sign undrafted FSU shooting guard M.J. Walker to contract

m.j. walker, knicks

The Knicks have one spot left for their training camp roster after officially signing Florida State University shooting guard M.J. Walker to a contract on Friday.

Walker, who went undrafted, averaged 12.2 points per game, 2.5 assists, and 2.5 rebounds in 24 contests last season during the 2020-21 season. While his scoring production doesn’t raise any eyebrows, he is an efficient three-point shooter, hitting on 42.3% of his shots over 4.3 attempts per game. He’s also an 80% free-throw shooter and averaged nearly a steal per game over 29 minutes last season.

The 6’5″, 213-pound guard played four seasons with FSU. He was named to the All-ACC second team last year but failed to land with a team in the draft, electing to compete during training camp with a deep Knicks roster.

Unfortunately for Walker, his quest to making a professional team is full of challenges, but he might be a good G-League candidate for New York.

About a week ago, Walker played in 20 minutes in the Knicks’ victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on August 14. He scored nine points, shooting 3-for-4 from the floor and connecting on all three of his shots from deep. He also contributed five rebounds, two steals, and a block.

Walker performed well, instilling a bit of confidence in the coaching staff, which ultimately rewarded him with an official contract. He will be looking to continue his solid play during training camp in a few weeks.

UFC: Pedro Munhoz contemplating a move to flyweight

Pedro Munhoz, UFC

It looks like one of the top ten contenders in the UFC‘s bantamweight division is considering a change in weight. For the last several years, Pedro Munhoz (19-6, 1 NC) has been one of the toughest outs in the bantamweight division.

Munhoz made his UFC debut back in 2014 at UFC 170 when he took on top contender Raphael Assuncao. That night, Munhoz lost by decision and suffered the first loss of his career.

Since that night, Munhoz has gone 9-5, 1 NC in ten fights with the UFC. Granted three of those losses were razor close split decision losses. Every loss that Munhoz has had in the bantamweight division has come against top competition.

Starting in 2016, Munhoz went on the best run of his career. He went 7-1 with his lone loss coming by way of split decision to former title challenger John Dodson. However, two of the wins he had during that stretch really stand out.

Munhoz submitted Rob Font in the first round and he also knocked out former UFC bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt in the first round. However, since that Garbrandt victory, Munhoz is just 1-3 in his last four fights.

UFC contender moving down?

Most recently, Munhoz took on former UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo at UFC 265 a couple of weeks ago. Aldo used his speed and precision striking to fluster Munhoz over the course of three rounds.

While Munhoz had his moments here and there, the fight was largely dominated by Aldo. Today, the UFC released their “Thrill and Agony” video that they normally release following a PPV card.

The behind the scenes video highlights the emotions of fighters on both the winning and losing end of a fight. During the video, the camera caught up to Aldo and Munhoz talking after their fight at UFC 265.

Munhoz said to Aldo, “I might go down to flyweight.” Aldo then said to Munhoz that he thought it might be a good idea. While Munhoz hasn’t stated anything publicly, the move would seemingly make sense.

Munhoz is not a very big bantamweight compared to some of the other guys in the UFC. He definitely looks like he can make 125 pounds. If he does move, he would follow Cody Garbrandt who also moved down to 125 pounds.

Garbrandt has his UFC flyweight debut against Kai Kara-France booked for December. If Garbrandt picks up a win in that matchup, perhaps the UFC runs things back between Munhoz and Garbrandt at 125 pounds.

New York Giants already declare key offensive players OUT for second preseason game

new york giants, kadarius toney

The New York Giants are currently enjoying a week of joint practices with the Cleveland Browns. The Giants and Browns will face off in a preseason Week Two matchup on Sunday night.

In their first preseason game, key members of the team were held out in an effort to keep them healthy for the start of the regular season. Players like Daniel Jones and Leonard Williams did not see the field on game day. Many of these key players will return to the field to start ramping up to game speed. But the Giants have already declared a number of key offensive players out for their second preseason game.

Kenny Golladay (hamstring), Kyle Rudolph (foot), Saquon Barkley (knee), and Kadarius Toney (unknown) will all be absent from the Giants’ lineup on Sunday.

When will these players return?

