There is no manual for NFL coaches working amidst a pandemic. In fact, the last time the world was hit with a situation like the COVID-19 crisis, there was no NFL, period.
So, Adam Gase and the league’s 31 other head coaches mostly will be flying blind this season – assuming there is a season. But the Jets coach’s challenge will be more daunting than most, considering the sweeping roster transformation presided over by general manager Joe Douglas. As well as one major absence associated with the coronavirus.
No Jamal Adams, who was traded to the Seahawks for two first-round picks, a third-rounder and veteran safety Bradley McDougald. And no C.J. Mosley, the high-priced linebacker who has opted out of the season over concerns about COVID-19. That’s just on defense, and Gase has the luxury of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ brilliant schemes to try and make up for the loss of his two best defenders.
But it’s what Gase faces on offense that will really test his coaching ability and may come to define his legacy here. Douglas brought in virtually an entire new offensive line, starting with tackles George Fant and first-round pick Mekhi Becton, as well as center Connor McGovern and right guard Jeff Van Roten. The only holdover is left guard Alex Lewis, who didn’t join the Jets until last summer.
In a normal offseason, that’s a massive turnover; in an offseason where all workouts were virtual and only now are the players together at the team’s training facility, it’s incalculably difficult.
There’s more. After declining to re-sign wide receiver Robby Anderson, the only returning starter at the position is slot receiver Jamison Crowder, who was brought in last year as a free agent. Enter former Ravens first-round pick Breshad Perriman, second-round pick Denzel Mims and former Washington first-rounder Josh Doctson, who will have to be folded into the offense quickly.
“We have a lot of work to do with offensive line and wide receiver chemistry,” Gase said Wednesday.
But he’s encouraged by what he sees.
“I really like this group of offensive linemen,” he said. “They’re always trying to do things on their own to make sure they’re on the same page with the quarterback. Once we start seeing all these exotic [defensive] fronts, we’re going to be able to learn fast who’s where and who needs to learn.”
Becton had better be a quick study. The monstrous 6-7, 364-pound rookie was one of the elite prospects in the 2020 draft, and Douglas envisions him as the Jets’ left tackle for the next dozen years or so.
“He’s one of the biggest players I’ve been around,” Gase said. “We’re excited to get him on the field, get him against our defensive guys. There’s going to be a learning curve there.”
The rest of his linemen are seasoned veterans, which means the coach believes there are no excuses.
“We have experience and we have some guys that have played football in this league,” he said. “Professional football players do a great job of learning playbooks. Changes happen a lot. We have to be ready to adjust.”
Adjust. That’s arguably the most important word of the season, especially with all the uncertainty moving forward.
“This is what we do as coaches,” he said. “Who do we have, who’s available, [how you] construct it, who’s able to adjust. This is what we get paid to do.”
Time for Gase to earn his money, because there might never be a time in his coaching life where he faces this difficult a test.
The one advantage he has is the return of third-year quarterback Sam Darnold. But it’s also the one requirement for Gase: to make sure Darnold takes a major step forward in 2020, especially when it comes to establishing consistent play from the former No. 3 overall pick.
“Sam getting those [receivers] together and getting that thing started [with workouts] when there was no offseason, and even now, every day, these guys get a chance to hook up and throw and talk through things about how Sam sees it and how the receiver sees it,” Gase said. “It comes down to every day and taking that information in, absorbing it and executing it.”
It also comes down to the coach putting his players in the best position to succeed. And therein lies Gase’s mission. If he can pull off a winning season with a functional offense, especially amid this kind of uncertainty, then he’ll have earned the right to keep coaching here.
But if he can’t get it together, then it may be time to look elsewhere for someone who can do it better.