Throughout the offseason, NewYorkJets.com reporters Eric Allen, Ethan Greenberg, Randy Lange and Olivia Landis will each give their predictions to a series of questions regarding this year's Jets.
Today's question: What will be different about Le'Veon Bell's second year with the Jets?
EA: Bell took to Twitter last month and declared that he was a ticking time bomb who would soon be ready to launch. Earlier in July, Bell scoffed at ESPN's poll of 50 league executives, scouts and players who ranked him as the 10th-best running back in the league. Then after Bell posted videos of his workouts featuring boxing and jump rope, Jets head coach Adam Gase said this week that Bell reported to camp in "phenomenal shape." The 6'1", 225-pound Bell is a motivated man, but motivation alone won't lead to immediate production. He needs help and I think Bell, who didn't have many holes while being limited to career lows in rush yards per game (52.6) and yards per touch (4.0) last season, is poised to get assistance in a number of areas. The Jets will have to conquer timing/chemistry challenges on offenses with so many faces, but the fortified offensive line will be better, the return of Chris Herndon will create space elsewhere and it will be interesting to see how quickly veteran newcomer Breshad Perriman and rookie wideout Denzel Mims, an outside pair with blazing speed, can develop rapport with Sam Darnold. The quicker the ascension for Darnold, the faster the return to prominence for Bell. He's a star whose numbers will go up across the board, reflecting most of his days in Pittsburgh as opposed to Year 1 with the Green & White. Le'Veon Bell will remind folks why he's referred to as "Juice" because he still has it.
EG: On a literal note, the players around him. It's no secret the Jets underwent an offensive line makeover in the offseason. Jets GM Joe Douglas said the players he brought in, including George Fant, Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten and Mekhi Becton, all fit coach Adam Gase's zone-blocking system. In theory, with an improved O-line, Bell's numbers should improve after he averaged a career-low 3.2 yards per carry in 2019. Like QB Sam Darnold, Bell is entering his second year in Gase's attack and he should be more comfortable in the scheme, which will allow him to think less and react more. Bell, who had 461 receiving yards last season and has totaled 3,121 receiving yards in his career, is also a valuable pass catcher. Perhaps Bell will see more reps on the outside especially early in the season as the new wideouts such as Breshad Perriman, Josh Doctson and Denzel Mims continue to learn their new offense. I also think Darnold's progression and TE Chris Herndon's return will free things up for Bell. When Darnold missed three games last season with mono, the team turned to Bell 54 times on the ground and 21 times through the air in three games for an average of 25 touches per contest. Gase recently said the 28-year-old back is extremely motivated and in phenomenal shape and I think he'll bounce back in 2020.
See Sam Darnold, Le'Veon Bell and the Jets Wide Receivers Working Out on the Field During Training Camp
RL: Almost everything will be different for LVB in the running game. At least that is my hope — Bell was too good a back from 2013-17 with Pittsburgh to not bounce back to form. With an improved offensive line, he'll lift his 3.2 yards/carry, the lowest season figure of his career, back into the mid-4's. He'll be able to do that because he won't be hit behind the line nearly as much as last year, when he averaged 1.03 yards before first contact — the lowest figure among Jets backs with at least 100 carries in the past dozen seasons, the lowest of his career, and well off his 2016 high of 3.20 yards, when he was able to patiently wait to burst through those holes that were always opened by the Steelers' fine line. And with the yardage improvements will come a scoring uptick, after he tied his career low last year with 3 rushing scores.
Some things shouldn't change, though, such as Bell's receiving output. His 66 catches on 78 targets for 461 yards at 7.0 yards/catch were all in his career ballpark. Also his attitude will remain rock steady. I was impressed with how positive and team-oriented he was every time he spoke with reporters last year, even as he struggled to hit that stride of old on Sundays. As HC Adam Gase said this week, "I would say he is extremely motivated. ... You can tell he's been working extremely hard and looks really good."
OL: Over the span of this offseason, Jets general manager Joe Douglas overhauled the offensive line, acquiring seven new faces through both the draft and free agency. So, that poses the question — who is a running back's best friend? For Le'Veon Bell, it's going to be every center, guard and tackle along the line that helps block, protect and set him up for success come gameday. Last season, the Pro Bowler averaged a career-low 3.2 yards per carry behind a struggling, injured offensive line. It was also his first season in a new offensive system, under a new head coach and on a new team, and his first year back playing after sitting the 2018 season out. Now in his second season with the Jets, Bell is much more familiar with the language and offense and will be playing behind a confident quarterback in his third year and a revamped line. The Michigan State product took to social media in late July to write, "I have yet to play my best football," displaying his clear confidence in his game for 2020. I think Bell is going to stay true to his word and play some of his best football yet.