New York Jets: The four most intriguing training camp battles

New York Jets

These positional battles will be especially crucial for the New York Jets to figure out, especially with a potential lack of preseason games.

If the NFL has its way, the New York Jets and their gridiron brethren are making their way to summer camp.

While several notable players have voiced concerns, the league has nonetheless put out a plan that would commence training camp on July 28. Jets proceedings would take place at One Jets Drive in Florham Park, which would be hosting its sixth summer tune-up. The number of preseason games remains a point of contention among the league and the players’ association, thought the Jets’ exhibition opener on August 13 against the Giants has yet to be officially canceled.

But with a shortened slate almost all but assured, training camp takes on greater importance. Games may be the primary source of fans watching depth chart and roster battles, but camp exploits are going to be more important than ever, especially for a team looking for chemistry and coherence.

Where will the most intriguing battles be? ESM investigates…

(Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)

Offensive Line

Right: Chuma Edoga/Brian Winters/Greg Van Roten/George Fant
Left: Alex Lewis/Cameron Clark 

Protecting Sam Darnold’s blindside was one of the biggest offseason priorities. The Jets came through via the selection of Louisville’s Mekhi Becton at 11th overall in April’s draft. But big questions remain on the other side.

The veteran Winters, the longest-tenured green player on the New York roster, will probably be fighting for a roster spot. His release is accompanied by cap savings of over $7 million, but management seemed more than happy to give the guard another chance.

“(He’s) a guy that just battled, battled his tail off all year after injuring his shoulder in the preseason and fighting through,” general manager Joe Douglas said in February, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. “You’re going to be hard-pressed to find a better teammate, a tougher guy than Brian Winters.”

Winters’ journey to maintain his role in the starting lineup faces a major challenge with the arrival of Chaminade High School alum Van Roten, who served as Cam Newton’s security in Carolina over the last three seasons. The arrivals of Van Roten, who can also play tackle, and Fant also raise some heat on Edoga, who was thrust into a starting role due to injuries last season.

Even with the arrival of the dominant Becton, Darnold’s blindside isn’t fully safe. Becton seems set on the outside, but there are major reservations on the interior. Alex Lewis (pictured) may be the name currently penciled in on the depth chart, but he has (understandably) shown some concerns about partaking in the season and could be an opt-out if and when we get to that point. It could be a chance for day three choice Cameron Clark, the pride of the Charlotte 49ers, to work his way into the starting five.

The Jets have been placed in a fortuitous, yet responsibility-laden position where they have not one but two backfield saviors in the forms of Darnold and Le’veon Bell. They’ve started the long arduous process with the drafting of Becton and spending their offseason money on experienced veterans. But as this logjam on the line shows that their work is far from over. 

New York Jets, La'Mical Perine
(Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

Primary Spell RB

Frank Gore vs. La’Mical Perine 

Bell has vowed to right the wrongs of 2019. Reliable rushing assistance will help him attain that goal and help has been obtained from opposite ends of the football experience spectrum.

Bilal Powell and Ty Montgomery were not retained, their roles filled by the rookie Perine (pictured) and Gore, who’s anything but. Even in his advanced age, Gore has proven himself useful while playing AFC East bingo. His 4.1 average over the past two seasons with Buffalo and Miami would not only be highest on the Jets last season but also ranks in the top 20 amongst running backs with at least 300 carries over the last two seasons. Gore also has the advantage of working in an Adam Gase system during his 2018 exploits with the Dolphins.

The Jets, however, also have plans for Perine, their fourth-round pick out of Florida.

“We all like his skill set. He’s one of those guys that’s able to do all three phases that you look for a running back to do: be able to run the football, be able to be involved in the passing game, be able to protect,” Gase said of the former Gator, per Demetrius Harvey of Sports Illustrated. “I think we are getting a guy, too, that is very hungry, that is going to be playing with a chip on his shoulder. He obviously was surprised that he lasted to the pick he lasted, and anytime that we can get guys that are coming in like that, that’s a good thing for us.”

This isn’t to say that there isn’t a place for both Gore and Perine on the team. But it’ll be interesting to see which one gets more opportunities if and when training camp commences.

