Ty Johnson is making a case to be the lead back in the Jets' rushing attack.
The third-year running back had a quietly good training camp and capped it with a strong performance in the team's third and final preseason game.
Johnson ran for 53 yards and a touchdown against the Eagles. On the touchdown drive, Johnson displayed his speed and power on a third-down carry. He built up a head up steam before trucking safety Andrew Adams for a 9-yard gain. The drive ended with Johnson punching it in from 3 yards out.
"The emphasis for him this year since we walked into this building has been to get those tough yards," coach Robert Saleh said. "Third-and-one, lower your shoulder. It’s not about finding the crease, it about moving piles, sticking his foot in the ground and getting violent with his running, run his feet on contact.
"I thought he did a really good job there on that touchdown drive. He converted a third-and-short and was moving piles, lowering his shoulder and getting tough, aggressive yards. That was a great plus for him. The thing about it is, he still has so much more in the tank. I thought that was a great step forward for him. He did a really nice job."
The Jets are expected to use a by-committee approach to their ground game. It worked well in San Francisco, where Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur spent the prior four years.
Their scheme will be run-heavy in the outside zone blocking system that is designed to wear out defensive lines. In this system, a big run play could pop at any time. It’s also should take some pressure off rookie quarterback Zach Wilson and open up the passing game.
The Jets have depth and versatility in their backfield, including Tevin Coleman, a former 49er, second-year player La’Mical Perine and rookie Michael Carter. They all have different skill sets, but Johnson has shown he deserves to be high on this depth chart.
"Ty Johnson is a pretty unique dude because he’s extremely strong, he’s fast," LaFleur said. "He needs to be a one-foot-and-cut guy. Also, he’s got really, really good hands so he’s got really good versatility to him."
Johnson, 23, has really taken to the coaching he’s gotten from Saleh, LaFleur and running backs coach Taylor Embree. He’s trying to do everything they’ve told him so he can be the explosive player they believe he can be. Johnson believes he’s only going to get better.
"I think I’ve improved a lot and I think I still got a lot to improve," Johnson said. "They’ve been really challenging me to do all those things that [Coach Saleh] mentioned. That’s all I was really harping on over the summer.
"Tight turns when I catch the ball. Violent cuts. It doesn’t have to be finding the right crease. Be patient but violent. When I’m going downhill, be violent going downhill."
Johnson also joked that the extra squats new strength and conditioning coach Mike Nicolini has him doing helped him run over Adams.
Working with Nicolini should also help Johnson overcome fatigue. He said he wants to work on being as productive and effective as he can when he’s tired and he needs to be "more detailed on everything."
The Jets signed Johnson off waivers last October after he was waived by the Lions. Former coach Adam Gase used veteran Frank Gore much more than Johnson. But Johnson, a sixth-round pick in 2019, was the only running back to have a 100-yard game under Gase’s watch.
Johnson ran for 104 yards and a touchdown in Week 13 against the Raiders. It was the first 100-yard game and touchdown of his career. But it flew way under the radar because the Jets lost when former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams called for a zero-blitz at the end of the game. The Raiders scored the game-winning touchdown and Johnson's big day was mostly forgotten.
Now Johnson is playing in an offense that highlights running-back strengths. He might not be under the radar much longer.
"I think I’m really improving," Johnson said, "but I still got a long way to go."