Ex-New York Jet Kalen Ballage finds a role in Los Angeles

Ballage spent three quiet games with the New York Jets, but rose to the occasion as a member of the Chargers.

Kalen Ballage is one of several players that have been on and off the 2020 New York Jets’ roster as the team tries to find the perfect formula for breaking a long streak of futility. Unlike some of his compatriots, like Avery Williamson or Steve McLendon, Ballage more than likely won’t get a tribute on the MetLife Stadium videoboards if/when he returns as an opponent.

Nonetheless, Ballage, currently a Los Angeles Chargers running back, is part of the Jets’ star-crossed history, having spent three games with the team earlier this season. He met up with his former teammates on Sunday at SoFi Stadium, earning 71 total yards in the Chargers’ 34-28 victory over the Jets. It followed up a 102-yard output earned in last week’s tilt against another former team, the Miami Dolphins. The rusher has earned at least 70 total yards in each of his three contests in a Charger uniform.

Ballage previously earned 81 total yards over a trio of losses, including 44 receiving tallies on five receptions in the team’s Week 3 loss in Indianapolis. Even in his brief time with the organization, his tenure managed to attract typical New York silliness. The Jets originally tried to bring in Ballage, then in Miami, through a trade in the late stages of training camp, but the trade was nullified when the rusher failed a physical. He wound up joining the green New York crew anyway when the Dolphins waived him with an injury settlement just over a week after the trade talks fell apart.

Going after Ballage seemed to be a heavenly football endeavor for all sides. Jets head coach Adam Gase helped the back begin his professional career through his prior top boss endeavors with the Dolphins. Miami originally chose Ballage in the fourth round of the 2018 draft after a strong career at Arizona State (he tied a Football Bowl Subdivision record with eight touchdowns in a single game during a 2016 win over Texas Tech). Despite the familiarity with Gase’s offense, Ballage failed to find a consistent role in the Jets’ rushing rotation, even with Le’Veon Bell injured and later outright released. Ballage himself would be released by the Jets on October 5.

Despite things not working out in New York, Ballage didn’t seem to have any ill will toward Gase and whoever’s left in green. In a report from Jeff Miller of the Los Angeles Times, Ballage used the word “love” to describe his relationship with Gase.

“It’s been crazy,” Ballage said, per Miller. “It’s been hectic. But, obviously, it’s a blessing for me to be here with the Chargers. Things worked out the way they worked out and I’m kind of glad, to be honest with you.”

The Chargers signed Ballage to their practice squad four days after his Jets release and promoted him earlier this month. Injuries in Los Angeles’ rushing corps (Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Troymaine Pope) have forced him to take on a larger role in an offense building around first-round rookie and newly minted franchise quarterback Justin Herbert. The veteran Ballage has used his size of 231 lbs. to create a bit of a security blanket for Herbert in short-yardage situations. Both long and short exploits were on display from the former Sun Devil. For example, he helped the Chargers’ offense open the second half with three first down carries on their opening drive.

Ballage has high hopes for his former Pac-12 Conference opponent, with Herbert having competed for the Oregon Ducks.

“I think Justin is ahead of his time, just composure-wise,” Ballage said in another report from Miller. “He’s making smart plays. He’s very talented.”

Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn had some special words for Ballage in the pregame buildup.

“He’s answered the call,” Lynn said, per the New York Daily News’ Manish Mehta. “He’s stepped up. He’s made some tough yards. And he’s definitely helped that rushing attack. He’s a very important part of our offense right now. We’re glad we have him.”

Ballage is expected to maintain the top rushing option for the Chargers (3-7) until Ekeler and Jackson make their returns. Los Angeles next battles the Buffalo Bills next Sunday afternoon, while the Jets take on the Dolphins at the same time (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets promote a QB with Sam Darnold’s status in question

New York Jets

The New York Jets added quarterback Mike White from their practice squad and released running back Kalen Ballage.

With Sam Darnold’s situation in question, the New York Jets added quarterback Mike White to their active roster. In a corresponding move, the team released rusher Kalen Ballage.

