What To Watch For In The New York Jets-Atlanta game, Including Sam Darnold’s Potential Playing Time

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In NFL preseasons, the workload for starters usually increases incrementally through the first three games. New York Jets head coach Adam Gase followed that principle when he coached Miami, and especially with his then-starting quarterback, Ryan Tannehill.

But it is fair to wonder if Sam Darnold will get as much as playing time Thursday night as Tannehill got in the second preseason games with Miami in 2016 and 2018.

As noted in an earlier story, if Gase goes with his usual formula, and he is a creature of habit, then Darnold should get about four or five series at Atlanta tonight, and attempt approximately 15 to 20 passes.

However, there is a variable that could change that strategy. Keep in mind that only 40 percent of Gase’s projected starting offensive line will be active for the game. Right guard Brian Winters suffered a shoulder injury against the Giants last week, and hasn’t practiced since. Left guard Kelechi Osemele exited practice Monday with a pectoral muscle injury, and he isn’t expected to play, either.

Plus, former Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil, signed by the Jets on Aug. 1, still isn’t ready to play. In fact, it’s unclear if Kalil, who signed for one year and $8.4 million (including $3 million guaranteed), will be ready for the third preseason game. Granted, Jonotthan Harrison has been solid in the starting role thus far this summer, but if Gase and general manager Joe Douglas were comfortable with him, they wouldn’t have gotten Kalil under contract.

Veterans Tom Compton and Alex Lewis likely will start in place of Winters and Osemele, respectively. Both are reliable, as is Harrison, but how comfortable will Gase be putting Darnold behind them for extended time? We’ll find out. Maybe Darnold only will play two or three series.

Some other positions to watch:

Big-money free agent running back Le’Veon Bell sat out the preseason opener, and it seems doubtful he even will get a cameo in Atlanta. Former Green Bay Packer Ty Montgomery started in his place last week, followed by Eli McGuire and Trenton Cannon. Both McGuire and Cannon averaged 2.2 yards per carry behind shaky blocking, and both are fighting for a spot on the roster. Cannon’s value on special teams would seem to give him the edge. Also, will longtime Jet Bilal Powell, making a comeback from a neck injury that ended his 2018 season, get any playing time?

The secondary is a mess right now because of injuries. Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said this week that starter Matt Ryan will play at least one series after sitting out the Falcons’ first two August games. Ryan and veteran backup Matt Schaub should test a patchwork secondary, but maybe someone will step up and make the most of the opportunity for the Jets.

After Darnold and veteran QB Trevor Siemian are done for the night, Davis Webb and Luke Falk will resume their fight for the No. 3 quarterback spot. Webb threw two interceptions last week and Falk led a late touchdown drive against the New York Giants.

Special teams will be interesting to watch, because kicker Taylor Bertolet has replaced the retired Chandler Catanzaro, who had struggled in training camp. If Bertolet is shaky, Douglas might start working the phone again for a veteran option.

Also, incumbent Lachlan Edwards and former Dolphin Matt Darr will resume their competition at punter.