Daniel Jones and most of the starters on offense will take the field on Sunday. In the third preseason game versus the Patriots next weekend, Joe Judge wants the starters to play most of the first half. But will these injured players be back in time to create some chemistry in the preseason? Or will Golladay, Rudolph, Barkley, and Toney have to wait until the regular season to see some action?

Kyle Rudolph

At this point, it appears Kyle Rudolph will not be seeing the field until the regular season. In fact, it looks like it could be a long time before he suits up for the Giants. Rudolph does not seem close to returning and if he is not activated off of the PUP list by the start of the regular season, he will miss at least the first six weeks of the year.

Kenny Golladay

Kenny Golladay is a player the Giants need healthy for the regular season. He suffered a hamstring tweak a few weeks ago and avoided the worst-case scenario, but he has not been a full participant in practice since the injury occurred. At this point, Golladay could be healthy enough to play next week, but it might be wise for the Giants to let him rest up and focus on the regular season.

Saquon Barkley

Like Golladay, Saquon Barkley is an essential piece of the Giants’ offense. New York needs their superstar running back to get healthy. It is hard to imagine that the Giants would risk an injury to Barkley by playing him in the preseason considering the severity of the injury he is recovering from.

Kadarius Toney

Kadarius Toney is a major question mark to this point. The rookie wide receiver has barely practiced with the team this summer and is now dealing with a mystery injury. The Giants say he is dealing with an injury but have not specified what the injury might be. At this point, no one knows when Toney will be recovered. All Giants fans can do is wait and hope to see Kadarius Toney on the field for the start of the regular season.

The Knicks Are Back! Knicks make big jump in nationally televised games

You know the New York Knicks are back when they have a significant share of the nationally televised games.

From just three games on national TV two seasons ago, the have made the biggest jump of any NBA team gaining 22 nationally televised games next season excluding seven on NBA TV. They had six in the previous pandemic-condensed season.

The Knicks have reloaded this summer with four-time All-Star Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier joining their Julius Randle-led core that finished fourth seed in the East and made the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

Leon Rose’s regime has pushed all the right buttons since taking over from Steve Mills last year.

The Knicks will open their season with Walker’s revenge game against his former team, Boston Celtics, at the Garden on Oct. 20 in a nationally televised game on ESPN. Their national TV schedule will be followed by two intriguing matchups against Eastern Conference’s powerhouse Philadelphia 76ers (Oct. 26 on TNT) and defending champion Milwaukee Bucks (Nov. 5 on ESPN).

The first salvo of the gripping Battle of New York will be nationally televised on TNT with the Knicks visiting the Brooklyn Nets on Nov. 30 after LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers visit the Garden earlier that week (Nov. 23 on TNT).

The Golden State Warriors’ Splash Brothers — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson — visit at the Garden will also be nationally televised on TNT on Dec. 14. The much-anticipated Knicks-Atlanta Hawks showdown on Christmas is on ESPN.

Overall, the Knicks will have 12 marquee games on ESPN, seven on TNT, and three games on ABC.

The Lakers continue to lead the league with 30 national TV games, followed by the Warriors’ 29, Nets’ 26, Bucks’ 24, and Phoenix Suns’ 23. The Knicks and the Celtics are tied with 22 games each.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

UFC Vegas 34 Preview: Jared Cannonier – Kelvin Gastelum

We have a big time middleweight showdown in the main event of UFC Vegas 34 tomorrow night. Headlining the card is Jared Cannonier (13-5) who will be taking on the tough Kelvin Gastelum (17-7, 1 NC).

Gastelum will be making the walk tomorrow night as the ninth ranked middleweight in the UFC. A couple of years ago, Gastelum looked like he was going to be a future champion. However, his career has really turned since 2019.

In April of 2019, Gastelum fought Israel Adesanya for the interim title. Gastelum gave Adesanya the best fight he’s ever had at middleweight, but came up short. After that, Gastelum lost back-to-back fights to Darren Till and Jack Hermansson.

Earlier this year, he won against Ian Heinisch to snap the losing streak. However, he then lost to former UFC champion Robert Whittaker. Gastelum has been taking on the best of the best, but he’s still just 1-4 in his last five.

