FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — If the New York Jets want to get the best out of rookie Zach Wilson, if they want to put an end to the vexing quarterback drought that has plagued the franchise for decades, they must learn to do this one thing exceptionally well:
Run. The. Ball.
They were really bad at it during the Sam Darnold era, ranking 30th in rushing offense over three years — which probably explains a lot of things. Now they have a new coaching staff and a new scheme with a history of success, but big questions remain because the current cast of running backs lacks a true star.
And a true starter, for that matter.
Some perspective: If you combine the rushing yardage from the career years of the Jets’ four veteran backs — Tevin Coleman (800 yards), Josh Adams (511), Ty Johnson (273) and La’Mical Perine (232) — the total would be 1,816. That’s 200-plus yards fewer than Tennessee Titans star Derrick Henry‘s 2,027-yard performance in the 2020 NFL season.
For the Jets, the star is the system, an outside zone scheme known for turning pedestrian players into 1,000-yard rushers. It started nearly 30 years ago with coach Mike Shanahan, who taught it to his assistants, who taught it to their assistants. One of them was Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, who grew up in the coaching business under Shanahan’s son, current San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan.
The scheme is like a secret family recipe, passed down through the generations, finally arriving in New Jersey.
“Best scheme in the world,” said Jets coach Robert Saleh, who also worked under Kyle.
The Jets don’t have to be world beaters, but they have to run the ball effectively to take pressure off Wilson, keeping him out of third-and-long and allowing him to utilize the play-action element in the offense. One of the reasons why they drafted him No. 2 overall was because of his ability to excel in play-action situations.
Now all they have to do is get better blocking up front and scheme up ways to get production out of their no-name backfield, which includes fourth-round pick Michael Carter, who might be the best of the bunch.
“I do think they all could be productive backs in this system,” LaFleur said.
The plan is to use the “committee” approach, which is how the 49ers made it to the Super Bowl in the 2019 season. They finished second in total rushing, but had no backs who cracked the 800-yard mark — Raheem Mostert (772), Matt Breida (623) and Coleman (544).
The league is trending away from the one-man show.
“There are a few guys,” Saleh said. “Derrick Henry still does it; there’s a few of those. If you have one, you have one. You never want to force the issue. You want to share the load, and it gives those guys a chance to have longevity in their career.”
The scheme requires patient backs who can run east-west until they see a crease and … vroom! It’s one cut and go. Coleman has an early edge because he’s familiar with the system and has the most straightaway speed, based on data from NFL Next Gen Stats.
“When he gets the ball in his hand and makes that one cut,” Saleh said, “it’s like he’s shot out of a cannon.”
— New York Jets (@nyjets) June 4, 2021
Coleman, 28, didn’t generate much interest on the free-agent market (he signed for one year, $1.1 million), which says what the league thinks about him. Perine (5-foot-11, 216 pounds) is “a big, powerful back who can get downhill in a hurry,” Saleh said. Quite frankly, Perine, a 2020 fourth-round pick, didn’t show any special qualities as a rookie. Some opposing scouts wonder if the scheme change will stunt his development.
The most intriguing player is Carter (5-foot-8, 201), who runs bigger than his size and brings more quickness than the others. He ran for 1,245 yards and an 8.0 average last season at North Carolina, which suggests there’s potential in those thunderous thighs.
“Every back has a unique trait,” Saleh said of the Jets’ depth chart. “Finding roles for them is going to be fun.”
“They come in so many shapes and sizes,” said LaFleur, suggesting there’s no prototype of a player for the scheme.
Jets general manager Joe Douglas didn’t have many great options in the offseason. The free-agent market was weak, and he wasn’t about to pay big bucks after the Le’Veon Bell disaster by the previous regime. In the draft, he could have picked Najee Harris or Travis Etienne, but he preferred to use his second first-round pick on guard Alijah Vera-Tucker. Two other running backs were chosen before he selected Carter near the top of the fourth round.
There was no fault in Douglas’ strategy, but it leaves them with question marks. Quite frankly, the Jets haven’t been a formidable running team since 2009-10, when they controlled the trenches and protected their young quarterback, Mark Sanchez.
They need to get back to that mentality with Wilson.
Can Colts stem the tide if Carson Wentz, Quenton Nelson miss games? – Indianapolis Colts Blog
WESTFIELD, Ind. – One of the Indianapolis Colts’ strongest attributes on either side of the ball is their offensive line, which is supposed to be a factor in helping quarterback Carson Wentz rebound from a disappointing 2020 season and help Indianapolis get back to the playoffs for the second straight season.
That’ll be tough to do when three of the five starting offensive linemen are out dealing with injuries, as is Wentz.
Wentz and guard Quenton Nelson joined center Ryan Kelly (elbow) and left tackle Eric Fisher (Achilles) out of action. Wentz and Nelson have basically the same foot injury that will keep them sidelined anywhere between five to 12 weeks.
There’s never a good time for injuries. And it’s really not a good time when four of the first five games are against teams that made the playoffs last season and with all five of those teams expected to push for a playoff spot this season.
Winning games over the Seahawks, Rams, Titans, Dolphins and Ravens would be tough with a healthy roster. It could end up being a brutal stretch for the Colts if those players aren’t back yet. And the reality is, there’s a chance they won’t be.
Kelly is out for a couple of weeks with his elbow injury, and there’s a chance Fisher will miss the start of the regular season while he continues to rehab from the torn Achilles he suffered last winter. The Colts, based off talks with medical officials, cast a broad net on the return timetable of Wentz and Nelson because all players recover differently.
“We were talking about it as a staff, we were talking about it individually — this is a great opportunity for our guys, for us to build depth on our team,” coach Frank Reich said. “We talk about it all the time, it’s the course of a season, so we have a good chance to evaluate all of those guys who can step in, and there is a handful of them. That’s what we’re in the process of doing, and we’ll be hopeful that [Nelson] will be back for Week 1. We don’t know, but that’s what our hope is.”
Per Caesars Sportsbook, the odds for the Colts to win the Super Bowl (25-1, 35-1), AFC (13-1, 16-1) and AFC South (-110, +170) all fell following the announcement of Wentz’s prognosis by Reich on Monday afternoon.
A lot can change over the next five weeks before the Colts host Seattle in Week 1. The Colts haven’t opened the season with a victory since 2013. But playing worst-case scenario, if Wentz, Nelson and Fisher are still out at the start of the season, the Colts potentially could struggle running the ball without their starting left guard and left tackle, and their quarterback to keep the defense honest with his arm.
The Colts’ defensive line has been having its way against the beat-up offensive line in recent days in training camp. Imagine what Seattle and Tennessee coaches Pete Carroll and Mike Vrabel can scheme to do against the Colts. Or the havoc Rams All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald is going to cause up the middle. And to make matters worse, three of the first five games are on the road for the Colts.
The Colts may need to lean more heavily on Matt Eberflus’ defense — which ranked eighth in yards allowed last season and second against the run — to keep them in games until those key players return.
Reich keeps a narrow thought process on what lies ahead. That’s why he had a long post-practice talk with his team, where he spoke with a lot of passion. The Colts started the 2018 season 1-5 and finished with a 10-6 record and a spot in the playoffs.
“I’ve been a part of some really great teams who lost great players, and it takes all of us and you to overcome it as a team, and I believe whatever card we’re dealt; however it plays out, we’ll be just fine,” Reich said.
Philip Rivers says he’s ‘staying ready,’ won’t close door on possible NFL return
Months after he announced his retirement from the NFL, former quarterback Philip Rivers says he isn’t ruling out a return.
Rivers, who retired in January after one season with the Indianapolis Colts following 16 with the San Diego and Los Angeles Chargers, told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday that he is staying in shape in case a situation presents itself for a late-season stint in the NFL.
“I’m not quite there,” Rivers, 39, told the LA Times. “I’m getting back there. I wouldn’t have made weight if I had to report last week, that’s for sure. But I am getting back into the lifting and running, and shoot, I occasionally throw a ball around out here in this heat. It’s not too hard to get a good lather going.
“I’m just going to stay ready. I want to make sure I’m very clear: I’m not predicting I will play in December or January, for that matter. One, you’ve got to have somebody who wants you, and two, it’s got to be right.
“But I have not completely ruled that out.”
Rivers, a five-time Pro Bowler who ranks fifth in NFL history with 63,440 passing yards, led the Colts to the playoffs last season, throwing for 4,169 yards and 24 touchdowns. Indianapolis lost to Buffalo in an AFC wild-card game.
The Colts announced Monday that quarterback Carson Wentz will have surgery on his injured left foot and be out five to 12 weeks.
Rivers currently is in his first year as head football coach of St. Michael Catholic High School in Alabama. According to maxpreps.com, the team’s final regular-season game is scheduled for Oct. 29, two days before the Colts’ Week 8 home game against the Tennessee Titans.
Minnesota Vikings co-owner Mark Wilf is concerned over players’ vaccine hesitancy; three QBs on the COVID-19 reserve list
EAGAN, Minn. — While the Minnesota Vikings continue navigating a recent COVID-19 interruption within the quarterback room, team co-owner Mark Wilf expressed concern over vaccine hesitancy among players.
“We’re very concerned,” Wilf said. “I think it’s safe to say that our No. 1 priority is the health and safety of our players, our coaches, our staff and, ultimately, the entire community. From that standpoint, we really are encouraging people to take the vaccines, to get vaccinated.
“We’re proud of the fact that we’ve partnered with the State of Minnesota to have our facility here used as a vaccination center in the offseason. We just want everybody to follow the protocols. We’re trying to educate everyone in the organization, the team, to make sure and get the vaccinations. Of course with the delta variant and other new permutations going on, we just want to make sure to preserve the health and safety. That’s the standpoint that we come from as ownership and as an organization.”
The Vikings are without quarterbacks Kellen Mond, who tested positive for COVID-19 last weekend, Kirk Cousins and Nate Stanley — the latter two were deemed high-risk close contacts and required to self-isolate for a minimum of five days. All three QBs and wide receiver Myron Mitchell were placed on the COVID-19/reserve list.
According to the NFL/NFLPA protocols, a player with the “high-risk close contact” classification designates that they are not vaccinated. Coach Mike Zimmer has been outspoken about his frustration with players who are refusing to get vaccinated and foreshadowed the stark reality the Vikings are “going to have guys miss some games, and we have to be prepared for it.”
“I talked to the team and, like I said before, there are quite a few guys that are just against it,” Zimmer said on Monday. “I’m not going to be able to change their mind, so, it’s like half the country, I guess.”
The Vikings’ vaccine hesitancy is reflected in vaccination efforts leaguewide. According to a report from The Washington Post, the Vikings have the lowest vaccination rate in the NFL, with 64.5% of players fully vaccinated and 70% in process (with at least one shot). The Washington Football Team has dealt with similar interruptions during training camp, with six players currently on the COVID-19/reserve list, but saw its vaccination rate escalate 24% in one week from 60% to 84% of its players being at least partially vaccinated, according to the report.
The NFL announced Tuesday that 90% of players across the league are either fully vaccinated or have had at least one shot. Nine teams are above 95%, and 27 teams have reached the 85% threshold.
The competitive advantage that teams with higher vaccination rates could have this season is not lost on Vikings players, coaches and ownership. On his All Things Covered podcast, cornerback Patrick Peterson noted the importance of getting vaccinated so he doesn’t put himself at risk of missing games thanks to COVID-19 protocols.
“I feel like I’m too important to this team not to get vaccinated, not miss an important game and now we possibly lose that game, and that could be the game that we needed to get into the playoffs,” Peterson said.
Wilf noted the potential for low vaccination rates to lead to a competitive disadvantage and praised Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman for the way they’ve approached the situation in Minnesota.
“The competitive side is of course concerning but, again, our focus is on health and safety,” Wilf said. “We care about the players and the team and, from that standpoint, they happen to be aligned. But the fact is, we’re encouraging vaccinations. We’re talking about a serious health pandemic, and it’s something we want to make sure that our players, our staff, our coaches, that they’re fully informed of what’s involved here. From that standpoint, I think the way Coach Zimmer and Rick Spielman and the entire football team has handled this is the right way — in terms of making sure we provide the resources, as ownership, that everyone is educated and has the opportunity to understand all the facts.”
Zimmer said Monday that he did not know when Mond, Cousins or Stanley would be available to return. Because Mond tested positive, his return is subject to different protocols.
According to NFL/NFLPA guidelines, a player on the COVID-19/reserve list who tests positive and is asymptomatic can return to practice 10 days after showing symptoms, or five days after initially testing positive, with two consecutive negative tests separated by 24 hours within a five-day period. Symptomatic players can return 10 days after first testing positive and at least 72 hours after their last symptoms occurred.
“It is a tough circumstance for [Mond],” offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak said. “We’ll make the best of it, keep challenging him in our virtual meetings. He’s done a great job with that, staying prepared. Mainly, I just want to make sure he’s OK. He’s got COVID — he’s sick. We’ve got to get him healthy first. But when he gets back, we’ll get him back physically. In the meantime, we can stress him mentally and make it hard for him so that it’s just all physical when he gets back.”
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