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Jets OTAs Notes: Offense not sharp, an All-Pro at work, and a new weapon in the backfield

FLORHAM PARK — The Jets held their second media-open organized team activity on Wednesday.

Here are a few takeaways from the workout.

Attendance isn’t mandatory

Quinnen Williams, who wasn’t there for the first media-open OTA last week, was here for this one. He and his wife took their daughter to Disney World for her first birthday. Running back Breece Hall worked on the side. Receiver Mike Williams worked inside. Offensive tackle Morgan Moses, defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw and defensive end Haason Reddick were not visible during the media-open portion of practice. Reddick and Kinlaw aren’t believed to be in attendance.

The Jets endured their first injury in practice. Rookie wideout Malachi Corley left early with a trainer. He eventually returned to the field, but didn’t practice. He walked with a limp and did not have his helmet. It’s unlikely this injury is anything serious considering Corley came back out.

The Headlines

Rough go for the offense
Robert Saleh said the Jets offense will be “pretty damn good” if they can stay healthy. It’s hard to disagree with him. There really isn’t an obvious weakness on paper. The offense looked that good, too, during the media-open OTA last week.

They weren’t as good on Wednesday. Granted, a lot of that had to do with the struggles of receiver Allen Lazard. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers went 11-of-17 in practice (team drills and 7-on-7). He was 1 of 5 when targeting Lazard, though. The wideout, unofficially, had two drops. Both near the right sideline, one would have been a touchdown.

The offense struggled the most during a red zone drill. They had a first and goal beginning near the 10 yard line. Rodgers threw three incompletions. He missed a back-shoulder to Lazard. Quincy Williams had impressive coverage on a pass in the back of the end zone to tight end Kenny Yeboah. Lazard dropped the third-down pass.

This drill came against the Jets backup secondary and defensive line. C.J. Mosley and Williams, the Jets two starting linebackers, manned the middle of the defense.

It should be noted the Jets offense was without Hall, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Moses and Williams.

New face in a new place
This signing piqued my interest: Tarik Cohen. The Jets signed the former All-Pro returner for the Bears, who suffered a catastrophic knee injury in 2020, on Wednesday and he was out there as a full participant the same day. He looked good, too. He took part in the Jets kick return drills (likely his key to making the team), but also made some plays working with the reserve offense. He had a nice run, showcasing an impressive burst, up the left sideline in 11-on-11 drills.

I remember special teams coordinator Brant Boyer raving about Cohen a few years ago. He worked him out before the 2017 draft and thought he’d be a game-changing presence. He was before that injury. Boyer finally gets a chance to work with him.

Saleh called Cohen an “explosive playmaker.” They’re excited to see what he can do within the new kick return role. Those players, Saleh believes, will end up touching the ball 100-plus times this season. You want a dynamic presence back there and they’ll give Cohen a chance to be that guy. Xavier Gipson will get first crack at the job, though, Saleh said.

Blind side protection
I’ve covered good players during my tenure overseeing the Jets. Not that many all-time greats, though. You could loop in Darrelle Revis, but he was overweight and washed during the 2015 and 2016 seasons.

That’s what made watching Rodgers last year so fun. You’re watching a future Hall of Famer, still at the top of his game, display a doctorate in his craft. That was a treat for someone who grew up loving the NFL.

There’s another example of that this year with Tyron Smith. The thing about players of this caliber is they make everything look so easy. Their technique is flawless. You see that with Smith during every individual and team rep. It’s crazy comparing how he looks doing the same things as a rookie like Olu Fashanu. Fashanu has all the physical traits you want, but it’s that technique he needs to develop.

The biggest key for the Jets is going to be keeping Smith healthy. He rotates during team drills. There’s no doubt he can play when he’s on the field, but that’s the concern: How long will he stay on the field? The Jets signed Smith to that incentive-laden, team-friendly deal because he had no other teams vying for his services well into the second wave of free agency.

So many teams around the NFL need offensive line help. Here you have an all-time great available for the league equivalent of pennies and no one other than the Jets was interested? That’s a red flag to me.

