1. No pads, which means plenty of pads to come
Monday marked the first day of training camp the New York Jets were allowed to don the pads for practice, but the pads did not come out.
Since teams are only allowed to wear pads for three days of practice in a row, this most likely means that the Jets will be putting on the pads from Tuesday through Thursday.
I was able to make it out to Florham Park for Monday’s practice; here are some of my primary takeaways.
2. The Elijah Moore hype is warranted
Elijah Moore has been the recipient of a lot of positive press this offseason, often being hailed as the best player on the football field.
I don’t think any of the exuberant praise thrown Moore’s way has been hyperbole. Moore constantly pops out as the most noticeable player on either side of the ball, consistently dominating his matchups in 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s.
Moore is the complete package. He has great catching technique – keeping his hands tight and attacking the ball – and shows marvelous focus and poise when pursuing the ball in traffic. His route-running is remarkably shifty, as he possesses smooth hips and is explosive off of his break steps. After the catch, his change-of-direction quickness is exceptional.
As both a route-runner and ball-carrier, Moore is incredibly deceptive. He is outstanding at selling that he is going to cut in one direction, getting the defender to bite on it, and then cutting the other way.
In red zone drills, Moore lined up on the outside against Corey Ballentine and absolutely scorched the cornerback with a whip route. Moore broke inside, sold the slant route, and pivoted back outside once Ballentine committed to the slant. Mike White placed the ball outside and Moore extended to snatch the touchdown.
On an 11-on-11 play, Moore lined up tight to the formation as the only receiver to his side and drew a matchup against Bryce Hall, who was lined up about 12 yards off the line and played the outside-third zone. Moore attacked Hall, threw down his inside foot and broke outside to sell the out route, and then squatted to pivot back inside.
Hall had the route covered decently, as he did not fully bite on Moore’s break to the outside and stayed square to Moore, but Moore was so quick on his inside break that he was able to separate, and Zach Wilson hit him for a tight window completion against Hall’s contest. Moore extended and snatched the ball with two hands for a diving grab that was just outside of Hall’s reach (outstanding ball placement by Wilson). This was an example of Moore winning a route through pure athletic ability.
On another note, Hall continues to provide air-tight coverage against Moore on a daily basis. He’s impressing in this matchup even if Moore continues to hang highlight catches on his head. After all, the reason Moore’s catches are highlight-worthy is that Hall is forcing him to make insane catches.
Sometimes, wide receivers’ practice performances get overhyped because they make flashy plays through methods that do not actually translate to the game, whether it be taking advantage of a busted coverage, breaking “tackles” in situations where they would easily be tackled in a real game, or just being featured often and making routine plays on a frequent basis.
None of that applies to Moore. The traits that are making him stand out are legitimate and can be used to facilitate success in an actual game.
Believe the Elijah Moore hype.
3. Zach Wilson’s velocity pops out
Another common talking point surrounding Jets practices this offseason has been the flair of Zach Wilson’s passing. His compact, quick release has been routinely praised, as have his firey velocity and tight spiral.
This is another narrative that is not an exaggeration.
James Morgan and Mike White may not be the best measuring sticks in the world for a quarterback who was picked No. 2 overall, but nevertheless, there is a clear difference between the balls that Wilson throws and the ones that his teammates throw when you watch them one after another.
In drills on the far-field, the three quarterbacks took turns taking snaps and delivering simple, straight-line 20-30 yard throws to a coach. Without looking at who was throwing, you could tell whether Wilson or one of the others threw the ball just by watching it fly through the air.
There is no doubt that the quickness of Wilson’s release and the velocity that he can put on the ball are both special. His motion is fluid and natural, seemingly requiring no effort. It lacks any sort of wasted movement. He should rank as one of the quickest throwers in the league when it comes to the average time between the start of his motion and the release.
Once the ball comes out, it slices through the air like a knife through butter, arriving at its target with a hastiness that is noticeably different from what the eyes are trained to believe is typical.
Wilson is also known for his ability to execute throws from a variety of different arm angles. Like Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard with their 30-foot jumpers, it appears that Wilson’s success in that area is not a fluke, but a product of him working on it.
