Home Sports Chris Herndon is the other second-year Jet worth watching this season

Chris Herndon is the other second-year Jet worth watching this season

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The Jets finished up their second week of organized team activities (OTAs) this week and now will conduct their mandatory minicamp next week. Here are some thoughts and observations from this week’s OTA practice that was open to the media:

1. We are all focused on quarterback Sam Darnold and the strides he makes this season, but there is another second-year player worth paying attention to. Tight end Chris Herndon looked really good this week and can be a huge red-zone weapon for Darnold and new coach Adam Gase.

On Wednesday, the Jets did a red-zone period and Herndon made a spectacular one-handed catch for a score. Then, on a two-minute drill he caught another touchdown from Darnold.

Last year, Herndon showed a connection with Darnold that grew throughout the season. He finished with 39 catches for 502 yards and four touchdowns. He had an amazing grab against the Packers late in the season and became a go-to receiver for Darnold.

Gase called Herndon a “unicorn type player” in March and seems excited about what he can do with him inside his offense.

Darnold is going to be the bigger story entering this season, but Herndon’s development will be critical for the Jets, too.

2. The highlight pass of Wednesday’s session was a 40-yard bomb from Darnold to Quincy Enunwa that set the Jets’ offense up inside the 5-yard line. It was a reminder of what Gase said earlier this offseason about Enunwa’s role in his offense.

“I don’t want to put him in a box,” Gase said of Enunwa. “I want him to be able to try to do as many things as he possibly can.”

Last season, it seemed like offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates fell in love with Enunwa as a screen receiver because they had early success doing it. But Enunwa grew frustrated with that role and said as much at the end of the year. Enunwa is a big receiver who can gain yards after the catch, but he also has speed and can be a deep receiver. When Enunwa first emerged in 2015 and ’16, Chan Gailey used him as a deep threat.

Enunwa averaged 11.8 yards per catch last year, his career-low. With Gase, he may get back to stretching the field again. If the Jets can use Enunwa and Robby Anderson as deep threats, it will open things up for the offense even further.

3. The Jets don’t have many position battles to watch this year, but one position that should be intriguing once we get to the preseason is kick returner. The Jets allowed Andre Roberts, who was All-Pro last season, to walk in free agency. That decision is going to get some scrutiny if they can’t find a suitable replacement.

On Wednesday, the following players were deep on kickoff return: Ty Montgomery, Quadree Henderson, Deonte Thomposon and J.J. Jones. Montgomery, Henderson and Thompson have all joined the Jets in the last two months. Jones was with the team last year on the practice squad and appeared in one game.

Montgomery returned kicks for the Packers for years, so he is the front-runner to win the job now. Roberts’ value to the Jets last year was huge. He gave them a special-teams advantage they had not had in years. Replacing him won’t be easy.

4. Jonotthan Harrison is going to be under the microscope at center this season. The Jets stuck with Harrison instead of spending big money on a center in free agency, something sources said was a point of contention between Gase and former general manager Mike Maccagnan.

On Wednesday, I saw Steve McLendon blow by Harrison on one play that was a reminder that center will be a talking point this year. It is hard to evaluate line play in OTAs. There are no pads on and contact is limited, but I think Harrison will struggle when he has a nose guard lined up over him. He is a better player in space. When the Jets face true 3-4 teams, Harrison will be tested.

5. Gase continued to communicate the plays to Darnold using a walkie-talkie this week that Darnold then hears in his helmet. Gase said he likes the players to get used to his voice and how he calls plays. Gase also stayed on the sideline to call the plays. Typically, coaches stand behind the play in practice. Gase does not want Darnold turning around to ask him questions. If he is on the sideline, Darnold has to figure it out on his own.

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