This was familiar, but not normal Jets training camp opener
It felt good.
It felt familiar.
The opening of Jets training camp, the first day on the field, began with a greeting from owner Christopher Johnson as he surveyed his 2020 team for the first time together on the field.
It was shortly after 9:30 Friday morning and the entire roster was assembled at the Jets’ Florham Park training facility. It all felt and looked natural — other than the four COVID-19 testing tents stationed in the parking lot.
The calendar says the Jets should be two games into their preseason schedule. But the coronavirus has had its say, and that means a truncated training camp, no preseason games and — ready or not — 31 days until the season opener in Buffalo.
It’s going to come fast for the Jets, who have a lot of new parts on the roster, beginning with a completely revamped offensive line. But Adam Gase and his entire coaching staff are back for a second consecutive season with the same systems in place.
You could tell Gase was stoked about having his team on the field together for the first time Friday. He was chatty with reporters in between practice periods — from a proper social distance, of course. He was energetic and enthusiastic.
“You’re wearing the mask, and that’s that only thing that kind of reminds you, really’’ Gase said, referring to the different and surreal world in which we now reside. “I do think you get lost in the moment a little bit as far as it’s football, you see guys out there working extremely hard and you’re reminded it’s your back to work.’’
Full disclosure: Having covered the Jets, Giants and the NFL for some 30 years, training camp has become something I don’t want to say I loathe, but let’s just say it’s not something I particularly look forward to at the end of every July.
I’ve always been about the games. The real games. Get me to Sundays when everything counts. For good or bad, right or wrong, the minutiae before the season and in between the games has never been my strong point of interest.
And training camp, standing in the 90-degree heat in the blazing sun for a couple hours at a time, always has been more of a nuisance for me than what I’d term a pleasure.
Friday was different, though.
Friday, even with the hot sun searing the sideline, felt good.
It felt good to hear defensive coordinator Gregg Williams barking at his troops again, constantly jawing at players, pushing them to be better and do it quickly.
Seeing Mekhi Becton, the 6-foot-7, 363-pound rookie tackle, in the flesh for the first time was a sight. The Jets first-round draft pick towered over his offensive line teammates, who are not a small lot themselves.
It’s going to be fascinating to see how quickly Becton can adapt of the pro game and truly become the bodyguard on the left side that quarterback Sam Darnold needs. Jets general manager Joe Douglas told Darnold’s parents last year that he was going to make it his business to protect their son, and Becton has the chance to be that gift.
“When you see Becton on that left side … that’s a big man protecting our quarterback,’’ Gase said. “I’m glad he’s here.’’
Becton is the shiniest of the new pieces on the offensive line, which will also boast newcomers in George Fant, Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten and Conor McDermott.
“When you look at our offensive line, we’re a lot bigger than last year,’’ Gase said. “It’s a really good-looking group. It’s very deep.’’
Darnold, in his third NFL season but second in Gase’s system, looked in command on Friday — as the Jets need him to be and as he should. Gase said there were small telltale signs on Friday that showed him Darold is further along than he was a year ago.
“It starts with the simplest thing — play calling,’’ Gase said. “He doesn’t have to think about it. Like, I’ll start to call the play and he’s walks away [because] he knows what’s coming.’’
In the first 11-on-11 period, Darold connected with newcomer receiver Breshad Perriman over the middle for a completion, hopefully the first of many of those to come in real games, with the former Tampa Bay receiver a critical cog in a Jets offense that’s thin on receiving talent.
This leads to the one disappointment from Friday: No Denzel Mims sighting.
The 6-3, 207-pound receiver out of Baylor the Jets drafted in the second round stood on the sideline wearing a mask and no helmet for the entire practice because he tweaked a hamstring in workouts before Friday.
A hamstring injury for a rookie receiver in training camp always is an ominous sign. During a pandemic, when practice time is pared down, this is something to keep an eye on.
Alas, there was something concerning to chew on while watching the Jets. In that way, everything indeed felt back to normal.
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