Running Back, Guard Headline Jets Offensive Camp Battles

Michael Carter

Getty Michael Carter scores a touchdown for North Carolina on September 22, 2018.

Organized team activities, or OTAs, are fully underway in Florham Park, New Jersey, but New York Jets camp battles have only just begun.

The Jets have managed a swift overhaul this offseason, fueled by the Robert Saleh hire in January, and general manager Joe Douglas has been at the heart of it. The busy spring has opened the door for a competitive summer, and competition often breeds excellence.

The New York coaching staff is just hoping that it produces an NFL caliber that leads to wins. On the offensive side, multiple positions have starting roles up for grabs, and here are the names to watch as we journey towards Week 1.

Diverse Blend in Running Back Stable

There is no bell-cow running back on the Jets roster, at least not yet, but that’s not uncommon to new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. A disciple of Kyle Shanahan, LaFleur enjoys stacking bodies at halfback, just like the pair did in San Francisco with players like Raheem Mostert, Matt Breida, Jerick McKinnon, Jeff Wilson Jr. and one more familiar face that’s now wearing green.

That common denominator of course is Tevin Coleman, presumed day-one starter, mainly because he already knows the system. Coleman has actually played under LaFleur and Shanahan four seasons already, twice with the Atlanta Falcons and then two more times with the San Francisco 49ers.

His best campaigns within this scheme were 2016 and 2019. Coleman had 544 rush yards in the latter, but 941 scrimmage yards in the former.

Of course, most fans are more excited about rookie fourth-rounder Michael Carter, out of North Carolina. The 5-foot-8 runner finished his college career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons (over 1,500 scrimmage yards his senior year). In 2020, Carter ran for an absurd 8.0 yards per carry, plus 10.7 yards per catch.

Known for his agility, vision, change of direction and big-play potential as a dangerous outside runner and pass-catcher, Carter has the makings of a later down NFL back at first.

Although the fresher faces are the likely starters for LaFleur, don’t forget that the Jets still have second-year pro La’Mical Perine, former Detroit Lions rusher Ty Johnson, 25-year old Josh Adams and former Niner Austin Walter.

Perine and Adams (short-yardage mashers) both rammed in two touchdowns in the 2020 season, while Johnson managed the most receptions (16) and scrimmage yards of the three (353). Walter was picked up off waivers this spring. In the end, special teams’ duties could determine which of these running backs claim the final couple roster spots.

Finding Stability at Right Guard

After Douglas traded up to snag Alijah Vera-Tucker in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft, it became clear that four of five starting offensive line spots were virtually sealed up for the Jets. The fifth role is totally up for grabs.

Veterans Greg Van Roten and Alex Lewis both started a majority of the 2020 season (13 and nine starts respectively), but they did not do enough to secure their jobs in 2021. The two guards were considered cap casualty possibilities heading towards OTAs, but Lewis seems to have avoided that fate after news dropped that the Jets restructured his contract on May 27.

Van Roten is still on the chopping block however due to his $3 million-plus cap hit, which can be wiped from the books upon his release. Someone will have to prove that they can outplay the six-year NFL vet though, and that’s where the dogfight comes into play.

The main contenders besides Lewis are 2020 rookie redshirt Cameron Clark, free agent signing Dan Feeney and Zach Wilson’s BYU teammate, undrafted rookie Tristen Hoge.

While the primary concern will be protecting Wilson, mobility and comprehension of LaFleur’s run-blocking schemes will surely become a secondary qualification.

Is Chris Herndon a Lock to Start at Tight End?

The tight end group should also provide intrigue this summer. Douglas chose not to spend a draft pick on the position after signing Tyler Kroft in free agency.

The Jets general manager did spend big money to bring in undrafted rookie Kenny Yeboah however, Ole Miss teammate of rookie Elijah Moore. There’s a lot to like about Yeboah’s ceiling, which was on full display his senior year with the Rebels (he spent his first three years of college at Temple). In just eight games, the receiving threat caught 27 passes for 524 receiving yards and six touchdowns.

Yeboah’s skillset seems similar to that of starter Chris Herndon, while Kroft and Ryan Griffin are the better blockers. However this shakes out, rookie quarterbacks tend to rely on their tight ends, so the Jets need to find a reliable safety net for Wilson.

Depth Chart Battles at Wide Receiver & Quarterback

While starting roles at wide receiver and quarterback are practically set in stone, the backup roles are far from it.

There’s less to talk about under center right now, as James Morgan and Mike White currently sit behind Wilson on the depth chart. Right now it’s Morgan’s job to lose, although the Jets are still expected to add a veteran backup.

The wide receiver conversation has a lot more sizzle to it, with talent suddenly exploding off the Jets’ depth chart. Douglas has already supplied Wilson with a much deeper arsenal than Sam Darnold ever had, signing Corey Davis to complement recent draft picks Denzel Mims and the aforementioned Moore.

Jamison Crowder is almost an afterthought to some, but as of now, he’s still with Gang Green alongside Moore and Braxton Berrios in the slot. Keelan Cole then joins a faction of depth wideouts and special teamers, including Vyncint Smith, Jeff Smith, Josh Malone, Lawrence Cager, D.J. Montgomery and Manasseh Bailey.

The Jets have plenty of routes to choose from in the wide receiver room, and training camp should help separate some players from others as bubble candidates try out for different roles on the roster.

Which offensive camp battles are you most excited for Jets fans? Comment on Facebook @HeavyOnJets or Twitter @obermuller_nyj or @BoyGreen25.

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