FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Like the five fingers that make up the hand, consistency and cohesion are integral parts of an offensive line, and arguably some of the hardest aspects to get right.
But for the five players on the Jets’ starting offensive line, there’s an extra wrinkle. They practiced together for the first time on Tuesday. The center, Ryan Kalil, was retired a few months ago. And they’re tasked with protecting the most valuable asset in the franchise.
So, you know, time to learn quickly.
“There’s definitely going to be some growing pains, there’s no doubt about that,” Kalil said of the line, which Tuesday re-welcomed Brian Winters (shoulder) and Kelechi Osemele (chest). “I think what makes a good team is your ability to overcome that, overcome the adversity of that and so we’ll see how mature this team is if we hit any roadblocks, if we hit any stumps, how well we’re able to bounce back . . . Once we get in a groove, hopefully, the sky is the limit.”
Kalil said the decision to hold him out of the third preseason game was “last minute” and not because of any concern about his fitness. Kalil, who began looking into a return to football in March, said he continued to train throughout, but that the current focus is on the mental aspect of the game — learning the playbook, and getting on the same page as his teammates. That will be something of a universal challenge for the offensive line, which also saw lengthy absences for Winters and Osemele.
“It seemed like it was pretty smooth,” coach Adam Gase said of the line’s first practice. “The good thing is, being in meetings, it wasn’t like we forgot what we’ve learned since the spring, so the information is there. They know what we’re trying to do, so it’s kind of those guys jelling together as fast as possible.”
It helps to have Kalil’s veteran presence and pedigree — he’s a two-time first team All-Pro — and from what Kalil has seen, he said the line has the ability to overcome the relative newness of the unit.
“We have the potential to hopefully be all those things everybody says we can be,” he said. “It’s just a matter of how quickly we can adjust, how quickly we can adapt and maybe some veteran experience can help with that.”
Gase hasn’t decided yet whether he’ll hold out all of his starters for the fourth preseason game against the Eagles on Thursday, but even if Kalil does sit, the veteran said he’ll be fine for Week 1 against the Bills. He didn’t play in any preseason games last year with the Panthers and participated in only a few series the previous season, he said.
“Physically, [I’m] not concerned. Mentally, obviously, the more reps I can get, [I’m] better off,” Kalil said. “I feel like I’m getting my legs back and feel like my old self. Being able to play fast, feel comfortable with the playbook, it’s easier when you’re in a controlled environment” of practice, rather than a preseason game.
And until the unit is reunited again against Buffalo, Kalil said they’ll continue to study and build that cohesion that will be so important to the Jets’ fate this year. Right now, they’re still using football’s version of training wheels.
“There’s a lot of communication [in practice], extra communication just to make sure,” he said. “So, I think the more we play together, the more we can have sort of a shorthand and play faster. Probably a lot of that stems from me, so the more reps we can get together, the better it’ll be. The more we’re around each other, meeting rooms, and we’ve been doing a lot of that already, so it’s been good.”