The challenges Le’Veon Bell will face with the New York Jets


FLORHAM PARK, N.J.—Four Jets thoughts:

1. This ain’t the Pittsburgh offensive line. Interesting watching the Jets practice on Thursday. It was an “all-eyes-on” practice. As in, “All eyes on Le’Veon Bell.” He hadn’t been on a football field for a real practice or game in 18 months, since he finished his Steelers career and entered a rancorous holdout season. In 2017, he averaged 27 touches a game, 406 in all, behind one of the two or three best lines in football, with one of two or three best line coaches (Mike Munchak) in football. Here, he’ll line up behind a suspect line—PFF ranked the five Jets starters, left to right, 81st, 51st, 39th, 68thand 104that their positions in 2018—and his trademark style will be tested. His line coach is Frank Pollack, who doesn’t have the resume of Munchak (though few do). Bell is the most patient runner in football. It’s his trademark. When he took one handoff from Sam Darnold in practice here, he looked precisely the same as in his Pittsburgh days, pausing and waiting till his crease developed, then rushing through the right guard/tackle hole. But no one was tackling him on this play-installation day. If the biggest question on the Jets is whether Bell’s rust will show in 2019 (“if I’m rusty, I don’t feel it,” he said), next is whether he’ll be able to shine with a line not on the same level as Pittsburgh’s.

2. Gase’s interesting plan. Bell says he’s willing to touch the ball 500 times if that’s what he’s called to do. (That’s not happening, of course.) I asked the first-year Jets coach, Adam Gase, his plans for Bell. “I keep telling him, ‘We’ll keep stretching this thing, trying to find as many things that possibly you haven’t done before.’ Pass game, run game, all those types of things. He’s so open to anything, which is great.” Gase isn’t giving away anything, but I wonder if that might be a regular turn at receiver, particularly with the Jets’ intermediate game taking a hit with the four-game suspension of tight end Chris Herndon to start the season. That’ll be interesting watch. For now, Gase will study Bell’s style the way Bell studies the defenders he’s trying to evade. “When he stands behind the quarterback, he’s talking—about whether to cut, where to cut, or how the ‘backers flow or how the D line’s working and how the pressure is coming. That’s happening in real time. The way he thinks, you understand if he’s talking like that, I can’t imagine what’s going on in his head when he’s actually running the ball. I mean, at that point of the play, the game is slow for him.” I have to say I’ve never heard that about a back.

3. Now this is interesting. The weirdest coaching triangle in the NFL is here. Gase, the head coach and son-in-law of Joe Vitt, hired Vitt to be a senior defensive assistant/outside linebackers. Gase also hired Gregg Williams to be his defensive coordinator, and to be Vitt’s boss. At one point, Vitt and Williams were on the same Saints staff that got whacked by the league office for the Bountygate scandal in 2012; Vitt was suspended six game and Williams whacked for the season. Vitt and others blamed Williams for ratting out the team to league investigators. “Joe actually recommended Gregg to me in Miami when [Vance Joseph] left our staff for Denver,” said Gase, “but I’d already gone in a different direction. He said to me, ‘This guy’s the best for you.’ That’s interesting. Kind of put a thought in my head.” I expressed surprise, and Gase said what’s past is past, they’re close now, and they even have offices next to each other at the Jets facility. Interesting to see how this will work, obviously.

4. Man, Sam Darnold is impressive for 22—or any age, for that matter. “He’s so fun to work with that I want to hurry to the facility every day to get going with him,” Gase said. When we spoke, Darnold said to me, “I like your podcast. I’ve listened to all the quarterback ones, trying to learn something.” He also told me he’s grateful for his year with Josh McCown, the retired longtime NFL backup who mentored Darnold the rookie in 2018, because it taught him not just how to learn the pro game, but how to study it. One of the good things for Gase is he’s finally got a guy, after three shaky-QB years in Miami, to grow with. Good for the franchise too.

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