White, 25, was the Jets’ backup quarterback for the first three games this season but returned to the practice squad when Joe Flacco was cleared for action prior to last Thursday’s game against Denver. The former Dallas Cowboys draft pick (fifth round, 2018) was first signed to the New York practice squad last September and signed a reserve/future contract in January. He has yet to appear in an NFL game.

White’s return may be a negative omen towards the status of starter Sam Darnold for Sunday’s visit from the Arizona Cardinals (1 p.m. ET, Fox). Darnold sustained a shoulder injury while taking a sack in Thursday’s 37-28 loss to the Broncos and was removed from the game. Flacco took his spot on the next New York series, but Darnold returned before the drive ended and was not taken out from that point forward. If Darnold is out, the former Super Bowl MVP Flacco will likely get the start with White once against serving as the understudy.

While Darnold claims his shoulder “feels good” and the team is taking his status on a day-to-day basis, according to team reporter Ethan Greenberg, Thursday’s aftermath has many speculating about Darnold’s status for Week 5. Darnold has missed six games due to injury or illness over his first two NFL seasons and the Jets are 0-6 in such contests.

The rearrival of White led to an early end for Ballage’s Jets career. A former pupil of head coach Adam Gase with the Miami Dolphins, Ballage failed a physical that voided an August trade to the Jets. He was signed just over two weeks later by the Jets after the Dolphins waived him. Ballege failed to find a lasting role in the Jets’ offense, even with starting running back Le’Veon Bell out due to an injury. He earned 67 yards on nine receptions over three games in New York, as well as 13 yards on a trio of rushing attempts.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Updated expectations for running back group

New York Jets, LeVeon Bell

The New York Jets‘ running back group was just recently strengthened with the addition of Kalen Ballage. He isn’t going to be a starter by any means, but he’s a capable back who adds depth. With Ballage now added to the mix, the Jets’ depth chart is currently as follows, according to ESPN:

  1. Le’Veon Bell
  2. Frank Gore
  3. La’Mical Perine
  4. Kalen Ballage

The order behind Bell could change a little, but it’s expected to be extremely similar once the season begins. Bell is going to be the workhorse and get the majority of the playing time and touches, but behind him, it’s all open. It seems pointless to discuss the expectations for Le’Veon because they have been spoken about so frequently. Instead, let’s take a look at some expectations and predictions for the three backs behind him.

Frank Gore

The future Hall of Fame inductee currently sits third all-time in career rushing yards with 15,347. While his best days are behind him, Gore can still provide key help when needed. Le’Veon Bell can easily be an every-down back but Gore can be used in late-down situations very well. Third-and-short situations are where I see the long-time veteran taking most of his touches. He can pound the ball up the middle to get the one, two, or three yards to move the chains.

Gore most likely isn’t going to have pretty stats this season, but he doesn’t need them. If he can use his experience and intelligence to just keep drives alive, he can be a nice part of this New York Jets offense.

La’Mical Perine

The rookie out of Florida had a solid college career, finishing ninth in career rushing and receiving yards in team history. He will be getting nowhere near the same amount of touches that he’s used to this season, and he knows that. It’s hard to predict just how much he’ll be used, but it’s probably going to be sparingly, at least to start. He’ll be the third back behind Bell and Gore, and he’ll have to show he deserves to get touches.

The question isn’t whether or not he’ll see the field, because he will. He won’t be appearing on every drive, but he should get around 5 touches a game to start. It could be more, it could be less, but it should be around there.

Kalen Ballage

The third-year back has never had the chance to be featured consistently on offense. That will continue with the New York Jets. Across two season in Miami, he started just 6 of the 24 games he played. In his career, he’s totaled 326 yards and 4 touchdowns thus far. Those are very limited numbers in limited playing opportunities. The downside for him now is that he’ll have even fewer opportunities, if he plays at all.

Ballage may never see the field in a Jets uniform, since he was added simply for back-end depth. He’s capable of being a rotational piece in a backfield, and that’s what he’ll be if he touches the field. He seems to be an addition for the potential scenario where injuries diminish the group. Whatever his usage is or isn’t, he adds back-end security for the Jets backfield.