New York Jets
 Mandatory Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran/NorthJersey.com via USA TODAY NETWORK

Inside Linebacker

Avery Williamson/Blake Cashman/Patrick Onwuasor 

A shortened or eliminated preseason might wind up helping the Jets in the sense that they would avoid situations like that of Avery Williamson’s last season. The veteran suffered a torn ACL in an exhibition in Atlanta and wound up missing the entire 2019 season. Cashman, a fourth-round pick out of Minnesota, filled in very well in Williamson’s absence before suffering a season-ending injury himself. Further depth came in the form of ex-Baltimore Raven Onwuasor while Neville Hewitt and James Burgess were also re-signed.

Releasing Williamson would’ve saved the Jets $4.5 million in cap, but he was nonetheless retained for another go at it. Whatever work the Jets get in this summer will be absolutely vital for Williamson, currently at the top of the depth chart in one of the Jets’ deepest position groups. If Williamson has made one thing clear this offseason, it’s that he’s not going down without a fight.

“I definitely want to go in being a leader on the defense and just knowing that I’m going to make plays,” Williamson said to Olivia Landis in a video on the team’s official site. “That’s what I did my first year with the Jets and I’m ready to continue that. Once we get back as a group, just going out in camp and proving myself again and showing them that I still have that same fire and the same ability to make those big plays.”

New York Jets, Sam Ficken
Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Kicker

Sam Ficken vs. Brett Maher

When you’re a team that struggles to consistently enter the end zone, a good kicker is a must. The Jets have attempted 63 field goals over the last two seasons (tied for seventh-most in the NFL). That issue was easy to tolerate with Pro Bowler Jason Myers at the boot, but the team went through four different kickers after he left for Seattle. Ficken was retained after being the last of these legs, while Maher was added from Dallas shortly after season’s end. Their percentages were at the literal bottom of the league’s qualified rankings.

Ficken (70.4 percent) was nonetheless retained, his case perhaps helped by a pair of ten-point games in December victories over Miami and Pittsburgh. Maher (66 percent) is perhaps the most notable Jekyll and Hyde case in recent NFL memory, offsetting 60-yard gems with 30-yard flops (sometimes in the same game, like the Cowboys’ October loss to the Jets in East Rutherford). Having a reliable kicker will be vital, creating a safety blanket for a growing offense.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Did the New York Jets find their next Bilal Powell in La’Mical Perine?

New York Jets, La'Mical Perine

What are the New York Jets getting in La’Mical Perine?

The New York Jets have a deep runningback room, consisting of Le’Veon Bell, veteran Frank Gore, and newly drafted La’Mical Perine out of Florida.

Perine is an interesting player, who can contribute in a similar role to Bilal Powell in recent years. He is a do-it-all running back and can hold his ground in pass protection. While the Florida product isn’t explosive in any category, he does everything at an average level, which makes him a solid back up for the future. Learning from a player like Frank Gore could do him some good, and they might be expecting him to take a significant jump in 2021 after Gore and his one-year deal expires.

Going into the 2020 NFL draft, Perine was noted as having a prototypical size at the position, a great personality, high character, and has good vision when choosing his running lanes. However, he is a little monotonous and fails to explode through the hole, giving linebackers an opportunity to stop him before reaching the second level. His lateral quickness is a bit underwhelming and tends to rely on power rushes up the gut.

Nonetheless, Perine was a solid contributor for Florida in 2019. Over 131 carriers, he totaled 677 rushing yards and six touchdowns. He was also among the teams top pass catchers, logging 40 receptions, 262 receiving yards, and 6.6 yards per catch. He also earned five receiving touchdowns in 13 games.

Overall, he contributed in multiple facets, giving the Jets an all-purpose back with plenty of untapped potential. I fully expect him to sit in a developmental role in 2020, learning from two of the best running backs in the NFL, one of whom a Hall of Fame pedigree.

This will be a fantastic opportunity for Perrine to work on his weaknesses and emerge as a solid back up to Le’Veon Bell in the future.

3 Reasons why Frank Gore and the New York Jets are a perfect match

New York Giants, Frank Gore

The signing of Frank Gore has raised some eyebrows, but the newly minted 37-year-old may wind up being the New York Jets’ most vital addition.

If you assembled the all-time “He played for the JETS?!?!” team, Frank Gore would already be a top contender, but he’d have some competition.

Gore, who turns 37 on Thursday, joins a list of illustrious rushers that have spent their twilight years with the New York Jets. Others notables that have taken the green plunge include Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, and LaDanian Tomlinson. Aging legends of the game be found all over such a lineup, one whose depth chart includes Brett Favre, Derrick Mason, Jason Taylor, and Ronnie Lott.

