Injuries Dim Optimism Around Jets and Giants as N.F.L. Season Nears
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Zach Wilson, the centerpiece of the Jets rebuild, stood in a shaded area near a small weight-lifting area at the team’s joint practice against the Giants on Thursday.
He wore a baseball cap and shorts with a black compression sleeve that covered his right leg, the site of a surgery last week to repair Wilson’s torn meniscus, as his backup, the 14-year veteran Joe Flacco, took reps against the Giants.
Across the field, the Giants contended with an injury to Kayvon Thibodeaux, the edge rusher whom the team drafted with the fifth overall pick in April. Thibodeaux sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee on Sunday in a preseason game from a low block by a Bengals tight end.
The development of Wilson in his second season and the arrival of Thibodeaux were among the causes for renewed hope that the Jets and Giants could reverse recent bouts of ineptitude, but entering the teams’ final preseason game, against each other, on Sunday, any optimism for immediate success has been tempered.
“Anyone that is healthy, that’s ready to go, we’re going to play,” Giants Coach Brian Daboll said on Aug. 12. “And the guys that we don’t think are quite ready or maybe need a little bit more time, we’re going to help them get as good as they can so that we’ll get the best version of themselves when they’re ready to go.”
He added: “There’s constant roster management. Who’s going where? That’s just part of the business.”
Hiring Daboll, the former Bills offensive coordinator, in January, sparked anticipation that he would invigorate an offense that ranked second-to-last in the league in scoring. The additions of Thibodeaux and offensive tackle Evan Neal, whom the Giants selected seventh overall, were expected to aid the rebuild and help the team evaluate quarterback Daniel Jones in the final year of his rookie contract.
But Thibodeaux’s injury could reportedly cause him to miss up to four weeks, jeopardizing his availability for the Giants’ season opener against the Tennessee Titans. Last week, Jones revealed he had neck surgery this off-season, which he said was unrelated to a neck injury that caused him to miss the final six games of the 2021 season.
The Giants placed two promising rookies, linebacker Darrian Beavers (knee) and guard Marcus McKethan (knee), on the season-ending injured reserve list earlier in training camp. The team also lost third-year receiver Collin Johnson for the season to an Achilles’ injury, and second-year linebacker Azeez Ojulari appeared to injure his leg Thursday during conditioning sprints and needed two trainers to assist him off the field.
Still, Daboll maintained optimism. He said he had been pleased with Jones’s progress in quickly learning the terminology and formations of the new offense and added that the team would get a lift from the returns of running back Saquon Barkley and receiver Sterling Shepard, who returned to practice this week after tearing his left Achilles’ tendon in December.
For the Jets, who were ecstatic that their first round of the draft was graded highly by analysts, they also are adjusting their expectations after injuries.
Jets Coach Robert Saleh said he would most likely wait until the week of the first game to decide who will start at quarterback. He said Wilson, who missed four games last year because of a knee injury, has progressed well in his rehabilitation and is still active in meetings with the coaching staff. But if Flacco were needed to start Week 1, Saleh said he had faith in the veteran’s experience.
“He’s just a calming figure back there,” Saleh said. “He’s very confident, runs the huddle, everyone’s on the same page, very decisive. He’s been there, done that, seen all of it.”
The offense was expected to produce after the team brought in tight end C.J. Uzomah and receiver Garrett Wilson as targets for Wilson’s passes. Jets executives focused in the draft on improving the league’s worst-ranked defense, selecting in the first round the cornerback Ahmad Gardner and edge rusher Jermaine Johnson.
But the offense needed addressing when Mekhi Becton, the Jets’ starting offensive left tackle fractured his right knee, which will cause him to miss the 2022 season. Days later, Wilson went down.
Saleh said that shuffling was just part of the game. He expected the starters to play at least one quarter on Sunday while Daboll had not yet announced any plans for his team.
“You love the sport of football because it’s the best in the world, but the hard part about football is it’s the most violent sport in the world,” Saleh said in a news conference. “You’re going to have injuries, those things are going to happen.”