Jets quarterback Sam Darnold throws the ball during New York Jets rookie minicamp on May 4, 2018, at Atlantic Health Training Center in Florham Park, New Jersey.

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Lichtenstein: Jets Finally Have A Young QB -- Do You Trust This Coaching Staff To Develop Him?

Steve Lichtenstein
July 23, 2018 - 9:31 am
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Todd Bowles’ three seasons piloting the Jets have been marred by coaching gaffes, his players’ off-field turmoil, and vacations that begin shortly after every New Year's Day.

This is supposed to be a results-oriented business.  So, of course, Jets management rewarded Bowles after a second consecutive 5-11 campaign last season by extending his contract through 2020.

Maybe you can somewhat forgive the win-loss numbers given the obvious talent deficits the Jets faced on most game days -- if we were simultaneously witnessing a team of young players on the rise.

That hasn’t been the case. Even in Bowles’ sole semi-successful season, that 10-6 club in 2015 was driven by guys such as Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brandon Marshall, Darrelle Revis and Nick Mangold, all of whom were at least 30. While the Jets opened the 2017 season with the 11th youngest starting lineup in the league, according to ESPN.com, their main contributors, with a handful of exceptions that include receiver Robby Anderson, trended more experienced.  

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As the Jets prepare to report for training camp Thursday, player development -- an area in which Bowles' poor record to date has not been sufficiently dissected, in my opinion -- takes on even greater importance.

All eyes will be on the Jets’ first-round pick in April's draft -- quarterback Sam Darnold, assuming he signs a contract before Thursday. Many believe that the organization had Darnold in its sights when general manager Mike Maccagnan executed a predraft trade with Indianapolis to move up three slots.

Maccagnan did his job. He found a way to finally get this woebegone team a franchise quarterback to build around.

Now, does anyone really trust that Bowles and his staff will do their jobs?

Scouting reports note various flaws in Darnold’s footwork and ball security. Fixable, for sure, but this is a fan-base that is still getting over watching Mark Sanchez make the same boneheaded mistakes in Year 4 that he made as a rookie.

Yes, that was a different regime, but Bowles, like predecessor Rex Ryan, is a defense guy. Offense is outsourced. 

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In the meantime, can the organization even be patient enough to let the 21-year-old kid develop? Think about the pressure Bowles will face. He will be grilled daily about when Darnold is going to see the field. He couldn’t even give straight answers when asked about Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg, and they were lousy.   

Maybe the Jets' past young QBs could have shown better progress if the club didn’t treat the offensive coordinator position like it’s whack-a-mole. It’s now quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates’ turn to pop up into intense scrutiny. He replaces John Morton, who lasted one season after Chan Gailey retired at the end of 2016. In total, Bates is the team’s sixth OC in the last eight years.

Just so we’re clear, the responsibility for selecting -- and then nurturing -- a staff lies with the head coach. Sure, turnover is a constant annoyance when assistants take promotions outside the organization. But that usually happens when such coaches build records of success. No one should be poaching from the Jets. Even Morton had his once good name sullied after a year of alleged differences with Bowles and remains out of the NFL.

Granted, it’s not as easy to develop young players these days with all the necessary precautions that place limitations on hitting in practices. It’s still a game of blocking and tackling, and there’s no substitute for live reps. However, the good teams are those that figure out how to build complete rosters, making sure the next men up are prepared to play.

This is not just about the quarterback position, by the way. Maccagnan will now have presented to Bowles four draft classes, totaling 28 players. Twenty-four of those guys (including unsigned Darnold) are currently on the camp roster.

Will this be the year some of those guys step up to make more than a token big play every fifth game? The best young prospect on the offensive side of the ball last season was Anderson, the undrafted 25-year old who in January was arrested for the second time in a seven-month span.

So much for Bowles the mentor.

The Jets had enough talent “on paper” to be pretty decent on defense last season. Their starting lineup sported four of their own first-rounders, a second-rounder and two third-rounders. Maccagnan expended about $15.5 million in salary-cap space for his two corners he signed in free agency. That’s a pretty big investment. 

The Jets surrendered 382 points, tied for the ninth most in the league. Their 20 takeaways were tied for 11th fewest. 

I call that underperformance.

Maccagnan's prior experience in Houston indicated that he had at least an average nose for talent. Every GM swings and misses on player evaluations every now and then.  Hackenberg (second round, 2016) and receiver Devin Smith (second round, 2015) were big whiffs.

At some point, however, the coaching factor has to be addressed. The Jets under Bowles have been known for their fourth-quarter collapses, breaking down in coverage and committing turnovers and idiotic penalties at inopportune moments. 

I ask again -- do you trust this regime with Darnold?  

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.