Big guys lined up in front of Darnold a huge key for Jets
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — All eyes will be on Sam Darnold when the New York Jets open their season against the Detroit Lions.
But the five big guys lined up in front of him will play a major role in the success — or failure — of the rookie quarterback and his offense Monday night.
"It's super important developing that trust and chemistry with your teammates," Darnold said. "That's mostly what football is. We're on that field together, we've got to communicate. We've all got to be in sync together, so that's really what it is, just communicating."
That has been a point of emphasis all offseason, but is particularly important this week as the 21-year-old quarterback continues to try to build a rapport with an offensive line that struggled with consistency last season.
It's still a work-in-progress, though. When left tackle Kelvin Beachum, left guard James Carpenter, center Spencer Long, right guard Brian Winters and right tackle Brandon Shell trot onto the field in noisy Ford Field, it'll mark the first time all five will be together for a snap in a game.
"I'm very optimistic," offensive line coach Rick Dennison said. "I think they've worked hard and done a good job. Obviously, it's the start of the regular season and there's a little bit of the unknown, but I feel good about the guys."
Beachum didn't play in the preseason because of a sprained right foot that kept him out of team drills for most of training camp. He has been a full participant in practice this week and appears to be a full go.
Same for Winters, who dealt with tightness in his back this summer and sat out the second preseason game against Washington.
"We've been around each other quite a bit during this whole process, so we can't get into this excuse-making that people on the outside are trying to bring into the locker room right now," Beachum said. "For us, we've got to go out and perform. We're professionals. Every one of us across the offensive line has played games in the National Football League. When our number is called upon, we know we've got to execute and perform."
The Jets are facing a tough task off the bat with Ezekiel Ansah roaming the Lions' defensive front. He had 12 sacks last season and has been lining up on the right side of new coach Matt Patricia's defense, but is athletic enough to move all around the line.
Beachum is fully expecting to face him quite a bit Monday night. The two last squared off in 2016 when Beachum was with Jacksonville. Ansah had four overall tackles in that game, but no sacks.
"He's a very disruptive pass rusher," Beachum said. "I would say one of the best in the league. The NFC North presents a number of different animals on the edge. He's one of those different animals in the NFC North. I'm excited to play him again. I know it's going to be a great test to start the year."
The game will also mark Long's debut with the Jets after he signed with New York as a free agent in the offseason. He replaces Wesley Johnson, who struggled last year in a full-time role as the center after the Jets released Nick Mangold.
Long, who spent his first four seasons with Washington, has impressed his new teammates with his cerebral approach to the game.
"He's been great, real good," Winters said. "He's a good communicator, a physical player. He's in the books a lot. He's a 'mind' guy and he kind of reminds me a little bit of Nick. Nick was real smart when it came to the breakdown of the game."
Added Shell: "He analyzes everything and it's like he knows what's going to happen, so he puts us in the right position with calls. I'm just grateful to have him on the line."
As the center, Long is responsible for calling the signals along the offensive line and making sure the guys on either side of him are seeing the same thing.
Since offseason workouts, he has been working closely with his linemates on the field and in the film room, trying to develop the type of chemistry that will be key on gameday.
"It goes as he goes," Winters said. "He makes the calls and we've got to abide by it and listen to it. Whatever he says, goes. He's got a lot of weight on his shoulders, but we all trust in him."
And, Darnold will need to have faith in all five linemen, who'll be trying to keep him upright while also giving him time to throw or busting open holes for the running backs to run through and get the offense moving consistently.
"He's done a great job of being able to communicate and understand what the defense is presenting him, and then putting us in a better position to either pick up a blitz or slide a different way," Beachum said of Darnold. "He's done things the right way to put us in a better position.
"At the end of the day, we have to make sure that we protect him."
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