The Jets open the season 20 days from Tuesday against the Ravens at MetLife Stadium.
It appears more than likely that 37-year-old Joe Flacco will be the starting quarterback that day. There is a small chance that Zach Wilson will recover from his knee injury in time, but that is doubtful. The reality is the Jets might need Flacco for a few weeks in the regular season while Wilson rehabs his knee.
Flacco has looked good in training camp. He torched the Falcons during joint practices last week and has consistently been delivering the football accurately and on time all summer. Flacco’s arm is still lively. But here’s the thing about training camp — Flacco has been wearing a red jersey, meaning defenders can’t breathe on him without angering the coaches. Flacco has been able to sit in the pocket most days and diagnose the defense, something he has been very good at during his 15-year career.
The real questions for Flacco are going to come when defenders can hit him. Two years ago when Flacco started for the Jets in Miami, the Dolphins pressured him early and he had a terrible day. Last year, the line held up better for Flacco and he had a good day against the Dolphins, throwing for nearly 300 yards and two touchdowns.
That leads us to the key for the Jets early this season and an area of concern as training camp nears its end. The Jets’ early-season success rides on how well their offensive line plays and the projected starting five has yet to take a live rep together.
“It’s imperative that we work together a lot for the continuity issue,” offensive line coach John Benton said last week.
The Jets’ line has not had time to build any of that continuity that Benton spoke about. None of the starting linemen or Flacco played in Monday’s game with the Falcons as coach Robert Saleh chose to sit most of his starters.
The Jets essentially are going into this season with new starters at four positions — two imports and two players switching sides — and very little work together.
The team and Duane Brown agreed to a contract on Aug. 11 after Mekhi Becton was lost for the season with a knee injury. But Brown has not been able to do any team drills yet. Forget preseason games, Brown is not even getting reps in practice. Brown’s arrival moved George Fant from left tackle to right tackle, which is a move that Fant could not have been happy about but now needs time to work on.
The middle of the line has been playing together now with Laken Tomlinson, who was the big free-agent addition this offseason, at left guard, holdover Connor McGovern at center and Alijah Vera-Tucker, who moved from left to right guard.
That’s a lot of moving parts.
Jets fans don’t need to look that far back in their history to remember an instance where a line that did not play much together in the summer could not jell in the fall. In 2019, general manager Joe Douglas lured veteran center Ryan Kalil out of retirement to upgrade the line. Kalil arrived in the middle of training camp but could not get on the field for team periods and missed all of the preseason games. When the season came, Kalil played terribly and lasted just seven games with the team.
The Jets have to keep their fingers crossed Brown works out better than Kalil.
When Saleh chose to rest most of his starters on Monday, it meant the line had one less night to work together or work in front of Flacco.
Time is running out for the group to build continuity. The Jets have three more training camp practices, one a joint practice with the Giants, before Sunday’s preseason finale against Big Blue.
The early-season focus is going to be on Flacco as he tries to get the Jets some early wins, but Flacco’s success will ride on how well the Jets keep him upright. It is critical that Saleh finds a way to get the offensive line up to speed before the Ravens come to town or it could get ugly early around the Jets.