In the New York Jets’ first preseason game of the 2018 season there were a lot of things to be excited about. The play of rookie QB Sam Darnold, the first home shutout in team history, and a few unexpected players that made an impact. Here are the players who deserve game balls for their preformance.
- The QBs
After a lackluster three & out for veteran Josh McCown, Jets’ QB’s Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Darnold each took turns impressing against Atlanta’s backups.
Starting with Bridgewater, just under 800 days after a gruesome injury that potentially could have ended his career, Bridgewater played two series and looked good. The Jets need the 25 year old former Pro-Bowler to impress this preseason in hopes of netting good compensation in a trade. If Friday’s game is any indication, Bridgewater’s knee is good and he should garner interest among the league. He looked crisp, in control, and most importantly, healthy. Going 7/8 with 85 yards and a TD, Bridgewater definitley impressed the Jets and hopefully other teams. Next week against Washington will be a big test to prove it wasn’t a fluke.
In the words of Larry David, Sam Darnold’s debut was “pretty, pretty, pretty, good.” Darnold looked comfortable the whole game and made plays that you wouldn’t expect a rookie to make. His touchdown drive, which really included three TD’s (2 got called back), gave Jets fans the most hope they’ve had since the AFC Championship days of Rex Ryan. He displayed his terrific pocket movement, accuracy on the run (including a beautiful pinpoint throw rolling left to Andre Roberts), and most importantly the moment was not too big for him. Finishing 13/18 for 96 yards and TD, Darnold was victim to a few bad drops but had no turnovers and looked brilliant at times. He has to work on his deep accuracy though, as he badly missed Trenton Cannon on a potential touchdown, but overall a very promising day for the rookie.
- J.J. Wilcox
The backup safety competition is one of the toughest battles on the roster, however Wilcox may have proved he belongs on this team after a strong night. Flying around the field, Wilcox was around nearly every collision and laid the hammer a few times himself. His 6 tackle preformance will leave Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles with a tough decision on their hands in a few weeks. With Doug Middleton as the backup FS and Terrance Brooks the backup SS, who gets the axe? Or would the safety-loving Bowles consider carrying 5? Either way, if Wilcox plays like this throughout the remainder of the preseason he will find himself on the 53 man roster.
- Jeremy Bates
The Jets’ new offensive coordinator called plays from the sideline, the first OC to do so since Marty Mornhinweg in 2014, and had a nice game considering the vanilla game that is preseason football. He made new QB’s Teddy Bridgewater comfortable, utilized the tight-end, and even went for it on fourth and short inside Atlanta territory (which ultimatley led to a TD). While this is not a true sample of what Bates’ offense will look like, the first impression is very positive.
- Neville Hewitt
Another defensive player fighting for a roster spot at a crowded position, MLB Neville Hewitt made his presence felt. In a battle with Kevin Pierre-Louis for the 4th MLB spot, Hewitt got an advantage when Pierre-Louis was not able to play, and the former Dolphin took advantage. With 8 total tackles, an interception (albeit half the credit should go to DE Xavier Cooper), and another near interception, the training camp standout made a good case for his spot on the 53. Like others on this list, consistency will be the key for Hewitt to stick.
- Clive Walford/Neal Sterling
While Jordan Leggett and Chris Herndon nursed injuries, Walford and Sterling stepped up in a big way, helping every QB get comfortable. Another position group that is crowded, Sterling and Walford definitley showed they belong. Combining for 6 catches and 65 yards, the Jets proved why they were comfortable letting incumbent TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins walk to Jacksonville. However, with Herndon as a 4th round pick and Tomlinson as the best blocker, it is likely that one of these guys will be cut. The Jets could attempt to take the veteran Walford and stash Sterling on the practice squad or they could carry four. Either way an impressive night for the TE’s which is not something Jets’ fans have been able to say in awhile.
- Entire D-Line
Lastly the main impetus for the defensive shutout: the D-line. All game (including backups) there were no running lanes, the QB was under pressure, and they consistently held their ground on a number of short yard situations. Last year the Jets struggled to sack the QB and tonight the defensive line had 3, a big improvement over the 28 the team compilled last year. While the Jets may have arguably had bigger names in the past (i.e. Wilkerson, Richardson, Snacks, etc.), this unit has the potential to be the most productive. With Nathan Sheppard displaying an unrelenting motor, Henry Anderson with flawless technique, Steve Mclendon plugging up the running lanes, and Leonard Williams finally having some pressure taken off him, the unit may be in for a big year.
Those were my game balls for #NYJvsATL. Agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments below or tweet me @TheJetTake.