A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. That’s a wrap: The offseason began at 8:30 p.m. ET last Dec. 30, when the team announced the firing of coach Todd Bowles a few hours after the Jets’ final game. Unofficially, it ended Thursday with the final organized team activity. It was one of the most eventful offseasons in team history, which is saying something. A few thoughts and observations as the team goes on a six-week hiatus before training camp begins (July 24):
The morale at One Jets Drive is high. The addition of general manager Joe Douglas has created a buzz in the building, allowing the organization to move past the ugly Mike Maccagnan ouster. Douglas is a people person whose door is always open. On Day 1, he walked around the offices and introduced himself to staffers in various departments. That might seem like a small thing, but it matters. It helps the culture. Now his job is to figure out ways to improve the roster.
Coach Adam Gase knows what he wants. He has a clear vision of the offense he wants to run and the type of players he wants in his locker room. Is it the right vision? We’ll find out. This much I can tell you: The man has moxie, and that’s a good thing. Confidence is contagious, especially from a leadership position. Folks in the building say Gase seems happier and more relaxed now that he has a comfort level with his GM. Clearly, that didn’t exist with Maccagnan.
It’s June 16, and the Jets have a clear-cut No. 1 quarterback who has the support of the entire organization: Sam Darnold. When is the last time that happened? No, not 2016. Even though Ryan Fitzpatrick was coming off a career season, he was embroiled in a nasty contract dispute, creating uncertainty. Plus, no one looked at Fitzpatrick as The Answer. You probably have to go back to 2011, Mark Sanchez. Darnold still has a way to go, but he made strides in the offseason despite some uneven practices. Remember, he’s learning a new offense. Gase loves Darnold’s innate skill as a passer, his ability to find windows that don’t appear to be open. He made “how’d-he-do-that?” passes that left grizzled coaches shaking their heads.
The Jets have big plans for running back Le’Veon Bell, but I came away with the sense that some in the organization were disappointed he didn’t participate in voluntary workouts. Because it’s a new offense for him and everybody, he will be behind the others when he reports to training camp.
Brother, can you spare a dime back? Better yet, how about a CB2? Yeah, the Jets have issues at cornerback. Big issues. Basically, they have two career backups in their CB2 and CB3 spots: Darryl Roberts and Brian Poole, respectively. Derrick Jones did some nice things in practice, but he’s raw and missed time with a leg injury. Douglas is well aware of the problem and already has tried to address it with a pair of minor moves, adding Mark Myers and Montrel Meander. (Yes, he will expand his search beyond players with “M.M.” as initials.) Trust me, they’re exploring the trade market.
What keeps Gase up at night? I think he’s concerned about the lack of depth at wide receiver and offensive line. At receiver, there’s a significant drop-off after the top three. The line is so thin that Jordan Morgan, a former Chicago Bears draft pick who has bounced around practice squads the past two years, worked with the starting unit Thursday because of absences and injuries. The Jets’ most experienced backups, Tom Compton and Brent Qvale, missed the spring with injuries. The offense will be in trouble if injuries mount.
The defense has six-pack abs, which is to say it has a strong belly. The unit is strong up the middle, from line to secondary, with Leonard Williams, Quinnen Williams, C.J. Mosley, Avery Williamson and Jamal Adams. The Jets should be fine against power running teams, but how many of those are really left? As for the edges of the defense, well, let’s just say it’s a bit flabby. They could struggle against teams that spread them out.
Under-the-radar standouts from the spring: running back Ty Montgomery, tight end Daniel Brown, defensive end Bronson Kaufusi and linebacker Jordan Jenkins. Underwhelming: quarterback Trevor Siemian, running back Trenton Cannon, cornerback Parry Nickerson and defensive tackle Nathan Shepherd.
2. Joe Jet & Co.: Before training camp, Douglas will hire two, possibly three executives for his front office. Bears assistant director of player personnel Champ Kelly is a strong candidate for a position, perhaps assistant GM. Well-respected personnel man Phil Savage, who knows Douglas from their days with the Baltimore Ravens, also is likely to land a spot. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay no longer is a candidate.
3. Culture Club: When defensive coordinator Gregg Williams stepped to the podium Thursday — his first news conference since being hired in January — he remarked how the Jets are “a good place to be. Good timing, too.”
Williams’ arrival is great timing for the Jets, and here’s why: It reminds me of 2009, when Rex Ryan blew into town and fueled the team and the fan base with his bravado. After three years of Eric Mangini, whose intense, buttoned-down coaching style drained the energy out of the building, they needed an infusion of confidence. Ryan provided it, and you saw the results on the field for two playoff seasons.
