Cautious optimism emerged from the final day of New York Jets training camp, as a tense weekend of cuts awaits.
Stage one of a most unusual NFL season has come and gone. One of its most painful mainstays, however, is already underway.
The New York Jets’ training camp proceedings ended on Friday afternoon, just a little more than 24 hours before the mandated downsizing of NFL active rosters to 53 players. New York’s personal purging has already bid farewell to veterans James Burgess (who led the Jets with 80 tackles last season) and Jonotthan Harrison (19 starts over the last three seasons). The process will only continue as Saturday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline approaches, though several departees could find new opportunities with practice squads extended from 10 to 16 players.
Head coach Adam Gase anticipates Saturday’s organized chaos, especially in such a tenuous season that could require substitutions rising to the occasion on short notice.
“It’ll be interesting when we kind of get to those because I’m sure that it’s going to end up being we’ll have about five really tough decisions to make,” Gase said of the roster trim, per transcripts provided by the Jets. “Those active roster (decisions), but on the practice squad and then kind of holding your breath to see if anybody gets claimed it’ll be interesting heading towards the end of this week.”
The calm before Saturday’s storm of transactions allowed the Jets’ a brief opportunity to focus on a roller-coaster training camp session. Set in the backdrop of the ongoing health crisis, some would say it’s enough of a win that the team emerged without major catastrophe.
Still, Gase was pleased with what the team was able to accomplish in their college campus-like settings. He hopes the awareness and precautions taken during the process carries over into the regular season.
“I think the players did a great job staying focused. I know it was an unusual training camp, a lot of walkthroughs, rep wise,” he said. “No preseason games, but I thought the guys did a good job of using the time he had his effectively as possible. It was nice that, you know, we were able to kind of have the setup we had with having the hotels as close as we had them, kind of almost making that like a dormitory, buying out the whole hotel, which that was big for us, just kind of had smooth transition on all that stuff.”
“We’ll kind of see as we get into the season, where now guys can live on their own and we’ll maneuver that and now we’ll be able to just kind of start doing meetings live in person, which is that’s going to be something that we’re, we’re going to be excited about.”
Walkthroughs weren’t able to fully simulate the type of action the Jets lost through the cancellation of the annual preseason quartet. But Gase was pleased with what the effort put forth and the work accomplished.
“The walkthroughs were awesome,” the head coach remarked. “It’s like having a meeting on the field and I do think the way that our guys engaged in the virtual meetings was, I felt like we got a ton of guys asking more questions than sometimes when you’re live, where it’s easier to nod your head and say you got it and you might not have it, where on the virtual stuff, I just felt like there was a better back and forth for whatever reason.”
With training camp in the books and no exhibitions looming, the first opportunity to battle a football player clad in a color other than gree and white comes in the Week 1 opener against the Buffalo Bills (1 p.m. ET, CBS). The Jets will likely enter that game packed with youth and inexperience and without some crucial would-be contributors stepping out due to medical concerns and training camp injuries. There’s no telling just how much progress was made before the Jets battle a good number of experts have pegged to swipe New England’s AFC East throne.
But from what the players and coaching staff have gathered, they believe they’re ready to face a season laden with questions.
The spring selection of Louisville offensive lineman Mekhi Becton will loom large for both the Jets’ immediate and long-term future. If he fails to rise to expectations, it could set the Jets back years and have them wondering about the wide receiver prospects left behind. But his success could change the narrative about the Jets’ offense and perhaps become the spark the Sam Darnold/Le’Veon Bell era truly needs to ignite.
It would’ve been Becton’s showings that garnered the most observers if summer showcases were allowed to proceed. The Jets sound pleased with what they were able to get in the meantime.
“He looks comfortable to me. And he’s not making mistakes,” Gase said of Becton, per Olivia Landis of the official team site. “I’ve been extremely impressed by how he’s operating as far as his knowledge of football, how he’s retaining things, acquiring the information, recalling it, and then at the same time executing, playing fast. He’s doing a really good job.”
Becton’s first NFL training camp has certainly been one for the books. He was denied a handshake from the commissioner and hearing his name called in Las Vegas with the league opting for virtual draft settings last April. Presumably starting, he’ll be thrown into an immediate fire against Buffalo, owners of one of the NFL’s scariest pass rushes. He’s one of many Jets that could’ve used four consequence-free opportunities in August to adjust to the professional game.
But the experiences at One Jets Drive in Florham Park may have given Becton the best preseason/tune-up opponents of all: Gregg Williams’ defense.
Becton admitted that virtual meetings at the onset of camp that virtual meetings took a bit of adjusting to, but that he found his first NFL training camp to be a fulfilling experience, one that helped him learn where his true NFL strengths lie and where he might need to improve moving forward.
“I would definitely say I got better as a player, person and teammate,” Becton said in Landis’ postcamp report. “I definitely learned how to take care of my body, technique, plays, everything. I’ve gotten better over this time period.;”
“I fixed my hand placement and made sure that I keep my feet moving and don’t just stop once I make contact. Those are the things I worked on the most and needed to harp on the most. I also needed to work on my backside cutoff as well.”
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags