The Jets’ offense took the field Saturday and perhaps gave a glimpse of what to expect in 2019 — plenty of action for the running backs.
In the first team period of practice, here is how it started:
Play 1: Sam Darnold swing pass to Le’Veon Bell.
Play 2: Handoff to Bell, who breaks through the line much to the delight of the crowd.
Play 3: Darnold pass to Ty Montgomery, who makes a nice one-handed grab in the flat and turns upfield.
Play 4: Handoff to Montgomery, who shows his quickness.
Play 5: Darnold pass down the sideline to Robby Anderson.
Play 6: Darnold pass to Bell.
That’s five out of six plays for running backs. Do you sense a pattern?
A lot has been made about Bell’s impact in the passing game. But it is not just him. Montgomery is a former wide receiver who can catch the ball. Bilal Powell has been an effective receiver out of the backfield. Even Eli McGuire, who is currently fourth on the depth chart, has shown good hands and made a nice catch on Saturday.
“With those guys, they’re so unique,” Darnold said. “For running backs, they have such good route-running ability. They can line up wide and run routes. In the backfield, you don’t know if they’re going to run a route or get a handoff. It makes it hard on the defense and it’s really good for us as an offense to have those weapons.”
Coach Adam Gase, who will call the plays on offense, has a group of running backs to give defensive coordinators headaches. The Jets already have shown some looks with Bell and Montgomery on the field together, which essentially feels like two wide receivers coming out of the backfield.
Good luck to any linebackers trying to stop that.
“I can tell that in this offense the backs are going to be used a lot,” Montgomery said. “We’re going to be asked to run the ball. We’re going to be asked to catch the ball. We’re going to be asked to protect the quarterback. We’re going to be asked to line up all over the field. I think it’s very useful. It creates mismatches. I think it fits within this attack offense that we’re running right now.”
Bell, Montgomery and Powell are all accomplished receivers, and Bell leads the way. He has had two seasons with 80 or more receptions, including 85 in 2017. Montgomery caught 44 passes in 2016 as the Packers shifted him to running back. Powell had 58 catches in 2016 with the Jets.
Gase has also shown a willingness to use backs in the passing game. Kenyan Drake was second on the Dolphins last year with 53 receptions. Matt Forte had 44 catches for the Bears in 2015 when Gase was the offensive coordinator. Knowshon Moreno had 60 catches in 2013 when Gase oversaw a record-setting offense in Denver.
Powell has been through seven different offensive coordinators with the Jets. He has seen plenty of systems, and he is excited about the possibilities in Gase’s.
“There’s so many different pieces and parts to the offense,” Powell said. “I think that’s going to help create mismatches against the defense. We have a very talented group. That’s something a defensive coordinator has to game plan for a little extra. It makes it a lot harder on the defense.”
Montgomery has had a strong start to training camp. He benefited from Bell’s absence in the spring. Montgomery received a majority of the first-team reps with Bell sitting out the voluntary practices. In the first three days of camp, Montgomery has been making plays. Gase said Montgomery also gives the Jets some roster flexibility.
“It’s great. The more guys we have that can do multiple things, the better,” Gase said. “I think Ty’s flexibility is huge for us. It helps you with the actives [on game day] by being able to go a little light on wideouts because of his experience, go a little heavy on the backs.”
On Saturday, the Jets went heavy with the backs. Get used to it.