Quarterback: It’s Sam Darnold’s show. He seems poised to take that leap that many top quarterbacks take in Year 2. Darnold has more weapons now, he’s playing in a new wide-open scheme and for a creative offensive coach. Adam Gase was hired to bring out the best in Darnold, and help the Jets become more explosive. Darnold grew at the end of last season, and he’s continued that growth. He’s looked more comfortable as a leader and in the huddle. Darnold has the ability to throw on the run and keep plays alive with his legs, and many inside the Jets feel his arm has gotten stronger. He has the physical and mental tools to be the starter for many years. Trevor Simien, a former full-time starter with Denver, will back up Darnold. Simien didn’t take a snap last year, though, playing behind Kirk Cousins in Minnesota.
Running backs: The Jets upgraded this position in a big way when they signed Le’Veon Bell and bolstered it with versatile Ty Montgomery. Bell has been one of the best all-around backs in the NFL and wants to regain the title of THE best after sitting out last season over a contract dispute in Pittsburgh. Remarkably productive with the Steelers, Bell caught at least 75 passes three times in four years and averaged 2,015 yards those seasons. Gase wants to spread the ball around, but Bell needs touches. He can be a security blanket for Darnold and make things happen. Bell demands so much attention he could open up things for the receivers. Montgomery is another dual-threat who can be a major weapon. Gase can play Bell and Montgomery together, and have the defense guessing. This position should be a strength with Bilal Powell and Trenton Cannon back to provide depth and different skill-sets.
Receivers/Tight Ends: The Jets have talented receivers, but no clear No. 1 and not a lot of depth. Deep threat Robby Anderson is playing for a contract and wants to prove he’s a No. 1 receiver. Newcomer Jamison Crowder could be busy. Slot receivers were targeted most in Gase’s system. Physical receiver Quincy Enunwa is reliable when on the field. He may try to avoid running over defenders to stay healthy. But Enunwa doesn’t want to change his style entirely. All three receivers should benefit from Bell’s presence. Ex-Bear Josh Bellamy and unproven Brexton Barrios are among the backups. Montgomery, a converted wideout, can line up wide. But the Jets have to hope the top three receivers stay healthy. The Jets will try to overcome the loss of tight end Chris Herndon (four-game league suspension). Ex-Texan Ryan Griffin, Daniel Brown and rookie Trevon Wesco (a good blocker, who also can be used as an H-back) should get an opportunity. Gase likes to run some two tight-end sets.
Line: Gase and GM Joe Douglas, a former O-lineman, know protecting Darnold is the key to everything. The Jets added two former Pro Bowlers in left guard Kelechi Osemele and ex-Panthers center Ryan Kalil. Osemele is looking to bounce back after a down and injury-plagued 2018 with the Raiders. Douglas helped coerce Kalil out of retirement. They limited Kalil and didn’t play him in the preseason, but the Jets are confident the two-time First-Team All-Pro has plenty left and will be a big help to Darnold. Left tackle Kelvin Beachum, right guard Brian Winters and right tackle Brandon Shell all return. But the starting group was slowed by injuries during preseason. The line will need time to click but should be improved. Jonotthon Harrison, who began camp as the starting center, can play multiple spots when needed. The Jets also acquired former Minnesota starting guard Tom Compton, Alex Lewis from Baltimore and they like rookie Chuma Edoga. All three played with the starters in the preseason.
Line: New coordinator Gregg Williams will play a 3-4, but he’ll go 4-3, too. Leonard Williams, who has only eight sacks in his last 41 games, is in a contract year and wants to get paid. He could finally break out. End Henry Anderson wants to build off his team-high tying seven sacks last year. The Jets believe third overall pick Quinnen Williams can make an impact and hope he’ll take some double teams away from Leonard Williams. Quinnen, the top interior lineman last season, has been compared to Aaron Donald. With no established edge rushers, Gregg Williams may rely on an interior pass rush. Veteran nose tackle Steve McLendon remains a defensive leader and end Bronson Kaufusi, after a good spring and camp, should play much more. Williams plans to use a rotation with this group and split snaps as evenly as possible to keep the line sharp.
Linebackers: The Jets signed game-changing middle linebacker C.J. Mosley. The four-time Pro Bowler has 597 tackles, nine interceptions and six forced fumbles in five seasons. The leader of Baltimore’s top-ranked defense last year will quarterback the Jets’ D. But they took a major hit when inside linebacker Avery Williamson (team-high 120 tackles last year) tore his ACL in the second preseason game. Neville Hewitt should slide into Williamson’s spot. Hewitt played well last year after Darron Lee was suspended. Outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins (seven sacks last year) has improved each season. He’s playing for a new contract, so Jenkins could be extra motivated. Brandon Copeland, a starter last year, was suspended four games for taking PEDs. Frankie Luvu, ex-Patriot Harvey Langi and Tarell Basham are in line to replace Copeland. Rookie Blake Cashman impressed with his play in the preseason.
Defensive backs: Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams is a star who Gregg Williams can play just about anywhere. If Marcus Maye can stay healthy – he missed 10 games last year - the Jets are solid at safety. Veteran Rontez Miles provides depth there. But cornerback is their weakest position. Trumaine Johnson, who had a rough and injury-shortened 2018, hurt his hamstring the second week of camp. The Jets targeted Week 1 for Johnson’s return. They already were thin at corner after not to re-signing Morris Claiborne. Darryl Roberts will start at one corner with ex-Falcon Brian Poole at nickel. The Jets acquired veteran Nate Hairston last week and claimed Bennett Jackson, who has yet to play in a regular-season game. Douglas will keep looking for help.
This was a strong unit last year under coordinator Brant Boyer. Boyer is back but gone are Pro Bowl returner Andre Roberts (Buffalo) and Pro Bowl kicker Jason Myers (Seattle), and it led to a messy camp and preseason. Veteran kicker Chandler Catanzaro struggled and retired after the first preseason game. His replacement, Taylor Bertolet struggled and was cut Sept. 1 after the Jets claimed Kaare Vedvik, who was cut by Minnesota and has never kicked in an NFL game. Quick and elusive undrafted rookie Greg Dortch was tough to bring down returning punts in the preseason, but he was cut the same day as Bertolet and later signed to the practice squad. Former Patriot Braxton Berrios, claimed Sept. 1, is expected to handle the punt returning now. Trenton Cannon is expected to return kicks. He seems more surehanded than last year when he muffed some in camp and the preseason. Punter Lachlan Edwards has a consistently strong leg. He ranked ninth in average yardage (45.9) last year and had the fifth-most punts. Gase hopes his offense will keep the ball off Edwards’ foot.
Adam Gase helped Peyton Manning have the most prolific passing season in NFL history. Now Gase will try to mold and shape young Sam Darnold into an elite franchise quarterback. Gase has plenty to prove as a head coach after going 23-25 in three seasons running the Dolphins, including 13-19 the last two. Miami’s offense finished 24th, 25th and 31st in total yards, and 17th, 28th and 26th in points. Injuries at quarterback, receiver and on the line contributed. But some players reportedly weren’t upset to see Gase go. He’s a strong personality and he’s breathed life into the Jets, though. Gase probably learned from his first head coaching job. He seems adaptable and willing to scrap plays if his players aren’t comfortable with them. Gase, Williams and Boyer have the players’ attention. It could be an interesting season and the start of something.