FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Sam Darnold has been putting in extra work with his receivers, trying to build and improve chemistry with a group that lately has spent more time on the training table than the football field.
Jets coach Todd Bowles already has ruled out Darnold’s top target, Quincy Enunwa (high ankle sprain), for the second straight game. Robby Anderson hasn’t practiced this week because of an ankle injury that Bowles said has worsened since Sunday. It’s unclear whether Anderson will play Sunday.
The Jets signed seven-year veteran Rishard Matthews, who has had only two practices. He’s still learning the plays and Darnold is getting to know him. The Jets’ only other healthy full-time receiver is Jermaine Kearse, who needs to be more involved in the offense than he was last week.
Kearse, who caught 65 passes for 810 yards and five touchdowns for the Jets last season, had only two targets and caught zero passes last Sunday. It was the first time he has been held without a catch since 2016.
“Stuff happens. You got to chalk it up as that and keep pushing,” Kearse said. “We got a new opportunity this week to make some things happen, so I’m looking forward to that.”
The Jets’ offense struggled to make things happen last week against the Vikings. They didn’t have their first third-down conversion until four minutes remained in the third quarter. Now they’re facing a hungry Bears defense and a team that has lost two straight games, and the Jets head to Chicago missing key players.
Starting running back Bilal Powell has been placed on season-ending injured reserve because of a neck injury. If Anderson can’t play, the Jets’ receiving corps could consist of Kearse, Andre Roberts, Charone Peake, rookie Deontay Burnett and Matthews.
Kearse doesn’t feel he needs to put any extra weight on himself to make plays for a group that is banged up, inexperienced or unfamiliar with the plays. “I go out every game with the same mindset,” he said. “Just go out there and make the most of each opportunity. No different this week. As far as feeling pressure having to step up because we got some guys out, I don’t think I’m going to change anything that I would do in a normal week.”
This unenviable situation that the Jets are in is why Darnold and the healthy receivers are putting in more work.
“We’ve all been spending extra time after practice with Sam for him to have a chance to get a feel how they run routes,” Kearse said. “So we can all work out some things and work on the chemistry and timing and kind of have a better feel for each other out there. It’s a little bit more this week to make sure we’re all on the same page.”
Kearse was acquired by the Jets right before the start of last season, so he had to learn on the fly the way Matthews is. Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates said Matthews has been “studying his tail off” and likes his size, length and playmaking abilities.
Matthews and Kearse came into the league together in 2012. They were roommates at the draft combine and remained in touch. Kearse said he’s looking forward to playing with Matthews now.
“Rishard came in and so far this week the new guys were able to kind of pick things up,” Kearse said. “We’re going to go from there and continue to get better throughout the week so we feel comfortable and confident for the game.”