NY Jets training camp: Separating real takeaways from the hype

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By: Michael Nania

What to believe in, what to ignore with New York Jets 2023 training camp

Training camp is underway in Florham Park. It’s always an exciting time of year in the NFL. After months of having nothing to talk about but nonsensical Twitter debates and player workout videos, the football world finally gets to consume some real on-field action.

While it is refreshing to have football-related news to discuss, we must remember the caveats that come with training camp. Some things that happen on the practice field are worth noting and do carry actual value. However, there are plenty of attention-grabbing occurrences that are not truly noteworthy and should be brushed aside.

On that note, let’s dive into some of the biggest storylines from the New York Jets‘ first few practices of training camp and separate the ones that are truly noteworthy from the ones that are merely noise.

Noteworthy: Tony Adams’ ascension

Tony Adams is taking first-team reps at safety and has had some nice moments.

This is a very real takeaway for Jets fans. Going into training camp, there wasn’t a clear indication as to what the Jets’ plans were at safety. Are they really going to start the duo of Adrian Amos and Jordan Whitehead? Both guys play their best in the box and are subpar in deep coverage.

Hypothetically, it seemed like the best course of action was to start Adams at free safety considering he is the best fit for deep-field responsibilities amongst him, Amos, and Whitehead, but we couldn’t say for sure whether the team viewed Adams as a potential starter. Now, we know the team is absolutely giving Adams a golden opportunity to win the job.

The best-case scenario for the Jets’ 2023 defense involves Adams starting at free safety and playing like at least an average starter. If he can be an average starter, he’d be a substantial upgrade over both Lamarcus Joyner’s 2022 season and whatever the Jets would likely get out of Amos or Whitehead in 2023 if they played the same role.

Not noteworthy: Any result of DL-versus-OL battles

Before pads come on, it doesn’t make sense to put any stock into what happens in the trenches. Without pads to enable full contact, the offensive linemen are at a severe disadvantage. Padless trench battles are nothing like the ones you see in a real game.

With this in mind, I don’t believe it is worthwhile to even mention some of the reports that have come out of practice regarding DL-versus-OL battles. Whenever you read about the results of these reps, just ignore it and move on. It doesn’t mean much. When the pads come on, we can talk.

Noteworthy: Nick Bawden’s involvement

Veteran fullback Nick Bawden carved out a niche in the Jets’ offense near the end of the 2021 season. While he wasn’t necessarily playing a lot (6.3 offensive snaps per game across nine appearances), it’s noteworthy in this day and age whenever an NFL team utilizes a fullback at all. Many teams go the entire season without having a pure fullback on the team.

Bawden performed well in that small sample size, throwing a handful of key blocks to spring big plays for the offense. Throughout the 2022 offseason, it seemed like Bawden was on track to make the team and perhaps expand his role even further. Those plans were foiled when Bawden was placed on season-ending injured reserve in August due to an undisclosed injury.

The Jets did not replace Bawden with a pure fullback. We occasionally saw the Jets utilize their tight ends in fullback-like roles – particularly C.J. Uzomah and Jeremy Ruckert – but it was rare.

With a new offensive coaching staff joining the team in 2023, it was unknown whether the fullback position would be utilized. The Packers did not roster a fullback in either of Nathaniel Hackett‘s final two seasons as the offensive coordinator, although they did use Danny Vitale for 82 snaps in Hackett’s first season. However, when Hackett was the Broncos’ head coach in 2022, Denver gave 131 offensive snaps to fullback Andrew Beck, ranking as the fifth-most in the league among fullbacks.

Early reports out of Florham Park indicate Bawden has been involved with the first-team offense quite often. This is certainly worth noting. There is a long way to go, but it is starting to look like Bawden has a good chance of making this team and playing some offensive snaps.

The interesting part of the Bawden conversation is whose roster spot he’d be taking. Who is Bawden competing against? Is it a fourth running back, such as Zonovan Knight or Michael Carter? Is it a third or fourth tight end, such as Jeremy Ruckert or Zack Kuntz? Perhaps even a sixth wide receiver?

