ATLANTA — Sam Darnold’s comfort level in Adam Gase’s offense continues to grow.
Playing behind a makeshift line, Darnold engineered a scoring drive the first time he got the ball in Thursday night’s preseason game against the Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. That made Darnold 2-for-2 in the preseason: two series, two touchdowns.
“It looks right,” Gase said. “He doesn’t seem to have any complications. When we get going and play teams who do a lot of the exotic stuff when we get to third down that’s going to be the biggest test."
Darnold's streak ended on the next series, but the opening drive was impressive for Darnold and the Jets. The line, with only one projected starter, protected Darnold and opened holes for Ty Montgomery, who capped the eight-play, 66-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Lead back Le’Veon Bell did not play for the second straight exhibition game. Perhaps he’ll get into the third game next Saturday against the Saints. Left tackle Kelvin Beachum was the only starting lineman available.
Right tackle Brandon Shell was a late scratch. Something must have happened in warmups because he was ruled out in the first quarter with a knee injury. The Jets already are without left guard Kelechi Osemele (pectoral), right guard Brian Winters (shoulder) and center Ryan Kalil. He hasn’t practiced since coming out of retirement to sign with the Jets.
Jonotthan Harrison remains the starting center until Kalil is ready. Rookie Chuma Edoga replaced Shell. Tom Compton and Alex Lewis started in place of Winters and Osemele, respectively.
Darnold only played three series. He was sacked once when Vic Beasley beat Edoga on a third-and-4 on the second series. Darnold ended his night 5-for-7 for 46 yards. Montgomery had 36 yards on seven carries as he continues to show he won’t just be Bell’s backup.
“I thought the line did a good job with the tempo,” Gase said. “They were getting to the line of scrimmage quick, getting set up, making the calls. Sam did a good job, the receivers, tight ends, running backs, they were working at a really good clip. It makes it really easy to call plays.”
“We do want to make another step,” Darnold said this week. “We want to keep going in the right direction, play consistent football. I think we can do that, we can definitely tell ourselves at the end of the game that we are headed the right way.”
There is no reason to believe Darnold and the Jets aren’t. They’ll eventually add the dynamic Bell to their attack. But the health of the offensive line could be a growing concern.
Kalil has been inching closer toward practicing, though. The Jets have taken it slowly with Kalil. He was on the field and went through pregame warmups. Darnold has worked with Kalil a little, taking some snaps from him and going over cadences. Darnold can already see how the five-time Pro Bowler’s experience will help him.
“Going over the plays, protections, runs, all that, it's been really good to hear his thoughts,” Darnold said this week. “That guy is a vet. He's super smart talking about football and seeing blitzes, seeing safety rotation which is hard for a center, he's talking about all that kind of stuff.”
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains said, “He's going to have an unbelievable recall of fronts and coverages and knowledge of protection that's going to help Sam and take a little bit off of his plate at the line of scrimmage as well.”
Starting inside linebacker Avery Williamson suffered a knee injury late in the first half. Teammate Tevaughn Campbell ran into Williamson’s knee. It was puzzling that Williamson was still in the game when the other starters were out.
Williams stayed down in the end zone and called for the trainers. He eventually walked off on his own. But the Jets ruled him out for the game. He's being evaluated.
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams had the Jets pressuring Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, and they got to him. Jamal Adams, Brandon Copeland and Williamson each had sacks, and rookie Quinnen Williams just missed recording one.
The Jets' kicker situation may still be unsettled. Taylor Bertolet, who was signed after Chandler Catanzaro retired last week, missed the extra-point attempt after Montgomery’s touchdown. But Bertolet converted a 49-yard field goal in the third quarter. Catanzaro missed his first two PATs last week against the Giants. He told Gase he was retiring the next day …. Leonard Williams, Marcus Maye, Trumaine Johnson, Blake Cashman, Kyron Brown, Harvey Langi, Jeff Smith, Brent Qvale and defensive lineman Justin Alexandre from Elmont did not play.