While some names wind up hitting the blooper reels of NFL lore, others can wind becoming solid contributors to the New York cause. Law, for example, earned a career-best 10 interceptions during the 2005 season. A decade later, Brandon Marshall had the most illustrious season in franchise history with team-bests 1,502 yards on 109 receptions, 14 of which went for touchdowns.

Here’s why Gore can potentially lean toward ending up in the latter, more hopeful, category…

He’s Still Got What the Jets Are Looking For

Jets head coach Adam Gase took some heat for his usage of Le’Veon Bell last season. Comments to ESPN’s Rich Cimini earlier this offseason only seemed to further freeze the icy relationship Bell and Gase have reportedly had so far.

“I do think we have some guys that can help maybe lessen the load on (Bell) to where it’s not all on him,” Gase told Cimini on May 4, two days before Gore’s arrival. “Hopefully, we can get some of the younger backs to where we can make a good one-two punch to where we can really excel instead of feeling like it’s just all on him all the time.”

But Gase may have a point.

While Bell’s tally of 311 touches didn’t sniff the league-best 406 he had with Pittsburgh in 2017, it still ranked eighth in the NFL last season. It quickly became clear that Bell wasn’t the one-size-fits-all solution to the Jets’ offense some envisioned him to be. Things could get a little easier after the expansive offensive line renovations,  The Jets had to find a spell option for Bell, a process that became all the more imperative with Bilal Powell and Ty Montgomery on the free agency block.

They began to address the role when they took Florida’s Lamical Perine in the fourth round of last month’s draft and continued with Gore. No one’s expecting Gore to be the dominant rusher he was during his glory days in San Francisco, but he has spent the past few seasons fulfilling similar roles across the AFC East. Gore has earned 1,321 over the last two seasons with Miami and Buffalo. He would serve as a passable starting option when Devin Singletary went down with an injury. Among his notable efforts with the Bills last season was an 83-total yard performance at MetLife Stadium (also scoring a touchdown in a 28-14 win over the Giants) and a 109-yard ground output on 17 carries against New England. For what the Jets are looking for, Gore was a perfect fit.

Over the last seasons, Gore’s 1,321 rushing yards are good for second amongst running backs in their 30s (behind only Washington’s Adrian Peterson).

He Knows the Staff

If and when we get a 2020 season, it will undoubtedly be one of reckoning for Gase and his staff. He and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains will be under particular scrutiny for how the offense flows with Sam Darnold entering the telling third year as the franchise quarterback, now armed with a revamped offensive line and a potential big-play receiver in Denzel Mims in tow.

It’s only natural for the staff to surround themselves with talent that has worked to their advantage before. Gore was brought into Gase and Loggains’ Miami squad in 2018. His duties were shared with youngsters Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage, but he still led the team with 722 yards. The 2018 season also served as a mini-revitalization, as Gore averaged 4.6 yards per carry, the first time he put over four yards since his final San Francisco season in 2014.

Gase has spoken highly of their brief shared tour of Miami. He referred to the Gore experience as “unbelievable” in the lead-up to the Jets’ Week 1 matchup with the rusher’s then-employers from Buffalo.

“If you watched him work day-in and day-out, it wouldn’t surprise you,” Gase said, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. “We would always say, ‘Hey, we think you should take today off,’ and he’s like, ‘Wednesdays, I’m practicing,’ and he wants every rep. You’re in full pads and he’s going at it like it’s Sunday. That’s just how he looks. That’s how he’s always been. He loves football. There’s no other place he’d rather be than the practice field, game day. Everything about football, he loves.”

(Photo by Anthony J. Causi/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Good Country For Old Men

A lot has been made about the Jets signing yet another veteran past his prime. But that might be exactly what they need at this stage of the game.

The Jets’ perpetual rebuild is in perhaps its most hopeful stage yet, but it’s one stocked with youth. On the team’s current roster, only four other veterans are at least 30. When it comes to building a winning culture, a veteran that has done the dance of victory before is an essential ingredient. One can do far worse in a helpful veteran than a college football national champion, a five-time Pro Bowler, the rusher named to the 2010s All-Decade Team by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the third-leading rusher in NFL history.

An example at another position came in the form of Mark Brunell’s brief tenure as Mark Sanchez’s backup during the 2010 and 2011 campaigns. Brunell’s resume wasn’t as polished as Gore’s, but he was the quarterback that led the Jacksonville Jaguars to their earliest glory days and later won a Super Bowl as the understudy in New Orleans.

The aged Brunell, who was entering his 40s, had a calming effect on Sanchez, who posted the best numbers of his career with the ex-Jaguar in the room.

