A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. Odd couple: The franchise that has provided so many entertaining quarterback controversies over the years (Te-bow! Te-bow!) is poised to deliver … a running back controversy?
Oh, yeah, it’s happening.
Stealing a title from the old movie, let’s call it “Three Men and a Baby.” The three veterans are Le’Veon Bell, Frank Gore and newcomer Kalen Ballage, who, like, Gore, played under coach Adam Gase with the Miami Dolphins. The rookie is La’Mical Perine, who already has caught the attention of his coach.
Bell remains the best back on the team despite a poor 2019 season, but Gase’s well-documented affinity for Gore and his preference for a running back-by-committee are reasons to believe this could get messy. We’ve already seen the warning signs, with last week’s hamstring dispute. It resulted in a long sitdown between Bell and Gase, who admitted Saturday he was “caught off guard a little bit” by Bell’s Twitter rant about being pulled from a midweek intrasquad scrimmage.
Gase claimed they’re in a good place after the chat, but we’ll see. How will Bell react the first time he has fewer carries than Gore in a game? Gase already is on record as saying he wants to reduce Bell’s workload. Thing is, Bell is a volume runner, meaning he’s at his best when he’s getting 20-plus carries a game.
The irony of the Gase-Bell relationship is they need each other for career survival. To get right on offense, the Jets need Bell to flourish. A former NFL coach, noting all the changes on the offensive line and at wide receiver, said the best strategy for Gase is to keep it simple and “ride Bell” until the rest of the offense gets acclimated.
Gore looks frisky in practice, impressing with his downhill running style, but it’s unrealistic to expect a 37-year-old to carry the load for 16 games. Gase, who speaks of Gore in rarefied terms, is smart enough to know that. Ballage probably will contribute on special teams, but he averaged 5.3 yards per carry for Gase in 2018, albeit in a limited role. Perine intrigues Gase because of his better-than-advertised speed.
As for Bell, he needs a big season because there’s a good chance he will be looking for a job after the season. With a $13.5 million salary-cap charge in 2021, and no fully guaranteed money remaining on his contract after this season, the chances of him staying in New York are remote. Heck, he might not make it past the trading deadline if things go south.
Bell’s stock plummeted last season, as he averaged 3.2 yards per carry — worst in franchise history (minimum: 200 carries). No doubt, that’s the reason he reported to camp in outstanding shape, saying, “I played in this league when I was 21, and I feel better at 28 than I did at 21.” He hasn’t jumped out on the practice field, but let’s not write the obituary yet.
This is a money year for Bell, which might explain why he made a fuss about being pulled out of the scrimmage. He was wrong; he should have kept it in-house. Players want to play, but it’s the coach’s job to protect the player from himself.
Buckle up, it’s going to be one of those seasons.
2. Running on empty? The analytics folks probably consider the Jets’ backfield an utter disaster. Ballage, acquired in a trade with the Dolphins, averaged 1.8 yards per rush last season. The Jets now have three of the seven least efficient running backs from 2019, based on yards per carry, per ESPN Stats & Information research.
3. Rare fish: Say this for Jets general manager Joe Douglas: He’s not afraid to trade within the division.
The Ballage move was the first Jets-Dolphins trade since March 4, 1996, according to ESPN research. That’s when the Jets sent tackle James Brown to Miami for a fifth-round pick. Brown wound up starting several years for the Dolphins.
A year ago, Douglas ended a 20-year cold war with the New England Patriots, trading for wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.
But let’s not be naive: Both trades were driven by Gase, who coached Thomas and Ballage in previous stops.
4. Stock report: The Jets should have been preparing for their final preseason game right now, using information gathered from the first three games to make roster cuts. Preseason games were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, but the cuts are coming anyway — Sept. 5. Here’s a look at some risers and fallers, based on practice observation and interviews:
Chris Hogan: He parachuted in after camp started and quickly climbed the depth chart at wide receiver, separating himself from the young pups with his route-running ability and football savvy. It looks like he will have a prominent role.
La’Mical Perine: He slipped to the fourth round because of a pedestrian 40-yard dash time (4.62 seconds), but his play speed is faster than his stopwatch speed, evidenced by a 79-yard run in the intrasquad scrimmage. Stuck behind Bell and Gore, he probably will start out on special teams, but don’t be surprised if his role expands later on.
Blake Cashman: He continues to get first-team reps at inside linebacker, even with the return of Avery Williamson. The Jets’ most athletic linebacker, Cashman will have a role on defense, probably in the nickel package — and that’s significant because they’re in nickel about 70% of the time. Cashman, whose rookie season was cut short because of shoulder surgery, returned in excellent shape. It will be interesting to see what happens to Williamson, who’s still shaking off rust from ACL surgery.
Denzel Mims, Jabari Zuniga and Bryce Hall: The three draft picks have yet to practice because of injuries. It takes longer for rookies to make up for lost time, which means their chances of contributing in 2020 are diminishing by the day.
Quincy Wilson: The Jets are down two cornerbacks, Pierre Desir and Brian Poole, and yet Wilson still is running as the fourth corner. He hasn’t played a lot of special teams in the past, so you have to wonder about his roster status.
5. Big & Tall Dept.: Gase has noted on a few occasions he loves the size of the offensive line, which prompted some research: The average size of the Jets’ projected starters is 6-foot-4, 320 pounds, definitely their biggest opening-day line in recent years but only slightly larger than last season’s group (6-foot-3, 316 pounds).
In case you’re wondering, it’s not the biggest line in the AFC East. The Bills are a fraction shorter, but a tad heavier — 6-foot-3 1/2, 321 pounds.
6. Make him a GM: Former Jets great Wayne Chrebet was a savvy wide receiver in his day. Turns out he’s a smart fantasy football player, too. Toward the end of last season, Chrebet, who co-owns a team with his son, picked up wide receiver Breshad Perriman on waivers. Playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Perriman, thrust into a prominent role because of injuries, delivered one of the most prolific five-game stretches in recent history: 25 catches, 506 yards and five touchdowns.
“I told my son, ‘This guy’s a former first-round pick. I think he’s pretty good,'” Chrebet said.
The Jets’ front office agrees.
7. Indy rerun: It wouldn’t be a training camp without the Jets picking up an Indianapolis Colts castoff. The latest is wide receiver Donte Moncrief, who agreed to a deal on Saturday. He played in Indianapolis from 2014 to 2017, becoming the 11th ex-Colt on the Jets’ 2020 roster.
8. The last word: “He’s a Florida guy, right? He went to the Florida Gators. I look at him, his running style and size, and I tell him, ‘You look like a Big Ten runner.’ He lines up kind of deep in the backfield. But I like Perine. He’s a physical guy. He doesn’t really run like an SEC kind of back to me. He runs downhill, like a one-cut guy and go.” — Bell on the rookie Perine