FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. Mr. Fix It: Whenever an issue pops up on defense, coach Adam Gase likes to say, “That’s why we have Gregg Williams.” Gase has tremendous faith in his defensive coordinator, an old-school taskmaster who uses new-school creativity to confuse opponents.
Williams faces a formidable challenge in the coming weeks. He lost linebacker Avery Williamson to a season-ending knee injury, linebacker Brandon Copeland to a four-game suspension and No. 1 cornerback Trumaine Johnson to a hamstring injury. Unless Johnson does some quick healing, the Jets will open the season with Darryl Roberts at one cornerback spot, Brian Poole in the slot and anybody’s guess who will be on the other side.
Can Williams tweak his X’s and O’s to camouflage the problems? Former Jets coach Rex Ryan, who is a noted defensive guru, doesn’t believe the situation is as dire as many are portraying it. He believes Williams can manage the issue … to a point.
“He’s real simple on first and second down,” Ryan said in a phone interview. “He’s going to play either Cover 2 or Tampa 2 — and both of those corners will be protected [by safeties]. Where it’s going to be an issue is third down, because third down is when he becomes multiple. That’s when he uses the pressure packages. It could hurt him on third down.”
Third down, of course, is the money down. That’s when Williams dials up exotic blitzes in an attempt to pressure the quarterback into throwing quickly. He has built his reputation as a mad scientist on third down, so it’s hard to imagine him going vanilla.
As for linebacker, Williams can adjust by playing more 4-3 fronts and fewer 3-4 looks. He likes to mix it up anyway. Let’s not forget, the Jets will be in nickel about 60 percent of the time, meaning he will employ only two linebackers in most situations. His favored look is a 4-2-5 alignment.
The double hit at linebacker makes you wonder if general manager Joe Douglas will dial up the Houston Texans to see if Jadeveon Clowney is available. If not, it’ll be next-man-up for Williams, whose creativity will be put to the test.
2. Broadway debut: Le’Veon Bell says his body feels great and he can’t wait for opening day because he wants to “show everyone I’m the same player” he was before his yearlong layoff. It’s the most anticipated Jets debut by a veteran player in a long time — dare I say Brett Favre in 2008? — but it’s important to keep things in perspective. When it comes to their new star running back, the fans need to mimic his running style.
It’s unrealistic to expect vintage Bell in Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills. Three reasons: He hasn’t played a game in 20 months. No preseason action. No practice with the starting offensive line, which, because of injuries and Ryan Kalil‘s late arrival, won’t be whole until the Jets begin their prep for Buffalo.
Gase did the right thing by keeping Bell in mothballs for the preseason, but there will be minor consequences to that decision. No matter how well Bell practices, he will have to work his way through rust and timing issues. Fortunately for the Jets, they have a terrific backup in Ty Montgomery, who can share the load until Le’Veon is Le’Veon.
“It’ll take time. I don’t think it will be Game 1,” former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said after Bell signed with the Jets in March. Haley, who coached Bell from 2013 to 2017, added, “Plus, with all the new guys, all the new guys up front, I think there will have to be some patience. I know New York. It’ll be like, ‘We got Le’Veon — here we go!’ I think you have to set the bar a little lower to start.”
Remarkably, it will be only the third opening day of Bell’s career, which began in 2013. He was injured in 2013 and missed 2015 and 2016 because of NFL suspensions for substance-abuse violations. There was no 2018 because of his contract dispute. This is uncharted territory for him, meaning the first time he participated in training camp but not the preseason games. He skipped both in 2017, not signing his franchise tag until early September, and he got off to a bad start — only 180 rushing yards and a 3.5 average over the first three games.
“I’ll be better in December,” said Bell, acknowledging he gets better as the season progresses.
Bell is a gifted player, but he’s not Superman. He will have growing pains, just like every other mortal.
3. Talent search: Douglas and his staff have been studying preseason tape from around the league, evaluating players who might shake free on cut-down day. With the No. 3 waiver priority, the Jets figure to be active next weekend.
Their biggest needs: Cornerback. Kicker. Kickoff/punt returner. Outside linebacker. Wide receiver. Experienced tackle for depth.
In only two-plus months on the job, Douglas has done a nice job of adding pieces, acquiring tight end Ryan Griffin, Kalil and guard Alex Lewis — all of whom will make the team. Other additions such as cornerback Marcus Cooper and linebackers Albert McClellan and Stephone Anthony are in the hunt for backup jobs.
4. Did you know? Wide receiver Robby Anderson no longer lists Temple as his college on the Jets’ official roster. He wanted it changed to Valencia College, located in Orlando, Florida. When he was dismissed from Temple due to academic reasons, he enrolled in Valencia and received his two-year associate’s degree before returning to Temple.
5. All in the family: Here’s a funny/revealing anecdote from quarterback Sam Darnold, who described what Gase is like in team meetings when there is a game approaching. He said Gase will speak to the team about the routine stuff, then yield the floor.
“If he really needs to get the team fired up — that’s not his style — he’ll ask one of the assistants,” Darnold said. “It’s usually Joe Vitt because he’s the rah-rah coach. He’ll come up and get the guys riled up. It’s funny, watching [Gase]. He’ll go through the schedule, the game plan, how we’re going to run out. Then he’ll say, ‘All right, guys, that’s all I’ve got for you. Joe …’ Then Joe comes up and does his thing.”
Vitt, of course, is Gase’s father-in-law.
6. Camping with Broadway Joe: Rookie tackle Chuma Edoga missed an opportunity to reconnect with Joe Namath on the legendary quarterback’s recent visit to training camp. Edoga and Namath go way back — all the way back to 2012.
That summer, Edoga, who grew up in Atlanta, attended Namath’s football camp in Connecticut. Only 15, he took a photo with Namath and ex-Jet John Dockery and tweeted out the photo when he was drafted by the Jets in April. (By the way, the youngster behind Namath is Matt Simms, who would go on to become the Jets’ backup quarterback in 2013-2014.)
It was meant to be 😂 pic.twitter.com/uqBoL6vXIX
— Chuma Edoga (@edogawd) April 29, 2019
Edoga was invited to the camp by a high school friend who had grandparents in New Jersey and attended every year.
“He asked me, ‘Do you want to come along?’ I was like, ‘Why not? It’s Joe Namath, I might as well,'” Edoga recalled. “It’s crazy, a huge coincidence that I got drafted by the Jets.”
While he didn’t get a chance to chat up Namath at training camp, Edoga said he enjoyed Broadway Joe’s speech to the team.
7. The last word: “You know his personality, we all know his personality. His record speaks for itself. His production in this league speaks for itself. He holds people accountable. Once you’ve earned his trust, he will listen to you. Look, if I didn’t love Gregg, I wouldn’t be here working with him.” — Vitt on Gregg Williams, a former BountyGate adversary with the New Orleans Saints