The Jets were at or near the bottom of all the important offensive stats last year, including sacks allowed. That made general manager Joe Douglas’ mission to repair the leaky offensive line.
Douglas, a former offensive lineman, did this with Sam Darnold’s health and effectiveness in mind. Now that group, with four new starters and one holdover, have four practices to come together and mesh before next Sunday’s season opener at Buffalo. They are indeed a work in progress, but Adam Gase already has seen progress with the group.
“We struggled last year overall as an offense,” Gase said. “It all starts up front. I think it makes a big difference when your GM is a former lineman. That’s going to be one position that he’s not going to want to be lacking in. He knows how important it is.
“I thought our front office did a great job of going out there, putting together the right group of guys, drafting the right guys. I feel like the chemistry is coming together.”
The Jets signed center Connor McGovern, right guard Greg Van Roten of Rockville Centre, and right tackle George Fant in free agency, and re-signed left guard Alex Lewis. A month later, they drafted 6-7, 370-pound left tackle Mekhi Becton in the first round.
They haven’t played a single game together. Because of the pandemic, OTAs and mini-camp became virtual meetings. They worked on getting to know each other and building chemistry through the meetings, a group text and playing Call of Duty together on Xbox.
“This is the closest offensive line as a whole that I’ve been a part of,” said McGovern, who spent the past four years with Denver.
“Those guys are super close,” Darnold said. “It’s a really good group. They really like each other and they’re meshing well. Hopefully we can continue that.”
They weren’t able to line up against a defense until the second week in August, and there were no preseason games. But McGovern said they’ve picked up the offense and their assignments well, and they’re limiting their mental errors.
Veteran defensive end Henry Anderson faces that front each practice, and has noticed how quickly they’ve clicked.
“For four new starters on an offensive line, with no OTAs and for only having about a month of practice together, to be where they’re at is pretty impressive,” Anderson said. “There’s not a ton of miscommunications where four guys are doing one thing and one guy is doing a completely different protection. You don’t see that. So where they are is pretty impressive.”
Of course, it needs to show up in the games.
Last year, the Jets ranked last in rushing yards per game, second from the bottom in rushing yards, and gave up the fourth-most sacks while throwing for the fourth-fewest yards. Injuries surely played a part, but there was also a lot of moving parts from the beginning.
Douglas convinced center Ryan Kalil to come of retirement during camp. But they brought him along slowly. Kalil didn’t play any preseason games. They had Jonotthan Harrison at center for much of the time until Week 1. Harrison, who the Jets waived Saturday, became the regular starting center after Kalil suffered an injury in Week 7.
This year, except for a couple of missed practices for Van Roten and Lewis, this group has been together most of the time. The Jets believe that will help as well.
“We didn’t have the chemistry that we needed [last year],” Gase said. “Right now, it’s such a different feel because of the group we have. That group is really tight, which is really cool to see.”