I’m not saying Bowles was Mangini-esque, but his stoic demeanor trickled down to the players, particularly the defense. At times, they played like zombies. Williams will change that mentality. His fiery, in-your-face approach will create a new attitude on defense — a wake-up call, if you will.
“The reason I keep getting hired is culture — and culture beats strategy any day of the week,” said Williams, who hasn’t presided over a top-10 scoring defense since 2010.
Under Williams, the Jets will be improved on defense — can’t get much worse — because the players are buying what he’s selling. The question is, how long will it last? With coaches like Williams and Ryan, the message gets stale in a year or two. Eventually, the players figure out that strategy is important, too.
For now, yes, Williams is the right defensive coordinator at the right time. Just don’t expect him to be a long-term savior.
4. Cimini’s all-timers: As part of the NFL 100 celebration, the Jets will unveil their all-time team Oct. 13 against the Dallas Cowboys. The team will be determined by a fan vote, starting in July. Here’s an early ballot, courtesy of a writer who has covered approximately 500 Jets games. Have at it:
5. The Gregg Show: Williams has opinions. Lots of opinions. His take on a few key players on defense:
On defensive lineman Leonard Williams, who managed only seven sacks the past two seasons: “We’re really looking forward to cutting him loose. … There’s a drastic difference in the philosophy of how we play up front. He’s had a really great spring. I can’t wait to get him in pads and ready to go.”
On Adams: “He’s motivated by some of the guys I’ve coached before. He’s watched the film; some of those guys are his idols, too. One of the things he’s very motivated by is directness. I said, ‘I’ve coached a lot better people than you before.’ [That was] right off the bat, but that was a point. All of a sudden, he’s been fun to watch.”
On cornerback Trumaine Johnson, reunited with Williams after a disappointing 2018 season: “He’s really motivated. He understands me, I understand him. It’s my job to help him be the best he can be. He and I, we had some really good moments together [with the Rams].”
On Mosley: “He’s had his ass chewed before, so I don’t have to worry about that because that’s how Nick [Saban] is. … He’s excited about the flexibility now with, all of a sudden, being even more of a quarterback on the defense and having the checks and audible systems and things that we teach. He’s been very good. It’s been fun.”
6. The final word: “Excuse my French when I say this, but he’s a f—ing dude. He’s a f—ing dude with a f—ing arm, and he’s as accurate as s—. So excuse that.” — wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson on Darnold.
Must-see sports photos of the week
The most interesting sports shots from around the globe this week include a 120-kilometer race through the Peruvian desert, NASCAR stock cars spinning donuts in Nashville, Tenn., and a gold-medal-winning takedown in the Philippines.
After 57 days and one win, Bengals superfan comes down from roof
MILAN, Ind. — Chrissy Lanham stood next to a cardboard cutout of her husband as the final seconds ticked off the clock inside Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium.
The flesh-and-bone version of Jeff Lanham was watching roughly 45 miles west in the makeshift tent atop the couple’s restaurant and bar in Milan, Indiana. After two months, he was ready to get off the roof.
An offhand comment about living above the Lanhams’ Hog Rock Cafe until the Cincinnati Bengals won a game turned into a 57-day period that unexpectedly transformed Lanham into his town’s biggest celebrity since the basketball team that inspired the movie “Hoosiers.”
When the Bengals finally picked up a win by beating the New York Jets in Week 13 to improve to 1-11, everyone around Chrissy celebrated with “Cardboard Jeff” while the real person was surrounded by screams and flying beer at the bar in southeastern Indiana.
A few drinks, a tree-trimming truck and belief in one of the worst teams in the NFL put Lanham on the roof of his own restaurant. Resolve kept him there.
“I didn’t do it, really, for anything,” said Lanham, 42. “I just made a comment and owned up to a comment and did it.”
Back in 1991, Dennis “Wildman” Walker spent 61 days on a Cincinnati billboard under similar circumstances, a feat that inspired Lanham’s comments.
Cincinnati was 0-4 when Lanham said he would live on the roof until the Bengals won. It was hours before the Bengals hosted the Arizona Cardinals, the NFL’s worst team last season. Jeff and Chrissy watched from the usual spot in the stadium as Arizona won 26-23 on a last-second field goal. Cincinnati started its course toward the NFL cellar, with six consecutive losses to come.
