Greg Van Roten couldn’t wait to finally put on his Jets uniform and visit their facility. After a long delay because of the coronavirus pandemic, Van Roten has now done both, and it’s been everything he imagined.
Van Roten, a Rockville Centre product who went to Chaminade High School, was a Jets fan growing up. The veteran offensive lineman left the Carolina Panthers to sign with Jets this offseason, but he couldn’t step foot in the building and put on his new uniform until recently.
“It’s like a dream come true,” Van Roten said during a Zoom call Thursday. “To get to come to the Jets, walk around the hallways and see the posters of all the guys I watched has been just incredible so far. Putting on the jersey it’s weird to see myself in a Jets uniform. It’s going to take some getting used to but I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
Like everyone else, Van Roten is looking forward to actually getting on the field and playing. Teams currently are working together in small groups, doing strength and conditioning and virtual meetings. If all goes well, they’re scheduled to take the field together toward the end of next week.
The transition to a new team hasn’t been that bad for Van Roten, he said, because the Jets are his third NFL team. But there have been different challenges. COVID-19 took away the offseason programs, and this training camp has been unprecedented with all the testing and protocols in place before players can even enter the building.
“It’s a little different than years past when you kind of roll out of bed and walk to the facility,” Van Roten said.
Adding to that, Tropical Storm Isaias hit this week, and Van Roten’s New Jersey apartment had been without power for “almost two days.” He said it returned Thursday.
“That’s a little bit of a wrinkle and it’s kind of hard to overcome in a virtual world where the meetings are online,” Van Roten said. “It’s tough. But we’re making do.”
Van Roten, 30, was one of the first players general manager Joe Douglas targeted in free agency as he set forth to rebuild the offensive line. The Jets will have five different starters across the front than what they had in Week 1 last year.
But Van Roten, who is slated to play right guard, isn’t overly concerned about the group building chemistry. Other than rookie tackle Mekhi Becton, the Jets have a veteran group that includes center Connor McDermott, left guard Alex Lewis and tackle George Fant.
“This is not the first time on the field. It’s going to be our first time next to each other,” Van Roten said. “The biggest challenge when you have a new group like that is we all speak football but we might call things by different names. We just have to get on the same page with our communication if we want to be effective and hit the ground running fast.
“There’s going to be a learning curve but I don’t think it’s going to be this insurmountable obstacle that we just can’t figure out.”
Lewis said the linemen spent a lot of time on Zoom meetings and are working together a little now at the facility. He said they also have a group chat where they text each other and joke around, trying to build chemistry.
“We’re going over the playbook with each other, just pushing one another,” Lewis said. “That’s the best way you can build chemistry right now. We’re very limited still. We’re trying to take full advantage of the time we have together.”
Van Roten, who played left guard the past two years for Carolina, said switching to the other side won’t be too difficult. He played right guard with Green Bay when he first got to the NFL and he started 13 games at that spot for Toronto in the Canadian Football League.
“It will take a little adjustment,” he said. “But it’s not something I’m like, ‘Oh God, how am I going to do this?’ It’s not going to be a big issue. I do have experience playing it and in games doing it at a high level."
Van Roten helped protect Cam Newton when he was with the Panthers. He said he hopes Newton has success with the rival Patriots, but not too much.
“As a friend, I’m excited for him,” Van Roten said. “As a division opponent, I’m like, ‘All right, this guy is going to be a force if they can figure it out up there. [Bill] Belichick is a great coach. Cam when he’s healthy is a great quarterback. It’s definitely not something that we would have hoped for. But I think we have a really good team, too. I’m excited to see how those games are going to go.
“Growing up a Jets fan, I always loved watching the Patriots games when they played them. It’s crazy for me to be a part of it now and it’s even cooler to play against one of my friends in Cam.”
Doctson opts out
Wide receiver Josh Doctson, who the Jets signed in February, has decided to opt out of the 2020 season. The deadline was 4 pm Thursday. Doctson is the third Jet player to opt out.