Jets dealing with injuries, inexperience at ‘thin’ WR group

AFC East

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP)Breshad Perriman took off down the field and Sam Darnold saw him all the way.

The ball zipped through the humid air and dropped right into Perriman’s hands for an impressive training camp practice touchdown.

”Sam dropped a dime in there,” Perriman said Sunday, ”and I was able to make the catch.”

The New York Jets hope this is only a peek into what will be a season filled with highlights between Darnold and his developing but, for the moment, banged up group of wide receivers.

”This receiving corps has a lot of unique traits,” Jamison Crowder said. ”We’ve got size, we’ve got speed, bigger receivers. I think it’s going to be fun.”

As long as they’re healthy, that is.

Rookie Denzel Mims, the team’s second-round draft pick in April, has missed the first few practices of camp with a hamstring injury. He’s expected to be a key contributor this season, but coach Adam Gase acknowledged his on-field progress is being affected by every practice he can’t go.

Vyncint Smith, who had 17 catches for 225 yards in an increased role in the offense late last season, is sidelined with a core muscle injury and is set to see a specialist to determine the next course of action.

”Obviously, we’re a little thin right now,” Gase said. ”We’ve got two guys that aren’t practicing.”

That led to the Jets agreeing to terms on a contract Sunday with veteran receiver Chris Hogan, who was with Carolina last season but has also played with AFC East rivals Buffalo, Miami and New England.

Crowder, who led New York with 78 catches last season, and Perriman, who broke out in the second half with Tampa Bay a year ago, are the only healthy starters. Other than Hogan and perhaps Braxton Berrios, the rest of the Jets’ receivers are a mix of unproven players trying to make their mark in the NFL. That group includes Jeff Smith, Josh Malone, Jehu Chesson, Lawrence Cager and George Campbell.

”I like our young guys,” Gase said. ”I like the way our guys developed. I think you’re always going to look at it as, hey, how do we improve. I mean that’s what Joe (Douglas) and his crew does. They’re always going to be looking to find somebody else to – if somebody is available that can help our team, they won’t be afraid to go get them.”

For an offense that struggled mightily last year – New York ranked 27th in yards passing and last in total yards – the Jets need to bounce back in a big way.

A lot of that is on Gase himself, and the coach has acknowledged he needs to use running back Le’Veon Bell more effectively. Douglas revamped the offensive line and the Jets will start five players in Week 1 who weren’t in the lineup in last year’s opener.

Crowder said a ”major X-factor” for the Jets’ passing game is the return of tight end Chris Herndon, who was limited to only one game last season because of a suspension and injuries.

That should all help Darnold, who will be counted on to make a big leap in Year 3. But the lack of proven (or, healthy) receivers might make that a bit easier said than done. Darnold developed a good rapport with Robby Anderson over the past two seasons, but the receiver signed with Carolina in free agency.

”All I know is that Robby had a great impact on our offense and he produced for us,” Darnold said. ”I’m excited to have the guys that we have now, and guys are going to continue to learn this offense and grow within it. I’m just going to do my part in making sure that they understand what we have to do as an offense and where we go from here.”

The speedy Perriman will almost certainly have plenty to do with that.

After not living up to his lofty draft status as a first-round pick by Baltimore in 2015, Perriman was cut after training camp three years later. He signed with Washington, but was waived five days later and joined Cleveland in the middle of that season.

Perriman signed with Tampa Bay last year and made the most of increased playing time because of injuries to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. He finished with career bests in receptions (36), yards receiving (645) and touchdowns (six), with much of that production coming in the final month.

”Last season was last season,” Perriman said. ”It was a great run, but now I’m trying to tap into a whole other level.”

He already likes what he has seen from Darnold, and their 50-yard touchdown play Sunday showed a glimpse of developing chemistry.

”The touch he has is unreal,” Perriman said. ”It’s so receiver friendly.”

NOTES: RB Frank Gore (hamstring) practiced after missing the team’s first full session Friday. … CB Brian Poole (dehydration), CB Pierre Desir (hamstring), DL Jabari Zuniga (quadriceps), DL Bronson Kaufusi (hamstring), and rookie OL Cameron Clark (shoulder) all sat out. Gase said Clark, a fourth-rounder, is ”week to week” after having his arm extended in practice a few days ago.

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