FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Sam Darnold looks forward to getting to work with new starting center Ryan Kalil, but it might be a little while before they’re on the field together.
Kalil, 34, who came out of retirement to join the Jets, won’t practice with the team right away, coach Adam Gase said Friday. He has had some major injuries the last few years and hadn’t been training to play in the NFL. It sounds as if the Jets are going to be cautious with Kalil, but they believe he’ll be worth the wait.
“It’s a great thing that we can add to that group with a guy that’s played at a very high level for a long time,” Gase said. “It will be really helpful for the offense, for the quarterback, for our locker room, bringing the right kind of guy for us. We’re fired up.”
Kalil, who will sign a one-year, $8.4 million contract, is expected at practice Saturday as a spectator.
The Jets expect Kalil, a five-time Pro Bowler with the Panthers, to pick up the offense quickly. Gase said Carolina ran a similar scheme and that Kalil’s experiences and being former MVP Cam Newton’s center should help ease his transition.
“We’ve heard nothing but outstanding things about him in the locker room, his leadership ability, his intelligence, what he can do,” Gase said. “He had a lot on his plate when he was there. He has for the entire time that Cam’s been there . . . That’s always a good thing for a quarterback when you have a center that can handle a lot.”
He wouldn’t say how long this had been in the works, only that general manager Joe Douglas approached him and said it was a possibility. Douglas, a former offensive lineman, said he believes everything starts up front. The offensive line needed to upgrade. It didn’t take long for him to do that, bringing in a proven player to bolster the Jets’ line and protect their young quarterback.
“It’s cool for Joe to go out there and continue to get pieces that we need to succeed,” Darnold said. “It’s another tool in the toolbox to help us win games.
“[Kalil’s] seen a lot of football. To have a guy out there that you’ll be able to watch tape with him, he’ll be able to know when something’s coming just by watching tape. On the field, he’ll be able to recognize something and fix the protection himself. There’s so many things that such a vet center can bring to the team. We’re excited to have him.”
Darnold and Kalil went to USC. Darnold said he doesn’t really know him but that he received a number of texts from people who do, telling him he’s a great guy, player and leader.
Kalil spent the past 12 seasons with the Panthers and twice was named first-team All-Pro. He played in only 14 games total in 2016 and 2017 but appeared in every game last season.
“We’ve done our research,” Gase said. “We feel good where we’re at with that.
“He had a pretty good year last year. That’s a big reason why he’s coming here because he’s a really good player.”
When Kalil is ready, incumbent center Jonotthan Harrison will go back to being the backup. Harrison and Darnold have a great relationship and worked well together, but Gase and Darnold said Harrison handled the news like a pro.
“He knows he’s got to keep coming out here doing his job,” Gase said. “When his number is called, he’s going to be ready.”
LT Kelvin Beachum hurt his right ankle during pass-rush drills and didn’t return. RB Ty Montgomery also was slowed by an ankle injury. Gase said for both of them, “it could be day-to-day, it could be a week.” Rookie Chuma Edoga played left tackle after Beachum left . . . CB Trumaine Johnson was held out at the end of practice with a sore groin.