While going through routine throwing drills on the far-field, I noticed Wilson practicing dump-off passes and passes into the flat with a side-arm motion. He also chatted about these throws with Mike LaFleur, motioning different release angles while talking with the offensive coordinator off to the side.
Wilson did not produce many highlights on Monday, but for the most part, he did a nice job of taking what the defense gave him and delivering with good ball placement when something was open. With the DBs covering fairly well throughout the morning, Wilson launched a few smart check downs to running backs and tight ends when it was the right call for the situation.
His accuracy was mostly good, save for a throw on a dig route to Keelan Cole that was slightly behind (Bryce Hall had tight coverage and broke up the pass).
4. C.J. Mosley looks quick and rangy
On the downside, Wilson threw a near-pick to C.J. Mosley in red-zone drills, trying to force it to Moore.
Mosley has slimmed down and looks swift in coverage. He has always had great instincts and fundamentals in coverage, becoming one of the best coverage linebackers in the league on the strength of those mental skills alone, but athleticism has never been a major strength of his.
That lack of special athleticism is what has held him back from making the splashy plays that are needed to garner national recognition as a star-caliber linebacker in coverage.
Now possessing improved mobility to go with his fundamentals and smarts, Mosley has the chance to have a huge season in coverage.
5. The offensive scheme is as-advertised
The core traits of the Mike LaFleur offense have been discussed ad nauseam this offseason – the wide-zone running game, play-action, motion – Jets fans have built a pretty good idea of what this offense is supposed to look like.
And, yes, it looks like the assumptions are true. All of those things certainly are going to be the basis of this offense.
In 11-on-11s, the Jets ran a ton of pre-snap motion. It was a huge proponent of their run game. They love to fake jet motion in one direction and run the opposite way. This strategy created a lot of natural running room. The young linebackers and defensive backs sometimes have trouble making switches and rotations in response to the pre-snap motion.
This definitely appears to be a heavy wide-zone rushing attack. The majority of the run plays were stretch plays to the edge in which the entire line took a lateral zone step toward the sideline.
The offense ran plenty of play-action off of the wide-zone run looks and the pre-snap motion.
It sure seems like the offense Jets fans have been told about all offseason will indeed be the one they see on Sundays this year.
6. Carl Lawson still has Mekhi Becton’s number
Lawson had another successful day against Becton. He picked up a couple of victories against Becton in their few legitimate 11-on-11 matchups. On one play, Lawson hit Becton with a bull rush and complemented it with an inside swim move for near-instant pressure on Wilson (who felt the pressure and quickly got the ball out).
In addition, Lawson blew by Becton for a run-stuff.
It was not all bad for Becton. He stood out on one rep where the Jets threw a screen pass to Jamison Crowder on Becton’s side. Becton clubbed Lawson into the backfield, burst out to the second level, and drove his man to create room for Crowder.
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7. The secondary clamped down
Save for Moore, this was an uneventful day for the wideouts, and that was largely thanks to a great day of work from the defensive backfield.
Justin Hardee and Bryce Hall recorded pass deflections in 11-on-11s. In red zone drills, the defense was dominant against every quarterback. Bless Austin, Javelin Guidry, Michael Carter II, Brandin Echols, and Lamar Jackson were among the cornerbacks who logged plenty of reps without getting noticeably beaten.
Austin snagged a pick off of Wilson in a red zone drill. It wasn’t a bad pick for Wilson, who had gone through his progressions and seen every receiver covered before rolling out and lobbing up a “why not?” pass that he most likely would not have thrown in a real game.
Bad days from the offense in practice usually garner a collectively negative reaction. There were a lot of groans out of the bleachers today as fans watched the offense struggle. Some of my favorite quotes were “what are they doing?“, “why isn’t Moore in the game?”, and “welp, guess we need to draft O-line again next year.”
It goes both ways. If the offense is sputtering, the defense is probably playing well. That was the case today, especially in the secondary.
8. Hamsah Nasirildeen is running with the ones
9. Mini-fight breaks out
Cameron Clark (who I noticed playing right guard with the third-team line) and Tanzel Smart (third-string defensive tackle) threw some punches at each other.
The skirmish was quickly broken up, with Connor McGovern getting right in the middle to separate the two trench warriors who are fighting for a roster spot.