Jared Cannonier turned his career around when he moved down to 185. Cannonier debuted in the UFC at heavyweight. He then dropped to light heavyweight before finally settling at middleweight.

So far, he’s 3-1 with three stoppages at 185. He was in a title eliminator at UFC 254 against Robert Whittaker, but he came up short. Cannonier also broke his arm in that fight and it’s kept him out since then.

UFC Vegas 34 Prediction

When it comes to the UFC Vegas 34 main event, I’m very curious to see the gameplan of Kelvin Gastelum. When Gastelum won against Ian Heinisch earlier this year, he really leaned on his wrestling.

He had gone away from his wrestling in recent fights, but went back to his routes and got the win. Gastelum was unable to use his wrestling against Robert Whittaker and was ultimately outclassed in his last fight.

Cannonier will be the much bigger man tomorrow night. He will have a significant reach advantage as well as a power advantage. Gastelum is going to need to use his speed and mix things up.

I’m expecting to see Cannonier attack with leg kicks early on at UFC Vegas 34. In the distance striking exchanges, I really like the power and precision of Cannonier. While I wouldn’t rule Gastelum out, I think Cannonier is just going to be too much.

I see Cannonier bouncing back tomorrow night and getting the win. That said, Gastelum’s key could be his cardio and wrestling. If Gastelum gets his hand raised tomorrow, I have a feeling it will be due to the cardio advantage and later round success. However, I don’t see it happening.

Prediction: Jared Cannonier by Unanimous Decision

New York Yankees Analysis: Aroldis Chapman and Zack Britton, what’s wrong and who will close for the Yankees?

aroldis chapman, yankees

Despite all the injuries and players on the Covid list, there is no question that the New York Yankees have been excelling, going 24 and 8 since July 17th. Yet, strangely for most of that time, they have gone without a reliable closer. Both setup man Zack Britton and closer Aroldis Chapman haven’t been themselves have blown saves they used to get easily. This presents a big problem for the Yankees; who will close those close games that they have been playing lately?

Chapman started the season with a new weapon to add to his missile fastball, a splitter that he used early in his career and reincarnated. For the first half of the season, he mixed it up for 18 games, not blowing a save and not allowing a run for an 0.00 ERA. Then, on May 23rd, he blew his first save but got the win in the game. He continued to pitch well through June 20th as he racked up 16 saves, then he blew two saves in a row. Since then, things have gone south, only adding on 7 saves through July and August, and most of those weren’t pretty.

It seems as though Chapman has lost control of his fastball and is often afraid to throw it at critical times. He got so bad at one point that manager Aaron Boone was afraid to use him, resorting to others, including setup man Zack Britton. But the problem for one of the best relievers in the game is that he has gotten only one save all season. He has gotten several holds but has also blown three saves causing him to tell Boone last Friday that he shouldn’t be the go-to guy to close games.

The problem for Boone is that no matter how well his team plays, he has no dependable closer to go to. So during Chapman and Britton’s troubles, he has been mixing and matching and trying to use different closers, Like Jonathan, Loaisiga, Chad Green, Lucas Luetge, Albert Abreu, and Wandy Peralta, according to who fits the situation best. So far, Boone’s picks have mostly panned out for him. The Yankees have been closing those close games they have been playing lately, most of the nail-biters.

The bottom line is that Boone needs a dependable go-to closer, and he hasn’t got one. When considering Britton and Chapman, they have some things in common: both have been on the IL, and both have gotten the coronavirus. Both have played worse upon their returns. Britton has recently said that his problem is 10% physical and 90% mental. The fact is that it may be more 50/50. The Covid virus hit Britton had he lost 20 pounds and came back weak, and still has not regained all his strength. His signature pitch, the sinker, has lost velocity compared to previous years.

For some unknown reason, Chapman has lost control of this fastball that has been his signature pitch, putting down players at up to 103 mph. The mental that Britton was talking about affects Chapman as well. They need to keep it simple and regain their confidence and rely on what has made them great. Until then, Boone will have to continue to mix and match. He has also been trying to help Britton and Chapman in situations that are not as challenging to help them regain that confidence.

