The New York Jets held their final practice Thursday before they open up their preseason against the Tennessee Titans Saturday.
Most of the team was on the field, but running backs Matt Forte and Bilal Powell, recovering from their respective injuries, were limited to position drills. Head coach Todd Bowles later told reporters Powell will not play Saturday.
It was the first practice the Jets held without pads since they put them on for the first time this year. The afternoon was, as we called it on Twitter, bland, and the offense continued to fall short in many ways.
During 11-on-11 drills today, Christian Hackenberg completed 2-of-8 passes with no interceptions (after he threw two picks in each of the previous two practices). Many of the incompletions weren’t his fault, as receivers couldn’t hold onto passes today (see below). Hack’s best play began when he induced two defensive players to jump at a hard count. On the ensuing play, he completed a long and tight pass over the middle to Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
Josh McCown went 4-for-7 with neither issues nor standout plays. Bryce Petty finished 3-for-6, but his first pass in 11s was poorly-timed and intercepted by Rontez Miles. Petty’s second dropback resulted in a de facto sack for fourth-stringer Connor Harris.
After 11s, the Jets concluded practice by pairing Hack with the first-string offense and walking through a two-minute drill. “Walking through” is the key here, as the first-string defense did not test Hack at all. It was in this cushioned setting that Hack completed all six of his pass attempts, including a fadeaway touchdown to Seferian-Jenkins as the drill’s time expired.
Bowles hasn’t decided who will start at QB Saturday, but he spoke at length about Hackenberg after practice, saying Saturday’s game is only important for Hack “if he gets better.”
“I’m not expecting him to go out there and be Roger Staubach. I mean, if he is, so be it,” Bowles said. “But we’re trying to get him better. He’s 22 years old. The kid’s gotta get a chance to play and make some mistakes and grow from it and come back from adversity and make good plays.”
Drops. Drops everywhere
Even before 11s began, the receivers did not appear to be in top form today. Myles White, though he caught several passes in all drills, also dropped several. We also saw drops from Robby Anderson, ArDarius Stewart, Jordan Leggett and Marquess Wilson. All of them had passes hit them right in the hands, with the knowledge that no teammate was about to jack them up.
Just as frustrating as that was a step backward in the returner competition. There was only a brief period when the main four competitors – Frankie Hammond, Lucky Whitehead, Chris Harper and Romar Morris – fielded “punts” from a machine. Within minutes, each of them except Whitehead had muffed or misjudged one. Advantage, Whitehead? This will be key to watch during preseason action.
Richardson not big part of first-string D
When the Jets’ first-string defense took the field during 11s, Sheldon Richardson didn’t always join them. The defensive lineman/outside linebacker (as Todd Bowles’ depth chart insists) played on one end when the D lined up in a 4-3 set. Muhammad Wilkerson took the other end and Leonard Williams joined Steve McLendon in the middle. But in 3-4 sets, McLendon plugged up the middle, with Williams and Wilkerson on either side of him.
Although Bowles might still be considering Richardson for an OLB role, he isn’t suited to the position. He also doesn’t get reps there. Today, Freddie Bishop got several first-team reps at OLB opposite presumed starter Jordan Jenkins. Earlier in the week, it was Frank Beltre playing with the starters.
There’s also the rarely-discussed but very exciting fullback competition. Julian Howsare, the converted linebacker who has spent parts of the last two regular seasons on New York’s and Seattle’s practice squads, has two guys getting reps behind him. Anthony Firkser comes to us from Harvard (there was a hole to fill as ‘token Harvard guy’ after Ryan Fitzpatrick was released), and Algernon Brown comes to us out of a Oscar Wilde play, I think.
I call this exciting because, in new offensive coordinator John Morton’s West Coast system, the fullback will be making a comeback. If you’re not a fan of short passes, you’re going to hate the 2017 Jets – many of the completed passes during 11s today were not downfield, but check-downs to Firkser and Brown. There were even some designed fullback handoffs, up the middle.
I wouldn’t say RB Romar Morris had an outstanding practice, but I noticed him frequently. With Forte and Powell limited, the running back reps went exclusively to rookie Elijah McGuire and Morris. Morris is also present in that returner competition. Though he dropped one today, it’s a competition he was involved in last year, obscured behind the likes of Jalin Marshall and Jeremy Ross. He’s not likely to make the 53-man roster, but with Forte’s durability questionable, Morris might be in a good position to make the practice squad.
On one of Hackenberg’s first plays during 11s, he scrambled right and went down to slide—but one of his cleats caught the turf and his leg bounced back into the air awkwardly. It looked worse than it was. The crowd groaned with worry, but he walked it off with ease.