“He has a calming presence when everything is spinning out of control,” Sanchez told Cimini during the 2011 preseason. “When you’re not having a good game or practice is going too fast and you’re just not right, he’s got this way about him.”

A prominent rushing example came from Thomas Jones at the turn of the last decade. Jones’ was a solid contributor during his twilight years (he’s still seventh in franchise history with 3,833 rushing yards despite spending only three years in green), but he had a calming effect on the lineup as a whole. In another Cimini piece, Sanchez called Jones “one of the best teammates I’ve ever had”, even though their New York paths only merged for a single season.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Report: RB Frank Gore headed to the New York Jets on one-year deal

New York Giants, Frank Gore

Gore, who will turn 37 next week, joins the New York Jets after previously spending a year under Adam Gase’s watch in Miami.

Running back Frank Gore has signed with the New York Jets, his agent Drew Rosenhaus told Adam Schefter of ESPN.

Gore, who will turn 37 next week, enters the 2020 season as the third all-time leading rusher in NFL history (15,347 yards), behind only Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton. He has spent the majority of his illustrious professional career with the San Francisco 49ers and was recently named to the NFL’s 2010s All-Decade team.

The 2005 third-round pick from Miami spent a decade in San Francisco before joining the Indianapolis Colts for three seasons. Since then, Gore has gone on a tour of the AFC East, spent the most recent two seasons with the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills respectively. Last season, Gore was mostly used as a spell option for Devin Singletary and start eight games when the rookie was injured early in the season. Gore tallied 699 total yards and two scores while partaking in Buffalo’s second playoff trek in the last three seasons.

Gore’s New York arrival will reunite him with head coach Adam Gase and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. The triumvirate previously held the same positions during the 2018 season in Miami. Gore failed to score a rushing touchdown for the first time in his career, but led the Dolphins with 722 yards on the ground. His 4.6 average on 156 carries was his best tally since 2012, one of five Pro Bowl seasons with San Francisco (2006, 2009, 2011-13).

Several teams had reportedly vied for Gore’s services in what would be a 16th NFL season. ESM’s own Alex Wilson recently explained why Gore could’ve been a good fit for the New York Giants.

Gase recently hinted that he planned to lighten running back Le’Veon Bell’s workload, telling ESPN’s Rich Cimini “I do think we have some guys that can help maybe lessen the load on (Bell) to where it’s not all on him”. Bell tallied 245 carries, 11th in the NFL, in his first year as a Jet. The addition of Gore gives the Jets a veteran spell option behind Bell. Incumbent backup rushers Bilal Powell and Ty Montgomery remain free agents while inexperienced reigned behind Bell in the form of Kenneth Dixon and Josh Adams. New York also drafted rusher Lamical Perine out of Florida in the fourth round (120th overall) of last month’s draft.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Should the New York Giants sign bruising running back Frank Gore?

New York Giants, Frank Gore

Should the New York Giants take a flier on veteran running back Frank Gore to add power and experience to the locker room?

Running backs playing in the NFL for 16 years is not a frequent occurrence, but veteran Frank Gore is an anomaly among the crop. His ability to remain healthy and contribute to successful teams has been his trademark, and he remains available on the free-agent market.

Gore featured with the Buffalo Bills in 2019, logging 599 yards on the ground and 100 receiving yards with two touchdowns to go with it. While his production fell off a bit due to age (36 years old), Gore still proved he can be effective at the NFL level.

His ground and pound style never seems to fail, and he looked the part in year 16. The Giants could use a back with his pedigree and style — this wouldn’t be a Jonathan Stewart type of signing. Gore earned just $1.25 million on a one-year deal last season, which indicates the Giants could likely lure him downstate on a team-friendly, short-term deal.

Gore’s ability to remain healthy year-in and year-out could prove to be valuable for a Giants team that has suffered from injuries in recent seasons. Saquon Barkley battled a high ankle sprain in 2019, missing several games and failing to leave his regular impact. His rookie season showed that Barkley can be one of the best running backs in the NFL, but having capable backups at a historically injured position is a good idea.

The Giants did sign Dion Lewis this offseason to supplement any losses, but his skill-set is tailored for the passing game, as he doesn’t possess the power to run down-hill, between the tackles. Gore can act as a quality pass-catcher and power through on short-yardage situations and goal-line scenarios.

Given how cheap he would be, I wouldn’t be opposed to kicking the tired on the veteran.