Britton recently told The Atlantic:

“Do I feel like I did years prior? No. But things aren’t gonna always be perfect physically and you’ve gotta deal with it,” Britton said. “It’s like, my brain knows what I want to do, my body’s not doing it. A lot of that’s just lack of reps, and feeling a little different with the arm after the surgery. Then at some point, you just get frustrated, and then it kind of overwhelms you, and then you worry about that rather than just working yourself through it. I just need to fucking relax and do what I’ve always done well — throw my sinker.”

New York Jets: 3 reasons why the Carl Lawson injury isn’t a total disaster

The New York Jets will undoubtedly miss their new pass rusher after Thursday’s painful news, but not all is lost.

The football gods were feeling bored on Thursday and thus engaged in one of their oldest and most cherished pastimes: toying with the New York Jets.

Carl Lawson, one of the NFL’s rising pressure artists, with the Jets in March, was injured in a joint practice with the Green Bay Packers on Thursday afternoon. The Jets later announced that their $45 million man ruptured his Achilles tendon during a blitz on a team drill and would miss the entire 2021 season. Zane Lewis, an undrafted freshman in the secondary, was likewise lost for the year through a sprained MCL and a torn patella tendon.

The Jets have little time to truly process this unfortunate turn of events. An exhibition contest against the Packers lingers on Saturday late afternoon (4:25 p.m. ET, WLNY/NFL Network), their penultimate preseason game under the new shortened format. Lawson was expected to bolster a pass rush that has had trouble creating pressure in the backfield in recent seasons. This season alone, the team faces matchups against elite passing talents like Josh Allen and Tom Brady, as well as young rising stars like Joe Burrow, Trevor Lawrence, Jalen Hurts, and Tua Tagovailoa.

Pessimism over the coming Jets season has become as prevalent of a metropolitan summer tradition as Macy’s 4th of July fireworks and the New York Mets’ collapse combined. Lawson’s injury has done little to alleviate concerns from a fanbase that now has to deal with the NFL’s longest active playoff drought. 

But Jets fans should know…not all is lost with Lawson done for the year:

Return on Investment 

Don’t let the Jets’ garish two-win campaign blur the fact that their front seven enjoyed several breakout campaigns. The team has recently welcomed back Quinnen Williams to their trenches. Williams is coming off a breakthrough year that saw him lead the team in sacks and vindicate his status as the third overall pick in the 2019 draft. He believes that the arrival of head coach Robert Saleh will allow him to reach his true NFL potential, especially considering the pass rushers that the former San Francisco defensive boss has turned into household names. Williams has spent the offseason going over their film.

“I’ve been watching every tape (for) about two years now. When they had DeForest Buckner), (Arik) Armstead, Nick Bosa, man them guys were rolling,” Williams told Steve Serby of the New York Post. “That year when they went to the Super Bowl, I was watching their tape, how much fun those guys were having…Kwon Alexander was there, one of my good friends. (I was) watching those guys ball, watching those guys get off, watching those guys dominate that year.”

Elsewhere in returning trench talents, John Franklin-Myers and Foley Fatukasi will also look to build on breakthrough years. Another returnee, Bryce Huff, has been one of the most pleasant surprises in camp, drawing rave reviews after a two-sack performance in last weekend’s preseason opener against the Giants.

“The more we watch him, he’s just winning,” Saleh said of Huff’s Saturday showing, per Max Goodman of Sports Illustrated. “He’s one of those guys, at first, we were like, ‘Man, how are we going to hide this guy in the preseason, he’s going to end up with like 10 sacks.’ It got to the point where we were like, ‘How are we going to keep him off the first unit?’”

It comes with a painful sacrifice, but Saleh may no longer have an answer to that question.

Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

They Studied Abroad

It’s clear that Lawson figures into the Jets’ long-term plans. With the team potentially facing a pair of annual matchups against multi-talented quarterbacks like Allen and Tagovailoa for the foreseeable future, addressing the pass rush was vital.

But even sans Lawson, the Jets have built their backfield invasion force to a strong level. Lawson perhaps made them an elite unit, but there is still plenty to work with. The former Bengal wasn’t the only entry from abroad on the defensive depth chart: the Jets also welcomed Sheldon Rankins and Vinny Curry to the fold as affordable, serviceable options that have championship experience.

