After spending most of the spring training in Florida, Le’Veon Bell will carry high expectations with him to Florham Park as he begins his first training camp with the Jets.
“I know a lot of people are excited to see me and have a high ceiling for me. I have a high ceiling for myself,” he said. “Everything that people are expecting from me — I want to be able to do that plus more.”
The 27-year-old Bell sat out the 2018 campaign, opting not to sign the Steelers’ franchise tender and ultimately becoming a free agent in March. He inked a multi-year deal with the Green & White, giving the Jets one of the top offensive weapons in football. A second-round pick of Pittsburgh in the 2013 NFL Draft, Bell has averaged 129.0 yards from scrimmage/game in his career, which equates to a 2,063 yards over a 16-game regular season. Over the course of his final two seasons in Pittsburgh, Bell averaged 1,280 yards and eight TDs on the ground plus 80 receptions and 636 yards receiving.
Bell is a force who can keep defensive coordinators up at night.
“The defensive coordinator doesn't know where he's going to lineup, doesn't know what's coming his way. So, with Le'Veon out there, we've become a little bit more unpredictable just because he's such a great route runner,” said second-year quarterback Sam Darnold. “He's not just running the smoke or he's not just running a five-yard route, he could go deep on you. He could run a slant and win and score. So, there's a lot of different things that he can do. Again, we're just really excited to have him out there and it definitely does make it a lot harder on a defensive coordinator.”
Jets head coach Adam Gase, who will double as the club’s offensive playcaller, has the ability to dictate a lot of matchups with Bell on the field. The 6’1”, 225-pounder is one of the league’s most versatile players and will also be a great outlet for Darnold in the midst of chaos.
“You're not one-dimensional when you have a running back that the defense isn't sure if he's going to be in the gun, offset, strong, weak,” Gase said. “Is he going to be under center? Is he going to be split out wide? Is he going to be the single receiver? Is he going to be the empty? Is he going to be in the slot? There are five different spots he can be in if we went in empty.
“If you have got a guy that can do all of those different types of things and he's good at it and he's able to catch the ball and run the routes like that, it makes it very difficult for the defense to defend. You start seeing coverages where they simplify it because you're moving so many pieces around. And when you have that kind of flexibility, it puts a lot of pressure on the defense. It's hard to cover everything.”
Bilal Powell is entering his ninth training camp with the Green & White. A fourth-round pick out of Louisville in 2011, the 30-year-old Powell is the longest tenured Jet. Always productive with the ball in his hands, Powell’s career rush average of 4.36 ranks 6th in franchise annals.
“It definitely flew by pretty fast,” Powell said. “I just remember the veterans saying don’t take it for granted because when you look back, it’ll be gone. Entering Year 9, looking at some of the young guys running around, it’s like, ‘Wow. It does fly.’”
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The Full Monty
Two months prior to Powell’s return, the Jets picked up another multi-dimensional threat with the signing of Ty Montgomery. Originally drafted as a receiver, Montgomery will wear No. 88 and is listed as wide receiver/halfback. In the past four seasons, he's averaged 6.10 yards/offensive touch, ninth-best among the 35 NFL players who've had at least 100 rushes and 100 receptions.
“Versatile player, smart guy. He comes in and works really hard,” said running backs coach Jim Bob Cooter of the Stanford product. “He’s a pro, he knows his way around the NFL. He’s a smart guy. He knows how to learn things and take them straight to the practice field and execute them. He’s able to line up inside, outside, all over the field. He’s been a good guy for me to have in the room to work with and for us to have as an offense.”
The Jets boast great offensive depth in the backfield when you consider third-year pro Eli McGuire and NFL sophomore Trenton Cannon are also in the mix. Cannon can flat out fly and he proved to be a special teams sensation for Brant Boyer at the gunner position in Year 1. The group includes RB-WR Valentine Holmes, who is participating in the league’s International Pathway Program and is transitioning from the Rugby League to the NFL.
“He’s a guy that has some physical ability,” Cooter said of Holmes, who will be the team’s 91st player on the training camp roster. “Guys that’re moving from one sport to another, it takes them a little bit of time to totally get comfortable, but I would say he’s ahead of the curve. He’s learning things well and we’re excited to work with him.”