FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. Lots of green: The Jets probably have the youngest quarterback room in the NFL. How young? Let’s put it this way: No one can tell first-hand stories about the days of the rotary phone, and that includes the coaches.
The tragic death of assistant Greg Knapp, 58, the resident sage, has left the Jets without an experienced quarterback coach. It’s noteworthy because, as everybody knows, the development of prized rookie Zach Wilson is priority No. 1 for the organization.
The group is led by Mike LaFleur, 34, a first-time offensive coordinator and playcaller. The Jets’ quarterbacks coach is Rob Calabrese, 31, a first-time position coach.
Coach Robert Saleh, whose expertise is on the other side of the ball, was counting on Knapp to groom Wilson, Mike White and James Morgan, none of whom has regular-season experience. Their average age is 23.7. Knapp brought 25 years of experience to the room, having coached an impressive group of quarterbacks that includes Pro Football Hall of Famers Steve Young and Peyton Manning.
Former NFL quarterback and ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky believes the lack of experience could affect Wilson.
“Imagine having to learn how to ride a bike with no one who knows how to do it, how to teach you, nor anyone to show you how to do it,” Orlovsky said.
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The Jets aren’t going to replace Knapp, per se, but they will re-distribute the workload for the coaches. Saleh said they will revert to a traditional set-up, with the coordinator and position coach working with the quarterbacks. Knapp’s position, passing-game specialist, was a “bonus” on the staff, according to Saleh. Perhaps, but Knapp was the primary voice in the room.
Saleh is leaning on LaFleur, the younger brother of Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur, to coach beyond his years. After seven years at the side of San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, LaFleur is on his own, with no veteran sounding board.
“I know he’s a very young coach, but he’s advanced in terms of what he’s learned and the people he’s been around since he started coaching,” Saleh said.
2. Silver lining playbook: White and Morgan split the reps during Wilson’s absence, giving the coaches and front office an extended look at the two young quarterbacks. White wasn’t great, but he outperformed Morgan, and it wasn’t close. Unless they import a veteran — Saleh seems opposed to that idea — White is the favorite to be the regular season QB2.
That would set up an interesting decision: Would they cut Morgan with the idea of bringing him back for the practice squad? He’d be exposed to waivers, and general manager Joe Douglas might not want to risk one of his draft choices. The alternative is to carry three QBs on the 53-man roster, but that seems like a waste of a spot.
Morgan, a 2020 fourth-round pick from Florida International, was a curious pick at the time. And it hasn’t aged well.
3. Money matters: In case you’re wondering, Wilson’s $35 million guarantee (his entire contract) is the fourth-highest in franchise history, behind C.J. Mosley ($43 million), Darrelle Revis ($39 million) and Muhammad Wilkerson ($37 million). These were the amounts that were guaranteed at signing.
Wilson landed the richest rookie deal, surpassing defensive tackle Quinnen Williams ($32.5 million).
4. Incredible shrinking linebacker: Mosley, listed at 250 pounds when he last played in 2019, reported to training camp at 231, his college weight at Alabama. He looks like a different person.
After opting out in 2020 and missing 14 games in 2019, Mosley has a lot to prove and he sounds highly motivated to show he’s still the player who made four Pro Bowls with the Baltimore Ravens. Whenever he sees highlights of himself on TV, it’s always the same game — his impressive Jets debut in the 2019 opener against the Buffalo Bills. That seems so long ago.
“Honestly, I’m tired of seeing the same highlights for the past two years, so I’m ready to put new highlights on tape,” he said. “Different body type, different body feeling, different defense, different mentality, different mindset. Everyone saw that game, it’s going to be way better this year and years to come.”
Mosley has made a lot of money ($29 million) while accumulating a lot of rust over the past two years. It might take him a few weeks to chip it off, but he will surprise some folks in 2021.
5. Musical kickers: It wouldn’t be Jets training camp without a story about the search for a place-kicker. They’ve gone through four regular-season kickers in the past two seasons — Kaare Vedvik, Sam Ficken, Sergio Castillo and Chase McLaughlin. There will be a new kicker this season now that Ficken, erratic in camp, is gone. The current competition is between rookie Chris Naggar and newcomer Matt Ammendola, who spent a couple of months with the Carolina Panthers earlier this spring
The Jets haven’t had a good kicker since Jason Myers made the Pro Bowl in 2018. They let him walk as a free agent, and they haven’t recovered.
6. Carter country: After four padless practices, the Jets will put on the full equipment Monday — the true start to training camp, according to purists. The player I’m most eager to see is rookie running back Michael Carter, who looked terrific over the first few days. He displayed a knack for finding daylight, with an ability to slide through holes and get vertical with a nice burst.
Let’s hold the applause, though. It’s hard to evaluate running backs when there’s no real hitting. The intensity will be raised on Monday, and it will go higher in the preseason games. The fourth-round pick from North Carolina, who could have a prominent role, is one to watch.
7. Big Blue in ’22? The Jets are having joint practices with two of their preseason opponents, the Packers and Philadelphia Eagles. Why not the New York Giants, too? Actually, they had talks with the Giants about practicing together. Saleh said he hopes they can make it happen next year.
Longtime fans will remember the last Jets-Giants practice. It was 2005, in Albany, New York, a day marked by several fights and a shouting match between Jets defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson and Giants coach Tom Coughlin. I was there and witnessed the entire mess; it was as if the Jets were hellbent of playing the role of neighborhood bully. Ah, memories.
The Jets open the preseason Aug. 14 against the Giants.
8. Motown to Big Apple: Linebacker Jarrad Davis is the classic “change-of-scenery” player. The 2017 first-round pick had a tough time with the Detroit Lions for four seasons, so tough that he revealed, “I contemplated walking away, I really did, man.”
He got benched and “burned out,” saying he let football overtake his life. It couldn’t have been much fun playing for coach Matt Patricia, a gruff, Bill Belichick wannabe who was in over his head. In short, Davis was miserable. Players have talked that way about the Jets, most recently quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who said his second season with the Jets (2016) nearly destroyed his love of football.
Davis, who saw a therapist to help him deal with some emotional issues, said he feels revitalized under the charismatic Saleh, also noting the Jets’ 4-3 scheme is ideally suited to his skill set. Culture and scheme fit are so important in the NFL. Davis, the Jets’ starting strong-side linebacker, has a fresh start. A career turnaround would certainly help the Jets’ reputation, which has been Lions-like in recent years.
9. Crystal ball: Denzel Mims is no better than fifth in the pecking order at wide receiver. He was a 2020 second-round pick. This is a storyline worth following this summer.
10. The last word: “He had this light that he let shine, that attracted people to him. Just in the short time we were together in OTAs, he never had a bad day. I wish I had more time with him. I think everybody does.” — guard Greg Van Roten on Knapp.