When they drove back to the Hog Rock in their black and orange party bus, Lanham knew where he had to go. A friend grabbed a tent; someone else fetched their tree-trimming truck; and Lanham headed to the roof on a rainy night. Once he woke up the next morning, he realized he might be stuck up there for a while. He moved down a story to the lower portion of the roof so he wouldn’t have to use an extension ladder to climb down to the bathroom and shower.
Decades earlier, people actually paid to live in the building. Back then, it was called the Railroad Inn, a reference to the train tracks that are less than 100 feet from the entrance. But when he and Chrissy started the restaurant, Milan (pronounced MY-lan) was vastly different.
Phyllis Coe, 72, said she bought the building at a sheriff’s auction after the previous owner let the building rot. She charged the Lanhams $500 rent. Lanham, who hadn’t worked for a year after a leg injury forced him to stop working in a mill, poured all of his money into fixing the place up.
“You can’t discount the kid,” Coe said.
When Lanham received international media attention for his stay on the roof, it was the biggest thing to happen to Milan since the high school’s boys basketball team won the Indiana state title in 1954 against Muncie Central, which inspired the 1986 film “Hoosiers.”
Lanham said he used his growing media exposure to remind people about the ’54 champions. He also used his brief window of stardom to raise money for the medical costs of a friend’s daughter who was born with spina bifida. He came down for roughly 12 hours during a benefit event.
During his time on the roof, he held 50/50 raffles during Bengals games and sold $5 raffle tickets for people to eat in a tent that was donated by a friend’s company. He donated most of the things he received, including a pallet of soup from Campbell’s.
He had heaters and plenty of people to keep him company, but it was still tough.
Jeff and Chrissy watched Netflix simultaneously in different places, calling to start shows at the same time and see whether they liked them. She, along with others, brought laundry and food up to his tent, including meals from Skyline Chili topped with habanero cheese. They put up another tent and had Thanksgiving up there.
After nearly two months, he came home. The Bengals easily trounced the Jets, 22-6 on Sunday, for their first win of the season. People near Chrissy at the stadium gave Jeff’s cardboard cutout high-fives, while the watch party back in Milan erupted when the game ended. By the time Chrissy arrived home, Jeff was celebrating with everyone at Hog Rock. They stayed until 11:30 that night.
“Jeff was ready to come home,” Chrissy said.
After the victory, Bengals running back Joe Mixon said he’d like to give Lanham something for staying up there that long. Lanham said that’s not necessary.
“I can’t say I want something from somebody because I didn’t do it for that,” he said.
When the Hog Rock opened at 4 p.m. Monday, the tent was still up behind the restaurant as a few regulars came in for drinks. Eventually, the tent will be donated to the local Boy Scouts chapter. Lanham plans to go to the Bengals game against the New England Patriots on Thursday. The next week, he might follow the team to Miami and take his wife as a way to say thanks for the past couple of months.
“I’m happy that he’s a loyal fan,” Bengals safety Jessie Bates said. “Hopefully next time he can stay on the roof until we lose or something like that.”
That’s not going to happen, Lanham said. Fifty-six nights was more than enough. He won’t be making any more bold predictions any time soon. But that doesn’t mean he won’t have the same belief that led him to the roof or that he doesn’t hope the franchise will be a winner again someday.
“Maybe it won’t change,” Lanham said. “Maybe it will. But I’ll still be a Cincinnati fan.”
Source — Patriots re-signing veteran kicker Nick Folk
The move, which was first reported by NFL Network, was expected after the Patriots waived Kai Forbath on Monday and were left with no kickers on the roster.
Forbath was signed to replace Folk, who had an appendectomy last week. In Sunday’s loss to the Houston Texans, Forbath went 1-for-2 on extra points and made a 23-yarder on his only field goal attempt.
Folk, who was released after having the procedure, still had a locker set up in the Patriots’ facility, and the expectation was that he could return to the team later in the season. The 12th-year player has made 7 of 9 field goals (77.8%) in three games for the Patriots this season and is 3-for-3 on extra point attempts.
Forbath was New England’s fourth kicker of the season. Stephen Gostkowski, who was in his 14th season with the Patriots, was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Oct. 2 and had surgery for a left hip injury.
The Patriots first signed Mike Nugent to take Gostkowski’s place, but he was ineffective, missing 3 of 8 field goal attempts and one PAT in four games. Nugent was released Oct. 29, and the Patriots brought in Folk.
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