FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Josh McCown brought together the Jets starting offense near midfield of the team’s distant practice field. He sounded the play call, broke the huddle, then walked to the line of scrimmage.
This play was the one he, and everyone else on the field, couldn’t wait to run.
The 38-year-old quarterback took the snap, dropped back two yards and took a knee. Everyone on the field burst into celebration, McCown punted the ball, and summer vacation official began.
“We got a lot of things accomplished mentally,” said coach Todd Bowles after the final workout of minicamp. “The chemistry is growing. I can’t wait to get to training camp. We finished the last two days on good notes. The guys are upbeat, as they should be. We’ve just got to come back healthy and ready to go.”
Minicamp went about as well as anyone over at the Atlantic Health Training Facility could have hoped. The Jets avoided significant injuries, installed a chunk of Jeremy Bates’ revised offense, and got new pieces like cornerback Trumaine Johnson, quarterback Sam Darnold and others acclimated to life in New Jersey.
How’d they all look on the field? Who stood out? Any surprise stars? Here’s the report from the three practices.
ATTENDANCE AND INJURIES
The Jets had perfect attendance throughout the week, which is expected considering these workouts, unlike organized team activities, are mandatory.
Receivers Devin Smith (knee), Charone Peake (ankle) and Terrelle Pryor (ankle), safeties Marcus Maye (ankle) and Rontez Miles (knee), cornerback Morris Claiborne (wrist) and linebacker Jordan Jenkins (shoulder) didn’t practice.
Some positive news on Pryor, though: He lost the boot on his right ankle for Wednesday’s practice. He’s still “50/50,” Bowles said, for the start of training camp. It doesn’t sound like he’s headed for the physically unable to perform list, though. Bowles wouldn’t go into specifics but indicated none of his ailing players — absent Miles — should miss much time in camp. Maybe a practice or two a week at most.
It’s tough to grade or judge McCown. He’s not an elite-level quarterback, nor can he do the things Bridgewater can athletically. He’s just … solid. Which isn’t a bad thing. He understands the offense, and if he’s the guy Week 1, he won’t be a weak link. He’s a good player.
I did come away impressed with McCown’s arm strength. It seems a bit more alive than 2017. In individual drills, Jeremy Bates lets the quarterbacks air it out with a string of go-routes. McCown excelled here, leading guys enough so they didn’t have to slow down.
Bridgewater’s healthy. That’s the biggest thing. He practiced fully throughout the week, wasn’t limited in anything, and resembled nothing of a guy who’s missed virtually the last two years following a gruesome 2016 knee injury.
If compiling an unofficial pecking order, though, Bridgewater finished behind McCown and Darnold. Wednesday was the 25-year-old’s worst day. He threw two interceptions (one wasn’t his fault), nearly a third, and had the ball stripped away by Leonard Williams. He never looked bad, per se, just not as good as the other two. He is still learning the offense, so give him a pass.
It’s impossible to compare the Sam Darnold who stepped foot on the field for the start of OTAs and the one who wrapped up minicamp on Thursday. They’re entirely different players. Darnold makes considerable strides each practice. His footwork is better, decisions smarter, and he read progressions quicker. It’s still early, but you can tell things are starting to slow down. He makes three, four or five passes a practice which justify the hype.
Tuesday was a good workout for Darnold. Wednesday was great. Thursday right around average (it was an abbreviated workout). The two highlights: A laser 25-yard strike across the field to hit receiver Tre McBride right before he got out of bounds, and another 10-yard bullet to Jermaine Kearse in front of the far pylon. Darnold had another 20-yard touchdown this week on a touch pass to tight end Jordan Leggett. He dropped it right over the safety’s head, but with enough room for Leggett to catch it in front of the far pylon.
The plan, Bowles said, is to keep the same quarterback rotation heading into training camp: McCown’s the starter, followed by Bridgewater, then Darnold. But if the rookie continues to improve steadily, there’s no reason he can’t be the guy Week 1.
One additional note: Darnold received more team reps than McCown and Bridgewater each practice. Even though he’s third on the depth chart, he’s getting time to develop.
NOTES AND HIGHLIGHTS
Rookie Chris Herndon and second-year pro Jordan Leggett steal most of the tight end headlines, but little-known Neal Sterling had an impressive June. The Jaguars drafted Sterling in 2015 as a receiver out of Monmouth, then converted him to tight end. It’s taken the 26-year-old a bit to learn the nuances of the position, but things seem to be clicking. Bates praised him on more than one occasion for his route running. He’s a guy to watch come training camp.
Receiver Chad Hansen was among the stars of OTAs. He continued to play well in minicamp. His route running is much improved, so too are his hands. He seems to have a much better understanding of what he needs to do, which allows him to play faster. ArDarius Stewart made more highlight plays than Hansen, but Hansen was more consistent. He’s not a sexy player. He just does his job and does it well.
Wideout Quincy Enunwa is back, healthy, and looks like he never left. He didn’t do team drills, but individuals with his helmet (absent throughout OTAs). His hands seem improved, which is a very good thing. Inexcusable drops plagued him his first three years.
He didn’t generate much hype on draft day, but rookie sixth-round pick Parry Nickerson had an impressive week. He’s working as the nickel corner with the second-team defense, and more than holding his own. One criticism: He needs to attack the ball better. He should have had two interceptions Wednesday, but slowed instead of running through the receiver. This allowed Hansen to make the grab both times.
Jamal Adams doesn’t shut up. Ever. Bowles joked he’s a member of his “sh*t-talking” team, and it’s easy to see why. He talks trash while on and off the field, with players and coaches. There is one Adams seems to interact with more than others: Running backs coach Stump Mitchell. The two (jokingly) go at it after each team rep. It’s highly entertaining.
Some notable surprise players seeing increased action with the starters: Chad Hansen (receiver), Neal Sterling (tight end), Nathan Shepherd (defensive end), Henry Anderson (defensive end), Doug Middleton (safety). Some additional roster-bubble guys who practiced well: Tre McBride (receiver), Jeremy Clark (cornerback), Frankie Luvu (outside linebacker), Thomas Rawls (running back).
No. 3: Kevin Pierre-Louis, LB
It’s tough to judge a linebacker in a padless, no-contact practice, but Pierre-Louis’ speed and playmaking ability stood out. He picked off two passes, flew around the field, and seems to fit nicely in Kacy Rodgers’ defense. Avery Williamson and Darron Lee are still the starters. They’re not getting benched, either. But Pierre-Louis could be a decent role player.
No. 2: Leonard Williams, DE
Bowles said Williams showed up this offseason in better shape than last year. It’s had a resounding impact. The offensive line couldn’t block him in OTAs. Nothing changed in minicamp. Disclaimer: These are padless workouts, but it’s a good sign for a player some believe has all-pro potential. This is a big season for Williams after last year’s ugly two-sack campaign.
No. 1: Sam Darnold, QB
Shouldn’t come as much of a surprise here. The rookie stood out in all phases. He’s still not a better quarterback than McCown or Bridgewater, but you’re starting to see it come together. Jet fans are a pessimistic bunch and for a good reason. After years of inhumane torture, it’s hard to believe the franchise’s forever-long search for a quarterback is nearing its conclusion. It’s not to that point yet, but there’s reason for optimism. At the minimum: Enjoy your summer.
NEXT UP: Vacation! The Jets have roughly six weeks off before reporting for training camp on (believed to be) July 27th. The team is expected to announce its training camp schedule next week.