That will remain unknown until the final cutdowns are made, but I would keep an eye on how Bawden’s performance compares to some of the fringe skill-position players on the team. If Bawden makes the squad, it seems likely that another offensive weapon will be the odd man out.

Not noteworthy: Players in “the best shape of their life”

There may not be a more common cliche in sports than players arriving for a new season and claiming they are:

  • “In the best shape of my life”
  • “Haven’t felt this good in years”
  • “Much faster/stronger than last year”
  • “Fully healthy for the first time in X years”
  • “Worked harder than ever before this offseason”

In addition to the players themselves, sometimes we will hear a coach say these things about a player.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all about the optimism! And from the player’s perspective, it makes all the sense in the world to feel good about the work you’ve put in. You should feel like you’re in the best shape of your life. You’re doing something wrong if you don’t believe that.

However, from an outside observer’s perspective, we cannot glean anything tangible from these kinds of statements. No player is going to come out and say, “To be honest, I’m only feeling average right now. This is probably the fifth-best I’ve felt in my career going into a training camp.” Until someone utters those words, we have to take statements about players’ physical conditions with a grain of salt.

Mekhi Becton is one Jets player who I’m hesitant to buy stock into based on the hype surrounding his physical condition. The Jets have been talking up his offseason work and the shape he is in as he enters a pivotal season in his career.

It’s fantastic to hear that Becton is in great shape and ready to compete. And, judging by the pictures and videos we’ve seen, he does appear to be in outstanding shape. He deserves an immense amount of credit for that. But the facts are the facts: Becton is a ticking time bomb. That’s not even his own fault – we’ve seen him work hard every offseason, doing his best to stay healthy and show up to camp in great shape. Some players just happen to be injury-prone and there isn’t anything they can do about it.

So, with that in mind, we just have to wait and see if Becton can stay on the field. I have no doubts that he has done his part to maximize the odds of that happening. Unfortunately, durability is up to fate. Until Becton stays healthy and dominates in a real game, it’s hard to get too giddy about how he looks on the practice field. And this applies to everyone. Quotes about a player’s physical condition are great for headlines, but until it translates to on-field production, they’re just a bunch of words.

Noteworthy: The effect Aaron Rodgers has on the offense

For years, Jets fans watched the defense dominate the offense in practice on a daily basis. Excuses were made each time. “The offense is still getting into its groove!”, they said. “The defense has the advantage in practice!”, they said.

But every year, the regular season would prove the offense’s training camp struggles were legitimate.

At long last, Jets fans are witnessing an offense that can trade blows with the defense. And considering they are taking each rep against an elite defense, that is a very promising sign.

Why is the offense finally able to go toe-to-toe with the defense? Obviously, it’s because Aaron Rodgers is under center. But it’s not just a result of his raw talent as a quarterback. It’s also because of the way he makes life easier for his teammates so they can reach new heights.

Rodgers’ impact on the offense is already extremely palpable. While you don’t want to read too much into training camp practices, it’s clear that Rodgers’ poise and experience – whether it’s off the field, in the huddle, or at the line of scrimmage – are making life easier for everybody else on offense.

Jets X-Factor’s Robby Sabo put it this way when describing Rodgers’ impact in the first practice of training camp: “The level to which Aaron Rodgers lifts the play of the entire roster is something that, though it’s obvious, I don’t think has truly yet been appreciated.”

On the third day of practice, Rodgers surgically picked apart the Jets’ star-studded secondary. Robby’s description of Rodgers’ performance is a perfect encapsulation of how he stabilizes the flow of the offense:

“Aaron Rodgers dominated. Not only did he pull off some splash plays, but he also destroyed the integrity of the D by simply taking what they gave him. Initially, the dinking and dunking was the necessary day-starter. It serves a purpose, as a once lagged D with cushion is forced to creep up. Then, once the mission is accomplished, downfield is ON. AR was truly dominant today for the fans. This “take what they give you” mindset is what all great QBs do; it’s no secret.”

Yeah, Rodgers can sling it as good as anyone to ever grab a pigskin – we know this. But the impact he brings to New York goes beyond his ability to simply complete a higher percentage of passes than those who preceded him. He brings a ripple effect that will lift everyone around him.

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