The Jets dodged a bullet when it came to Rankins. He also left Thursday’s practice in Wisconsin early thanks to a knee injury, but the Jets have since labeled him day-to-day. Earlier this month, Rankins, a playoff participant in each of the last four seasons as a member of the New Orleans Saints, didn’t single anyone out when it came to his praises of the defensive line. He feels that the pass rush can instill fear in offenses through a team effort.

“I’ve played with some good dudes. But the dudes I’m playing with now, in this scheme, I feel the sky’s the limit,” Rankins said in a report from Rich Cimini of ESPN. He was clear that the Jets’ backfield assaults wouldn’t end with the first teams, perhaps retroactively prophesizing that one lost cog, no matter how expensive that piece is, won’t break down this machine. “Whoever we roll out there, teams better, excuse my French, buckle their s***. We’re coming. And when that group gets tired, the next group is coming. We expect to do that for a full 60 minutes of a football game and dominate games.”

Curry, formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles will likely miss the Jets’ opening weekend contest in Carolina but has refused to hide his enthusiasm for donning a new shade of green. The 33-year-old defender compared the modern Jets to the 2016 Eagles, a team that finished with a losing record but planted the seeds for a Super Bowl run the following season. Like the Jets, Philadelphia was working with a first-year head coach (Doug Pederson) at the time. Current Jets general manager Joe Douglas was serving in the Eagles’ front office as the Vice President of Player Personnel.

“I’ve seen this ship before. When Coach Pederson took over in Philadelphia, so I’ve seen this ship before and I just wanted to be a part of it, so no hesitation at all,” Curry said in his opening statements as a Jet, per Dave Zangaro of NBC Sports Philadelphia. “Just the relationship with Joe and just to see what he was building, it was kind of like too good to pass up. The excitement around the building when I met some of the staff members. I met a couple of my teammates that I knew just down the road. It was just like a great fit for me, a very exciting opportunity so I just had to do it.”

Lawson’s injury also opens up a big opportunity for late signing Ronald Blair, a disciple of Saleh’s systems in San Francisco. Despite Blair’s relatively unsung status, Saleh has spoken highly of the fifth-round pick from 2016 during their shared tenure in the Bay Area.

“If you like winning, you like Ronnie Blair. If you don’t like winning, you don’t like him,” Saleh said in 2019, per Kyle Posey of Niners Nation. “I love him to death. He can do no wrong in my book. He’s got great versatility. He’ll play nickel if you ask him to, and he’ll know what to do, and he’ll execute.”

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t Talk About Playoffs

Jets fans have every right to be upset about Lawson’s injury. But they must face an uncomfortable truth: Lawson’s prescience didn’t thrust them into the playoff discussion. 2021 was never going to be the Jets’ year, frankly.

Perhaps nothing short of a full-team swap with the Kansas City Chiefs was going to put the Jets into this winter’s bracket. Competing for a division is out of the question for the time being with the Buffalo Bills at full strength. There are simply too many established contenders in the AFC to compete for the wild card…the AFC North might send three playoff teams alone. That predicament isn’t meant to be a critique of Douglas: it simply goes to show just how far backward the Adam Gase era set back the Jets’ fortunes.

Of course, one never wants to say never when it comes to NFL postseason fortunes…the greatest moment in Jets history is based on the first-ever Super Bowl upset after all. But there’s no denying that the odds are stacked against them. Appearing in the “In the Hunt” column once the networks breakout the playoff charts come the holiday season would be a respectable and attainable goal for the Jets. Lawson or no Lawson, the postseason was a tall ask, even with expanded real estate to work with.

Lawson’s forced departure shouldn’t depress the Jets. A prime opportunity still stands on the horizon, one to foster development and figure out who will be part of the potential good times ahead. Getting an upset win at some point in the season over one of those established contenders would also serve as a great throat clearing gesture, one that would put the rest of the NFL on notice. That Philadelphia team mentioned by Curry, for example, earned wins over Steelers, Falcons, and Giants teams that went to the playoffs (they also topped a top-seeded Cowboys squad that was resting starters in Week 17).

But Lawson’s injury shouldn’t derail any goals or endeavors put forward by a Jets team embroiled in a desperate search for stability. Part of that is a mental struggle, but the Jets and observers both domestically and abroad appear to believe they have the right man to help them work through it in Saleh.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags