<
>

New York Jets training camp questions: How can Sam Darnold improve?

play
Jets look toward future after trading Jamal Adams (0:46)

ESPN reporter Rich Cimini says the Jets will take a step back on defense after trading Jamal Adams to the Seahawks. (0:46)

The New York Jets open 2020 NFL training camp July 28 at the Atlantic Health Center in Florham Park, New Jersey. Here's a closer look at a few storylines:

Where does Sam Darnold need to improve to reach the middle tier of quarterbacks?

Darnold tantalizes with his innate ability, but there isn't one area where he excels on a consistent basis. That has to change. In particular, he needs to be better on third down (75.9 passer rating), when under pressure (43.6) and against man-to-man coverage. Nine of his 13 interceptions came against "man," more than every quarterback except Jameis Winston, Philip Rivers and Baker Mayfield, per ESPN Stats & Information. Darnold will be more comfortable in his second season in coach Adam Gase's system; he started settling down over the second half of 2019.

This is a big season for Darnold, who needs a breakout year to solidify his long-term future with the franchise. Next May, the Jets must make a decision on his fifth-year option for 2022, which has a new wrinkle. His draft class (2018) is the first under the new collective bargaining agreement to have a fully guaranteed option from the moment it is exercised. In Darnold's case, we're talking about at least $25 million.

Did the Jets do enough to improve the offensive line or is Le'Veon Bell doomed to another year of 3.2 yards and a cloud of dust?

Bell predicted recently on Instagram "this will be the best year of my career & it won't even be close." Love the optimism, but he's likely doomed to a slow start because of the offensive line overhaul.

With three or four new starters, the entire group will need time to gel. Heck, the Jets players still haven't been in the same room together. In Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten and George Fant, they acquired smart, versatile players who should fit nicely in a scheme that will utilize more zone blocking than last season. But we're not talking about any game-changers, folks. The biggest talent is Mekhi Becton, who can be a monster at left tackle once he overcomes his rookie growing pains.

Once the rebuilt line develops chemistry, it should lead to better production from Bell, who is highly motivated because he knows he probably will be back on the market in 2021. This is a reputation-salvaging season for the former Pittsburgh Steelers star.

What will it take for the defense to show last season's No. 7 ranking wasn't a fluke?

It will take an encore from Adams, a breakout by 2019 No. 3 overall pick Quinnen Williams and a full season from linebacker C.J. Mosley, who was limited to two games in 2019. If those three happen, the Jets should be a top-10 defense, but they won't be truly elite because they lack two critical ingredients -- a feared edge rusher and a lockdown cornerback. Chances are, coordinator Gregg Williams will manufacture a pass rush by blitzing a lot (sound familiar?) and employing zone-based coverage to compensate for his pedestrian group of corners.

Is Gase coaching for his job?

Yes, probably. Something is wrong if the Jets aren't in the playoff hunt, especially with quarterback Tom Brady in the NFC and an extra wild-card berth on the table. Record aside, Gase must make Darnold a better quarterback. Basically, that's the reason the Jets hired him, overlooking two straight losing seasons in Miami. If Darnold doesn't progress and they suffer a fifth straight losing season, with two on Gase's watch, it would be hard to bring him back in 2021. The X factor is Jets owner Woody Johnson, who will be returning from his three-year ambassadorship sometime after November.