Jets defensive lineman Leonard Williams lined up against new center Ryan Kalil this week and got a surprise.
“He like snaps the ball and hits at the same exact time,” Williams recounted Thursday. “I was getting hit in the face and I was like, ‘What is that?’ It catches you off guard a little bit. That’s just some savvy vet stuff.”
Some savvy vet stuff is exactly what the Jets were counting on when they lured Kalil out of retirement this month. They are hoping the 34-year-old can anchor their offensive line and help second-year quarterback Sam Darnold diagnose defenses.
Kalil has been easing his way back into things. The next step comes Saturday when he is expected to play in the third preseason game against the Saints at MetLife Stadium. Kalil has not had much time to reflect on getting back into the NFL. For the past three weeks, he has been getting a crash course on the Jets offense. He just started practicing in team periods this week.
“Since the moment I’ve gotten here, it’s felt like: Go,” Kalil said. “I’ve really had to play catch-up. I haven’t had a moment to sort of do that. Obviously, I’m probably a lot more giddy than guys who have been doing training camp for a little bit longer than me. I think once we come down from the preseason and get ready for Week 1, maybe that will happen. Right now, I’m just trying to be as much of a sponge as I can and soak everything in.”
Kalil retired in January after 12 seasons with the Panthers. He had battled injuries in recent years and his contract was expiring, so he decided 2018 would be his last season. Then, he felt the pull from the game as he began working out again in March. The Jets called in late July and he decided to return to the game.
“Getting back into it, thinking that you were done and then almost having a second chance … we all love this game,” Kalil said. “Sometimes it takes walking away to really realize that and how much you love it. I got that opportunity and I’m very fortunate to get a chance to get back after it.”
Kalil showed some rust Sunday night in the Green and White practice. It was his first time practicing with the starting offense. One snap sailed over Darnold’s head. But his teammates have noticed what he can bring to the offense, even in these early days.
“Ryan has been awesome,” Darnold said. “Just all the football that he’s seen. Even [Wednesday], he saw the safety rotation, he [identified the Mike linebacker] for me. We had a conversation [saying] if you’re going to do that, be loud, so I can communicate and all that. But, he sees stuff. He sees safety rotation. He’s got his head up all the time looking for guys. So, it’s good to have a guy like that that’s been around some football and who knows his stuff.”
Kalil is still learning the offense, which he compared to learning a new language. He is also working his way into football shape. Though he feels like he is in good physical condition, playing in pads is a different animal. There have been a few instances this week where he looked winded after running downfield on a screen pass or a running play.
“He’s done well,” coach Adam Gase said. “It’s different. You can condition all you want. When you throw the pads on and now you’re going against Leonard and [Quinnen Williams], you’re going against [Steve] McLendon, it all of a sudden becomes game action real quick.”
On Saturday, he’ll face an opponent for the first time as a Jet when he lines up against the Saints. The New Orleans defense can expect some savvy vet stuff coming its way.