FLORHAM PARK, NJ – JUNE 05: Sam Darnold #14 of the New York Jets during day two of mandatory minicamp at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center on June 5, 2019 in Florham Park, New Jersey. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

In week 10 of the 2004 NFL season, I watched Quincy Carter lead the New York Jets against the Baltimore Ravens. I was too young at the time to understand why Chad Pennington was not quarterbacking Gang Green that week. Why Carter’s arm didn’t carry the same zip that Chad’s did. The overtime loss that week made me wonder if I’d ever see Pennington back under center for gang green.

The answer was no, or at least not the same Chad Pennington I had known before the injury. He’d be back to play, but only as a shell of the strong arm gunslinger from before. At the time it didn’t seem so bad. The Jets found Chad Pennington seemingly with ease, so they’d, of course, be able to do it again.

But they hadn’t, and I was falling in line with the rest of the Jets fans who had been waiting since the departure of Joe Namath for a true franchise quarterback. There was hope for Mark Sanchez as there was for Richard Todd before him. And while back to back AFC Championships would suggest Sanchez had bucked the trend, Darrelle Revis and the rest of the team’s menacing defense for these years would indicate otherwise. If the Buttfumble wasn’t indicative of Sanchez’s impending doom, his 1.4 touchdown to interception ratio following the 2011 AFC Championship would be. The days of Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg that followed would be some of the darkest in team history. Now just three years removed from the Hackenberg implosion, there is a different air around the upcoming 2019 New York Jets. It rolled in when Roger Goodell spoke the words “the New York Jets select Sam Darnold” in 2018 and strengthened with a single rollout touchdown against the Buffalo Bills. The road leading up to the 2019 season certainly feels different.

2019 An Exciting Time For the New York Jets Fan

The Defensive Overhaul

Sam Darnold alone isn’t the only reason for excitement. The team is gaining strength in positional groups that have often been devoid of talent. None more so than the linebacking corp. The offseason addition of C.J. Mosley was impressive for a number of reasons. Even ignoring Mosley’s place among the elite linebackers in the league, the benefits of his addition are unmistakable. He immediately adds a top tier leader to pair with the already outspoken Jamal Adams. He also gives the team what can be considered among the best middle linebacker duo in the league consisting of himself and Avery Williamson. Mosley is certainly an impressive free-agent addition. Yet it is the young talent added to the defense that is truly intriguing.

The Jets used two of their first three picks in the draft on defensive players. This is certainly a familiar narrative for fans. While we have seen the stud defensive lineman drafted before, third-round pick Jachai Polite is a wild card. This is not to gloss over the fact that Quinnen Williams is one of the most impressive young specimens to enter the league in recent years. Just to emphasize that the addition of Polite is more immediately exciting. Just a couple of years ago the team selected Leonard Williams in a fashion similar to that of Quinnen. The two should immediately be a force on the interior. Jachai Polite, however, has immense potential as an edge rusher. Formerly discussed as a first-round pick, Polite’s stock plummeted as a result of an extremely poor combine. Scooped up in the third round by gang green, Polite has the potential to bring a pass-rushing element the team has not seen since the departure of John Abraham.

2009 and 2010 were years of defensive dominance for gang green. Darrelle Revis led the way, but players like David Harris and Calvin Pace truly rounded out the unit. Jamal Adams seems to be on his way to as close a level as one can come to prime Revis, and now he has a unit of talent building behind him. New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams should have a field day designing blitzes and personnel packages with what he has at his disposal. The energy he will inevitably bring to the sidelines will be palpable in the living rooms of Jet fans everywhere. Even still, this young defense has some stiff competition from the offensive side as to who is truly the most improved.

The Offensive Resurgence

Two years ago Le’Veon Bell was undeniably the league’s top running back. The kind of player teams and fans alike dream of acquiring. Social media jersey swaps and trending hashtags help foster the belief that such an acquisition is a possibility. Most rational fans can compartmentalize this perceived false hope. They have an understanding that the chances are slim of their team actually acquiring such a player. This is especially so for Jet fans. Rarely do they get to see the top free agents select their team from the pool come the offseason.

Still, Bell became a free agent in 2019 and selected the New York Jets as his destination. Emerson Boozer, Matt Snell, Freeman McNeil, Curtis Martin, and now it is Bell’s turn to take the mantle. The arguments will be made, running back doesn’t matter in 2019. Sure there may some degree of truth to this. A truth that will not matter if Bell can bottle up some of the magic he created in Pittsburgh and bring it to the big apple. He’ll have some help up front with the addition of All-Pro guard Kelechi Osemele, and his presence should also be comforting for Sam Darnold.

Darnold will also have some help on the outside, as the team’s receiving corp is finally at full health. A full season of Quincy Enunwawho was consuming a 28% target share in the first quarter of last season, is something that will certainly be a chemistry booster. Second-year tight end Chris Herndon is an intriguing breakout candidate coming off a promising rookie campaign. Herndon is a welcome beacon of light for Jets fans. A light that shines through the ghosts of Kyle Brady and other tight end disappointments in franchise history.

In fact, Herndon’s presence in and of itself would be enough to ignite the fanbase. Couple that with the electrifying 4.3 speed of Robby Andersonwho may be what Johnny “Lam” Jones could have been, and the fact that a true number one threat is lacking becomes irrelevant. The unit may not be ready to compete with the likes of teams like Kansas City just yet. But it is undeniably ready to compete.

Hope for the Jets Fan

2019 feels different for a myriad of reasons. Yes, 2018 was exciting but fans had been there before. The star quarterback comes to rescue the team from obscurity with just the stroke of his arm. And while those before Sam Darnold showed flashes in their early campaigns, it seemed as though Darnold’s light shined bright more than it dimmed. The league’s top free agent, and maybe top running back is a New York Jet, and excitedly so. The team’s front office debacle of May has become a spectacle sort of upgrade in July.

There are shortcomings to this team, mainly on the offensive line and at cornerback. No one is expecting a Super Bowl birth in 2019 from the New York Jets. But there is an expectation to win. There is a sense of wonder around the development of Sam Darnold. A playoff birth no longer seems like an empty promise and a win or two is something few fans would be surprised to see. The 2019 New York Jets are coming. Regardless of how the season plays out, fans are excited, and rightfully so.

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