FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP)Adam Gase sees – and hears – a clear difference in Sam Darnold each time he opens his mouth.
The New York Jets coach will start calling a play during practice, and the quarterback routinely finishes his sentences.
”He’s able to start the operation with me still talking and it just seems like everything’s a step faster this year,” Gase said. ”He seems way more comfortable. He’s not thinking about, `All right, what’s the play call? Where’s this guy? What’s this guy have to do? What’s the adjustment?’
”You can tell he’s not thinking about all the little things you do in the first year of a playbook.”
That’s a positive sign, for sure. And a necessary one.
Darnold is entering his third NFL season, and second running Gase’s offense. He has shown flashes of being the franchise-type quarterback the Jets believed he’d develop into when they took him third overall in 2018. But Darnold needs to be more consistent and take a significant step in his progress.
This season depends on it.
No pressure, right?
”I think for me it’s always been about playing as hard and as good as I can, no matter what the circumstances are,” Darnold said. ”So from my end, nothing’s going to change.”
He has, however, tweaked his approach to being a team leader.
Darnold is being more assertive in the huddle and his teammates see a more confident quarterback than the one who missed three games last season with mononucleosis and had uneven performances before a solid stretch that helped New York to a 6-2 finish.
”Like night and day with Sam,” running back Le’Veon Bell said. ”It’s clicking.”
So is Darnold’s relationship with Gase, and that’s a major key.
The coach’s future with the Jets is likely tied to Darnold’s overall performance. Gase understands he needs to draw on Darnold’s strengths and do everything he can to make sure the quarterback reaches his potential.
If Darnold plays well, it will have a positive effect on the entire team – including Gase. If not, the franchise could be looking at a 10th straight season without a playoff appearance. And then, possibly be searching for a new coach with serious questions about its quarterback.
”Our goal is always going to be playing in January; always going to be the goal,” Gase said.
General manager Joe Douglas overhauled an offensive line that struggled mightily with consistency and injuries.
He signed center Connor McGovern, tackle George Fant and guard Greg Van Roten, who are all expected to start. New York also drafted 6-foot-7, 370-pound tackle Mekhi Becton with the 11th overall pick. Guard Alex Lewis, who wasn’t a starter at the beginning of last season, is the only holdover.
In fact, the Jets will be only the fourth NFL team since the 2010 season to start five different offensive lineman in Week 1 of a season from the group that started the season opener the previous year.
”The hardest part is the cohesion and so many guys on the starting line are learning a new offense,” McGovern said. ”But the nice thing is we have all played a lot of football. Football is football. You can only run and protect the ball so many ways.”
Star safety Jamal Adams is gone, sent to Seattle for a trio of draft picks and Bradley McDougald, who’ll now team with Marcus Maye in the defensive backfield.
New York also drafted safety Ashtyn Davis in the third round, and it’s a good bet defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will find a way to use his athleticism and versatility.
The Jets added cornerback Pierre Desir in free agency, and he’ll team with nickel back Brian Poole and someone from a group that includes Bless Austin, Arthur Maulet, Quincy Wilson and Nate Hairston.
Jamison Crowder was a surprise last season, catching a career-high 78 passes last season while building a nice rapport with Darnold. But, he’s the only starting wide receiver back after the Jets allowed Robby Anderson to leave in free agency.
Speedy Breshad Perriman should help offset the loss of Anderson after a terrific finish to last season with Tampa Bay. The Jets drafted Denzel Mims in the second round, but the former Baylor star missed valuable on-field time in camp with a hamstring issue.
New York signed veteran Chris Hogan during camp, but the rest of the receiving corps is inexperienced. Tight ends Chris Herndon – who Crowder calls ”a major X-factor” – and Ryan Griffin should help pick up the slack in the passing game. Bell is also expected to see plenty of passes out of the backfield.
CARRYING THE LOAD
Bell has a few new running mates with 37-year-old Frank Gore and fourth-rounder La’Mical Perine, but he’ll still be the lead back.
Bell arrived to camp in what he says is the best shape of his career. He’s eager to put last season’s subpar debut in New York – he ran for just 789 yards and averaged a personal worst 3.2 yards per carry.
Gase acknowledged he needs to use Bell more efficiently than he did last season, and make the offense less predictable.
”I’m ready to show this is the best Le’Veon Bell that has ever played in the NFL,” the 28-year-old running back declared.
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