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Time to Schein: Adam Gase has some ‘different things planned’ for Le’Veon Bell

The New York Jets are an enigma heading into the 2020 season, centered around a franchise quarterback in Sam Darnold and one of the highest-paid running backs in the NFL in Le’Veon Bell. New York traded superstar safety Jamal Adams and rebuilt its offensive line this offseason, leaving a huge question mark regarding whether this team can actually compete in the wide open AFC East as it remolds the roster in the vision of general manager Joe Douglas. 

Curtis Martin, one of the greatest running backs of all-time, is helping the Pepsi Corporation revamp football lovers’ pre-game celebrations through a national “Tailgate-in-a-Box” sweepstakes, as fans are unable to attend games as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The “Pepsi Homegate” provided stadium lighting, a parking booth, a brand new grill, an inflatable Jet, a painted end zone and a special message from Martin thanking the winners and supporting NFL players — who are keeping the league going amidst all that is happening. Twenty lucky fans will have the opportunity to transform their Sunday tailgating ritual.

Jayson Jimenez

Martin, a Pro Football Hall of Famer who rushed for 14,101 yards in his career (sixth all-time, first in Jets history) and is just the second running back to start his career with 10 consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, has high hopes for the Jets in 2020 — especially the resurgence of Bell in his second season with the franchise. Martin sat down with to preview the Jets’ 2020 season.

How different is it going to be for you watching a game without fans? I’m still not used to it yet, watching other sports.

Martin: “I don’t know. I think it’s going to be an adjustment for everyone. It’s not only an adjustment from a fan perspective, but it’s also an adjustment from a player perspective. I remember just feeling the energy and the roars of the crowd, it literally does something to you and a lot of that adrenaline and motivation will just have to be self-motivated now. 

“We’re professional athletes. We know how to do it. It’s just an extra thing we have to do. I don’t think any players are complaining about it and I think the season will go on.”

The Jets did an excellent job in building their offensive line through free agency and the draft. How much do you think this is going to help Le’Veon Bell this year? 

Martin: “From a fans’ perspective, you can’t really appreciate how impactful having good linemen are. Regardless how good you are, Le’Veon Bell is probably one of — if not — he’s one of the top three most talented running backs in the NFL. Barry Sanders is the one who did it the best, but at the end of the day it’s really hard to gain yards without a good line. 

“Not only are the Jets going to have an improved running game, but I think their passing game will benefit from it as well.” 

Do you think a year of being back in “football shape” will help Le’Veon Bell?

Martin: “The more familiar you become with your offensive linemen, it always helps. By the time I was in my seventh, eighth year and spent four, five years with the Jets, I knew the characteristics of my offensive line very well. I knew one guy was going to get push off the line. I knew one guy was much better. He was the one I’d rather run behind when we were running a pulling play outside. So you just learn the characteristics and it just allows you to anticipate your moves and how to avoid defenders that much more with the more time you have. I think his year will be an even better year for Le’Veon Bell.”

How much is Frank Gore going to help this team?

Martin: “I think Frank Gore, he’s one of those guys — a lot of people don’t look at him from a flashy, running back standpoint. But he is very consistent and consistency is something that is very hard to establish in the NFL. This is his 15th, 16th year, something like that? (This will be Gore’s 16th NFL season.) It’s a talent in itself just to be able to last that long. I got a lot of respect for his game. He’s a great young man and I just wish him all the best. I think the team will really benefit from his leadership and his leadership ability.”

If there’s anyone who has proven running backs can succeed in their early 30s, it’s you. You won a rushing title and had your best season at 31. Have you given any advice to running backs as they entered the latter stages of their career? 

Martin: “Frank Gore was actually one of the guys that called me! There’s been several guys I’ve spoken to — LeSean McCoy. A lot of the guys just called me and asked ‘what is it that you did once you were over 30?’ At the end of the day, I’m a firm believer that the mental part of it plays as much of a role as the physical part. As you get into your 30s as a running back, sometimes the wear and tear weighs on your mind more so than it does your body. 

“One of the things I was determined as a running back in the later years was to stay focused and as the years went on I would find each year as a way to work harder — a year to do something to improve my game. I think sometimes a running back — or a player period — over a period of time can lose that hunger. So keeping that hunger, I found, was more of a key than anything else.”

It’s really hard to evaluate Sam Darnold. He made excellent strides last year, especially at the end of the year, when he was free from mononucleosis. What parts of his game do you feel he has to improve? 

Martin: “I’m not a quarterback specialist or anything, but the one thing I would say is I think Sam has that ‘it’ quality. He has that special something about him that is going to allow him to be a really successful and really good quarterback for a long time in the NFL. I mean, there’s been some rough seasons and his first two seasons he had the injury and then the virus or whatever it may have been. Sam has the ability and the talent to be a very successful quarterback in this league. 

“I’m not just saying this because he’s a Jet. I think it’s just a matter of time before he really breaks out and has a breakout season. It could be as early as this year.”

I believe Darnold really has the mental toughness. That’s one thing I believe is half the battle for quarterbacks anyway. 

Martin: “He has the mentality and the work ethic of a really good quarterback. It takes a few years for everything to come together. Sam’s time is now — or very soon. But it will happen.”

The Jets defense took a hit with the Jamal Adams trade, but they received a great haul for him. Do you feel even without Jamal Adams this team can compete for the AFC East while they still have all these assets in place for the future?

Martin: “Losing Jamal Adams is a blow for any team, regardless. I think he is one of, if not the, best safety in the league. Any time you lose anyone who is the best at their position, it’s going to affect you. I think they can compensate for that and make up for it. I definitely expect them to have a good season and I’m expecting them to make it to the playoffs at a minimum.”

Which running back in today’s NFL do you believe is most similar to your game?

Martin: “I think there’s a few. A running back I really like is Saquon Barkley because he reminds me of an old school running back. He can play every single down. He’s tough, he’s gritty, he’s determined. He’s one of my favorite guys. He’s a really good individual. Saquon is one of my favorites, him and Le’Veon (Bell).”

Do you have any thoughts on the state of the running back in today’s NFL?

Martin: “One of the things that I’ve noticed is that the more you can do as a running back, the more valuable you are. Look at (Christian) McCaffrey down in Carolina, look at Saquon, look at Le’Veon, guys like that. The shift that I’ve seen is that most teams are going running back by committee, but the teams that don’t have to do that — the Dallas Cowboys with Ezekiel Elliott — teams that have that running back that can do everything, that’s where you see the value of the running back still sticking in the NFL.

“But outside of that, running backs have lost a certain amount of value. It feels like it went down, but now it feels like it’s starting to swing back up. I hope it continues.” 


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