Replacing John Franklin-Myers

This is an underrated storyline brushed over by many thanks to the acquisition of Reddick. Yes, Reddick is an elite-level rusher, but Franklin-Myers gave so much to the Jets on and off the field.

The Jets used Franklin-Myers in a hybrid, Justin Tuck/Brandon Graham-like role. He played defensive end on rushing downs before kicking inside on passing situations. The team believed Micheal Clemons could develop into a similar player, but he struggled a bit last year and is promised very little entering Year 3.

Defensive line coach Aaron Whitecotton might have to get creative with some of his deployments. Jermaine Johnson, a Pro Bowler last year, is a bull rusher. He could kick inside, allowing the Jets to use Reddick and Will McDonald at defensive end. That front, with Quinnen Williams, could be deadly in passing situations. Eric Watts, an undrafted rookie out of Connecticut, could also carve out a role for himself. He’s earned rave reviews from staffers thus far.

Highlights

  • Receiver Garrett Wilson made a diving catch on a slant from Rodgers. Wilson is a budding star in the NFL. It’s crazy to watch how easy he makes everything look.

  • Rodgers’ play of practice came on a deep pass down the seam to tight end Kenny Yeboah. Safety Chuck Clark had great coverage. Rodgers’ throw found a window I didn’t know existed.

  • Rookie running back Isaiah Davis made a nice play on a swing pass from Rodgers. He put a nice juke on a defender before cutting up the field.

  • Hamze El-Zayat made a nice catch deep down the seam. It was similar to the catch earlier in practice from Yeboah (from Rodgers).

  • Lance McCutcheon caught a long touchdown from Tyrod Taylor. Taylor really is one of the better deep-ball throwers in the NFL. He doesn’t get enough credit for that. The biggest concern with Taylor is his propensity to run around the pocket and take extra hits.

  • Second-year defensive end Will McDonald had a couple nice rushes against Carter Warren. He later rushed against Smith in team drills. He did not have the same success.

Quick hits and tidbits

  • Most love to talk about Garrett Wilson, and for good reason. He’s a dynamic, elite-level player. Rodgers’ return will make a huge difference with elevating his game. Someone else to keep an eye on: Tyler Conklin. He and Rodgers seemed to develop nice chemistry in camp last year. He’s a safety valve for Rodgers when others are taken down. He could be in for a big year.

  • Second-year running back Izzy Abanikanda isn’t exactly receiving the lion’s share of reps with Hall out. It actually feels he’s working behind rookie Braelon Allen and Isaiah Davis at times. That’s not a great sign. GM Joe Douglas rarely cuts his rookie draft picks. It’s getting hard to see a path for Abanikanda to make the 53-man roster, assuming the Jets keep just four (looping in fullback Nick Bawden).

  • Joe Tippmann said it’s been a blessing to spend this offseason preparing for one thing. He didn’t know where teams wanted him heading into the draft. He spent time not only preparing for the NFL Combine, but also repping center, guard and tackle. He knows the Jets want him as a center, so that’s where he’s spent all his time. He believes it will lead to a big jump this year.

  • Jermaine Johnson admitted he was a little pissed off after his rookie year. Everyone praised Garrett Wilson, Sauce Gardner and Breece Hall as the top players picked in what looks like a legendary class. He wanted to “lift his end of the couch.” Johnson responded with a Pro Bowl year, highlighted by 7.5 sacks. Johnson believes he can take an even bigger jump this year.

  • The NFL Network reported on Tuesday that the NFLPA is considering a reworked offseason schedule that involves eliminating OTAs and minicamp, but implementing a ramp-up period before training camp. Saleh said he believes that could be a good thing. He doesn’t like the 40-day gap between the end of minicamp and start of training camp as it leads to injuries. You basically come off of vacation, then right into the grind of camp. He still wants the same amount of work, just pushing it all from April and May, to before camp begins at the end of July. The proposal is still being finalized, though. It’s unclear if the NFLPA wants to eliminate OTAs and minicamp in favor of just a ramp-up period, essentially just the first and second phase (lifting and light on-field work). Saleh said that would be a “challenge” if that were to happen, but one the whole league would have to deal with.