As the Jets failed to muster any offense of note in the first half on Sunday, 2nd-year wideout Denzel Mims could only watch from the sideline.
Fans were hugely optimistic about the former Baylor Bear heading into the 2021 season, with plenty of support and a new QB that was willing to push the ball downfield, many expected a breakout season, and many still do.
Through camp, there were worrying signs. Mims was nowhere to be seen when the first team was out on the field, at points he was rarely to be seen with the 2nd team, instead running with the third rotation of receivers.
This was a strange situation, considering the hype surrounding Mims and the obvious talent on show. This was no Stephen Hill, this is a player who can make a difference as seen by his 40-yard reception on Sunday. Having 40 receiving yards but only playing 5% of the snaps is a solid showing for a player who’s obviously going to be frustrated with his playing time.
I’m looking at Mims in the above video, but look at how well Zach feels the pressure (AVT needs to do much better there), climbs in the pocket, delivers a strike even though he knows he’s going to get hit. Absolutely outstanding.
Cimini on his Flight Deck podcast had a couple of interesting notes on the Denzel Mims situation, saying it goes back to training camp which makes sense:
“There were six or seven plays in training camp where he ran the wrong route. It wasn’t dramatically wrong, not a total bust, but slight imperfections in his route running that caused the coaching staff to get on him. I don’t think he handled it well and he feels like he is being penalized for mistakes that some of the other receivers are making as well”
Cimini went on to say that following the catch (above), Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur went to give Mims a pep talk around him being proud of him and to keep going because he’s almost there, a motivating chat designed to be positive reinforcement. Instead Cimini said that “it didn’t go over well with Mims” and has created a “dicey situation”.
Saleh was asked about the lack of playing time for Mims at a recent press-conference and he put it down to the 2nd year player not knowing all three receiver positions:
“A majority of our reps went to Davis, Moore, and Berrios. Part of it was the sequence of the game and that’s why those receivers played. Mims has been doing a little bit better each day but he’s not one of the main three so he has to know all three spots and at a high level,”
Saleh followed that up and elaborated on the Michael Kay show that Mim’s grasp of the playbook needs to improve if he hopes to see more time on the field.
“Denzel can really elevate his game and availability is when you are the No. 4 receiver or next man up you have to know all three spots (Z, F, X) so you can get in there. If he can know all those positions he can really help himself out. You are reliable from a play-calling standpoint if you can do those things”
I think reliability is a really key point here. If you have a rookie QB behind center which the Jets have, it’s key to makes things as easy as possible for him. The best thing you can do is actually keep him upright (looking at you offensive lineman, tight ends, and running backs), the next best thing is friendly play-calling, and the next best thing is ensuring that receivers are in the right places at the right time. This was highlighted by Coach Saleh not in a question around Mims, but in a question around the return of both Jamison Crowder and Keelan Cole:
“Those guys do things the right way, they’re where they’re supposed to be. They’re all gas 100% of the time. They’re reliable. For a quarterback, you can’t ask for much more than that. To have two more options on the field for the quarterback is priceless”
Now maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I saw a little dig on Mims there. Especially when you consider Cimini’s earlier comments around him running the wrong routes during training camp. Not knowing or executing the playbook is the fastest way to get yourself in the coach's doghouse.
Earlier in the summer, new signing Corey Davis was asked about Denzel and what advice he would give him:
“Mims is really talented man, it’s really up to him, coming out here and doing the work every single day. The grind gets hard, it’s tough at times, even for me there are days I don’t want to come out here, but in order to get better you’ve got to do the things you don’t want to do. So for him it’s just that mental block and pushing past that, because he has all the physical attributes, mentally, I think that’s where his battle is”
It won’t get any easier for Mims to crack the rotation. Jamison Crowder and Keelan Cole are expected to return this weekend against the New England Patriots, so looking at the snap counts from last week, Mims would appear to be the 6th option for the Jets, meaning there’s a chance he doesn’t even suit up. Davis, Moore, Cole, Crowder, Berrios and then Mims, although even Jeff Smith got more playing time last week against the Panthers.
If the report from Cimini is true and Mims took LaFleur’s positive feedback poorly, then it could be a very long season for him, but I’m hoping that he can really just dedicate himself to the playbook, keep his head down and force his way onto the field. Taking the coaches feedback, whether it’s positive or negative, will go a long way to finding his way to the field.
I still have a ton of confidence and hope in Mims, but like Corey mentioned, he needs to push past that mental block before his physical tools will be allowed to shine.