Following an offseason marked by change at every level, the New York Jets will get the 2019 regular season underway Sunday as the Buffalo Bills pay a visit to MetLife Stadium.
"I like the way that this group has worked since we started," said Jets head coach Adam Gase, who was hired by CEO Christopher Johnson on Jan. 11 following three seasons leading the Miami Dolphins. "I think our coaching staff is excited for these guys because I think they have a lot to prove. They have a lot of things that things haven't gone their way all the time — the guys that have been here and I think they're excited to kind of wipe the slate clean, start over and work to get to 1-0."
Along with Gase, the Jets have a new general manager in Joe Douglas, a new team president in Hymie Elhai, a new quarterback on defense in ILB C.J. Mosley in addition to a new star offensive weapon in RB Le'Veon Bell. Despite not having played in more than 600 days by kickoff, Bell instructed Gase this week that he is ready to take on any offensive load.
"I could carry 50 times if they ask me to," said Bell, who rushed for 236 yards and three touchdowns the last time he saw the Bills in a 27-20 Steelers' win at Buffalo on Dec. 11, 2016 . "When I said, 'Don't hold back,' I mean literally that. I don't want to go out here and (they) try to sprinkle me in or things like that. I'm ready to play football. I've been waiting a long time for this moment."
The wait hasn't been quite as long for second-year signal-caller Sam Darnold. After thriving last December, Darnold has been quite comfy working in Gase's system. The 22-year-old, operating in his third offense in as many years, has talked of an "electric" attack and he has a talented group of skill players around him that includes another newcomer in slot wideout Jamison Crowder. Gase will get creative with his personnel packages and formations against a Bills' defense that ranked No. 1 against the pass last season, but Darnold has the ability to create on his own when chaos erupts around him.
"Sometimes, you just have to let him do his thing a little bit," Gase said. "When he's got a mess inside and he's got to slide and he's not really lined up right and makes a great throw — that's what it is, it's him making a play."
"I have total confidence not only in the coaching staff and the game plan we have going into Week 1 but we have a ton of confidence in ourselves," added Darnold. "For me, I have a ton of trust in the O-line that they're going to protect and I have a ton of trust that everyone is going to be in the right spot, doing the right things."
The Bills have themselves a playmaker at the position as well in Josh Allen. A friend of Darnold's, who was selected four spots behind the USC product in the 2018 NFL Draft, the 6'5", 238-pound Allen has a monster arm and he can take off like a running back. Allen, who completed just 52.8% of his passes last season, had eight rush touchdowns and set a franchise record with 631 yards on the ground.
"He's a big dude and he's fast. You've seen it a few times where he's in the pocket or rolling out and you've got defensive linemen trying to tackle him and he'll almost stiff-arm them off of him," said DL Henry Anderson of Allen, who rushed for 101 yards and a score in the Jets' 27-23 triumph at Buffalo last December. "He can be not truly in run mode and he'll stiff-arm guys because he's long, he's a big dude, he's athletic and he's fast. He can accelerate and hit a gap when he sees room up front."
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Much like the Jets, the Bills changed their look in front of Allen and around their young passer. The offensive line is 80% new faces, LeSean McCoy has been replaced by a backfield committee featuring the ageless Frank Gore and rookie Devin Singletary and John Brown and Cole Beasley were added to bolster the receiving corps. The Jets are will counter with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and impressive talent at all three levels featuring safety Jamal Adams, Mike 'backer Mosley and the Leonard/Quinnen Williams duo along the line.
"Gregg is aggressive and he has aggressive players, so just getting after the ball and making plays on the ball is something we definitely preach every day," said third-year safety Marcus Maye. "We're going out there to make plays and create turnovers."
While the Gase era will officially get underway, the Bills are entering Year 3 under Sean McDermott. The opposition is familiar, but the unknowns are plenty. This is just a start of a season for both clubs hoping to make a return to prominence and they'll know a lot more about each other come Week 17 in Buffalo when the regular season ends.
"We don't know how we'll kind of really come together with us, especially. We're trying to figure each other out still," Gase said. "They're a little more established with Sean (McDermott) being there a couple years and that defense kind of really being together and understanding all the little ins and outs of the defense. I still think offensively, they have some moving parts as well. They're trying to get some new guys kind of fitted in there."
The Jets, who will host the Cleveland Browns in Week 2, will play four of their first six contests at home. There is nothing like opening day and the Green & White would like nothing more than to hold serve at MetLife against a divisional opponent.
"It's going to be exciting, it's going to be electrifying," Maye said. "We know everyone is going to be excited to come and see what we have going on, the type of players that we have, the new players we have and the new coaches. It's going to be tons of energy and the fact that it's a division game, it's just going to be a great environment for football."
"We're ready to roll," Darnold said.