FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers, nursing a calf injury, threw on the side and spent most of Wednesday’s practice coaching up teammates. Running back Breece Hall was off on a side field, rehabbing his surgically repaired knee.
Rodgers, who strained his right calf last week, is expected to return by next week. Hall has a ways to go, but the Jets envision him taking handoffs from Rodgers when they open the season Sept. 11 against the Buffalo Bills.
“I’m very optimistic,” coach Robert Saleh said of Hall’s potential availability for Week 1. “I don’t want to jinx it” — he knocked on his wood podium — “but, I mean, the kid’s already hitting 22 [mph] on the GPS. He looks freaking good.”
Hall and Rodgers are arguably the two most important players on the Jets’ offense. They might not practice together until late August — Hall will be limited in training camp — but the goal is to make sure the backfield tandem is clicking for the regular season, not the preseason.
Rodgers has missed four straight practices after tweaking his right calf while warming up for the second practice on May 23. He downplayed the injury, saying it was nothing serious. The hope is that he returns for the next OTA session (Friday), according to Saleh.
“Yeah, he’s fine, just doing a bunch of rehab,” said Saleh, adding they’re “just hoping to ease him back in. Hopefully, [we] get him full on Friday, for sure next week.”
Rodgers was engaged during practice, staying close to the action in each period. At times, he was seen giving instruction to young receivers and running backs. During warm-ups, off to the side, he put on a passing show, making 50-yard throws to a member of the staff. After a dozen or so rockets, he moved 10 yards closer and unleashed several 40-yard ropes.
His 39-year-old right arm looks fine. His attitude has impressed everyone, including the player who knows him the best — wide receiver Randall Cobb, who recently signed a one-year contract. Cobb, who spent 10 seasons with Rodgers in Green Bay, said his old quarterback has exhibited a certain “freshness.”
“I don’t know how long you all have been in your jobs, but could you imagine being somewhere for 18 years and then going somewhere else, something different, a new environment, new people, different situation? That sparks something different in you,” Cobb said.
“You definitely see that on his face, just the way he goes about things. He’s still the same him, but at the same time, he’s learning new people and he’s in a new environment. That freshness brings something different.”
Rodgers’ job will be a lot easier if Hall returns to his 2022 form. As a rookie, he rushed for 463 yards and a 5.8 average in seven games before season-ending ACL surgery in October. His rehab will be one of the big storylines in training camp.
Saleh gave the most encouraging progress report to date.
“I feel like he won’t need to be limited during training camp even though he still will, just to be conscientious and cautious with him,” Saleh said. “But he looks awesome.”
Hall, who turned 22 on Wednesday, was more tempered than Saleh when discussing Week 1, saying, “I’ll be ready when I’ll be ready. Obviously, I hope I’m ready, but you never know. I’m taking it a week at a time and let my knee do what it does.”
Hall said he noticed “glimpses” of his pre-injury form a couple of weeks ago when he was running and cutting on the field. He says he believes he has the potential to be one of the top running backs in the league, and he doesn’t want to jeopardize his future by returning too soon. He has consulted with a handful of star runners — including the New York Giants’ Saquon Barkley — who have returned from ACL surgery.
“Everybody — myself, the coaches, my teammates — wants me to be ready for Week 1,” Hall said. “But at the same time, you have to come back when you feel like you’re ready. I’ll just know.”
In other developments, the Jets renegotiated safety Jordan Whitehead’s contract, creating $5.3 million in cap room. Saleh, meanwhile, all but dismissed the possibility of pursuing free agent wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, saying, “Nah, we love our current group.”