Jets need quick fix or else Le'Veon Bell's talent will go to waste

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:

1. Bell bottoms: Le’Veon Bell got paid, but money can’t buy daylight.

The star running back is learning a hard lesson about life after Big Ben, AB, JuJu and that big ‘ol Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line. Through no fault of his own, Bell is off to the worst statistical start of his pro career. He’s the victim of a perfect storm: bad blocking, instability at quarterback and no consistent weapons on the perimeter.

As a result, his talent is not being maximized. You figured there would be growing pains in a new system, especially after a year off, but his numbers are alarming.

Bell has failed to reach 4.0 yards per carry in any of the Jets’ five games, the longest such slump of his career. He hasn’t made a run longer than 13 yards. There are 96 players in the league with runs longer than 13 yards, including 16 quarterbacks. He’s the Jets’ most accomplished offensive player, and yet they haven’t been able to get him cranked up.

“Hopefully, we can open it up a little bit for him,” Jets coach Adam Gase said. “We’ve seen a lot of loaded boxes. He’s had a lot of tough runs. He’s made the most out of what he’s had and probably gotten us more than we should have.”

Bell has faced a “loaded box” on a league-high 45.9 percent of his runs, according to NFL Next Gen Stats (minimum: 50 rushes). A loaded box is when the blockers are outnumbered by the defenders in the box.

In theory, quarterback Sam Darnold‘s return should loosen up the defense, creating more space for Bell. Statistically, there was no appreciable difference last week against the Dallas Cowboys, but one game doesn’t make a trend.

It won’t get easier on Monday at 8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN), though. The New England Patriots (6-0) have the NFL’s best defense and coach Bill Belichick, who called Bell “one of the best players in the league,” will use his giant brain to scheme ways to stop him.

To his credit, Bell has remained upbeat, insisting, “We’re getting better. I can sense it.” The Jets (1-4) made him the centerpiece of their offseason spending spree, expecting his presence to raise the level of those around him, namely Darnold. They gave him $28 million in fully guaranteed money, defying the recent economic trend: You don’t pay big money to running backs.

It’s too soon to call it a bust because he’s had only two games with Darnold, but the clock is ticking. Bell is 27 years old, meaning his window could close in a year or two. It might take that long for the Jets to sort out their offensive line issues.

2. Competition Friday: The Jets have incorporated a new twist into their Friday practices — an 11-on-11 period that features the No. 1 offense versus the No. 1 defense. Most teams dial it back on Friday, but Gase has raised the intensity level.

“It’s competitive stuff,” tight end Ryan Griffin said. “You go all out and try to win. It sets the tone for Sunday.”

The benefits? Players on both sides of the ball say it helps them prepare for the unexpected because the periods aren’t scripted. It’s an old-school approach, but it makes a lot of sense.

3. Money matters: The Jets, who began the offseason with about $100 million in salary-cap space, are down under $5 million, according to overthecap.com. A team can burn through money quickly, especially when it doles out top-of-the-market contracts in free agency (hello, Bell and C.J. Mosley). Injuries also are a factor. Guard Kelechi Osemele, linebacker Avery Williamson, wide receiver Quincy Enunwa and quarterback Trevor Siemian are eating up a combined $23 million in cap space. The latter three are on injured reserve, and Osemele (shoulder) could be there soon.

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