10. Punt returning drills
The Jets had four players working punt return drills: Braxton Berrios, Michael Carter, Keelan Cole, and Elijah Moore. Assistant special teams coach Leon Washington would wave a broom in their faces as they attempted to secure punts from a machine. Only one punt was muffed – Moore had one bounce off his facemask.
11. Denzel Mims update
Denzel Mims got some first-team reps but mostly ran with the second and third-team offense. His most impressive play was an extending toe-tap sideline grab on an out route from Wilson. He was open on a deep curl in the middle of the field but Mike White missed the throw short.
On another note, Corey Davis‘ blocking immediately stood out in 11-on-11s. He took his blocking assignments seriously. On the first play of 11-on-11s, he drove a cornerback (I missed the jersey number) into the sideline on a screen pass to Carter.
12. What are Saleh, LaFleur, and Ulbrich up to?
During positional drills, Robert Saleh would mostly sit back and observe while letting his positional coaches focus on doing the hands-on work. He would occasionally get involved in the defensive positionals. I noticed Saleh taking a moment to discuss technique with Bryce Hall.
Mike LaFleur cares about the details. He is quick to call out individual players and stop a drill to tell them what needs to be done. While walking through some plays early in the practice, LaFleur came in on two separate instances, once to talk to Michael Carter and another time to Trevon Wesco (who was lined up outside on this particular play).
Rob Calabrese is the quarterbacks coach, but LaFleur seems to be the primary leader of the quarterback position. When not running drills with the entire offense, LaFleur was almost always working with the quarterbacks, particularly with Wilson.
It seems like Wilson is supremely comfortable with LaFleur and eager to consistently pick his brain. Wilson spent the majority of his down time talking to LaFleur and would promptly seek him out after concluding any drill.
Jeff Ulbrich spent a lot of time working with the slot cornerbacks and safeties during positionals. He’s very hands-on when it comes to coaching up the details of technique.
13. Mike White vs. James Morgan
For now, Mike White is your second-team quarterback while James Morgan mans the third team.
This will be an interesting battle to monitor. From what I have gathered – both from watching on Monday and from what we have heard throughout the offseason – White may have been a bit more consistent, but I think Morgan’s peaks are more impressive than White’s.
Morgan is a confident passer and delivered some nice tight-window throws. He has a fairly good arm and is capable of threading the needle. White’s arm talent rarely stands out in any sort of special way. Morgan also had a long scrambling run in 11-on-11s.
14. Running back battle
The running back position is one of the toughest ones to evaluate in a non-padded practice. It is difficult to tell how far most runs would go if the defenders were actually trying to tackle.
On Monday, the play of the day out of the backfield went to Tevin Coleman, who juked out a defensive back on his way to an approximately 10-yard touchdown in red zone drills.
The worst play of the day went to Perine, who as mentioned earlier had the ball batted out of his hands in the flat, courtesy of Hamsah Nasirildeen.
Ty Johnson and Austin Walter got a lot of action. Johnson had a good number of chunk gains, especially when running to the right side. His vision seems to be a good fit for a wide-zone offense.
It was a fairly quiet day for Michael Carter, who ran into some congested lanes (the interior defensive line had a good day against the run) and caught a pair of short passes.
One of the catches was a dump-off in which there was nothing for him to do, but another was a screen pass I thought he could have gotten more out of. Corey Davis kicked outside and drove his man to the sideline, giving Carter an inside lane, but Carter didn’t read it too well and ran into traffic.
15. It’s great to have fans back
There was a great vibe in Florham Park on a Monday morning. Fans were extremely vocal, eager to react to even the most trivial moments, such as Zach Wilson dumping the ball off to Corey Davis on a quick out or even just Bless Austin catching a pass in a routine drill.
Wilson is quickly learning what it’s like to play in front of New York fans. When he first walked out onto the practice field, one fan yelled, “Zach, you’re a very handsome male!”
The energy was real – it got loud out there when something big happened in 11-on-11s. I can only imagine what it is going to sound like when this hysteric excitement is shared amongst 80,000 fans at MetLife Stadium rather than a couple hundred at 1 Jets Drive.