Chris Herndon looks the part. Now he needs to play the part.
Because, more than ever, the Jets need him to start playing like the player they believe he is. He needs to be that guy now. Not in a couple weeks. Not later in the season. Like … starting this Sunday in Indianapolis.
Dating back to the beginning of training camp, if you go back and listen to the interviews with coach Adam Gase and log the number of times he mentioned Herndon’s return from an injury-plagued 2019, you’ll be here for a while.
In anticipation of having Herndon back, Gase spoke of the third-year tight end as if he was expecting Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates to run out of the stadium tunnel to save his anemic, injury-riddled offense.
The Jets are expecting a lot from Herndon, who’s yet to properly untrack his career after a solid rookie season (39 catches, four touchdowns and 502 yards) followed by a lost 2019 due to suspension and injury.
At 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, Herndon has the athleticism of a big receiver, and, in case you haven’t noticed, the Jets’ receiving corps is decimated.
Jamison Crowder, the team’s most experienced and dependable receiver, missed Sunday’s loss to the 49ers with a hamstring injury and remains a question mark for Sunday against the Colts.
Breshad Perriman, the newcomer from the Buccaneers, lasted one game before he hurt his ankle last week and could miss the next two games.
Denzel Mims, the second-round draft pick, has been plagued by a hamstring injury he suffered before the first training camp practice even took place and is on IR.
Even Chris Hogan missed Wednesday’s practice with a rib injury.
That leaves Darnold with only no-name worker-bee receivers Braxton Berrios and Josh Malone.
And, of course, Herndon, who’s healthy.
But Herndon has been one of the biggest disappointments on an offense that has produced a two-game total of 531 yards, which is about what Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs produce in a half on a good day.
Herndon’s fumble after catching a screen pass less than a minute into the fourth quarter in the season opener at Buffalo might have been the turning point in that game. The Jets were driving and trailing 21-10. A TD on that drive, and the game is completely different.
Last Sunday, in a 31-13 loss to the 49ers, Darnold looked to have connected with Herndon for a TD on third-and-goal from the 7-yard line in the second half. A TD would have brought the Jets to within 24-10, but Herndon failed to haul it in, the Jets settled for a field goal and never mounted a rally.
Fantasy football players were breathless with predictions before that 49ers game that Herndon would have a big day based on the Jets’ receiving corps being so thin. He finished with one catch for 5 yards on four targets and has just seven catches for 42 yards in two games.
“We’re two games in,’’ Gase said Wednesday. “I just don’t want to get into a situation where we’re forcing the ball to him when it shouldn’t go there.’’
Bad answer. Gase, who was hired because of his supposed offensive prowess, should be dictating to opposing defenses when and how often players like Herndon get the ball.
You think Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury is letting defenses dictate when Kyler Murray should throw to star receiver DeAndre Hopkins?
No. Kingsbury’s offense is predicated on getting the ball to Hopkins, who had 14 catches for 151 yards against the 49ers the week before the Jets played them.
This is not to compare Herndon to Hopkins, but you get the point: Gase’s offense should dictate where the ball is going, not passively wait to see what the defense is giving it.
“I think we’ll get him rolling,’’ Gase said of Herndon. “We had a couple opportunities this last game. He’s having good weeks of practices, it’s just [that] we haven’t hooked up with him in the game yet.’’
At 0-2, with most of the skill-position players out with injuries, it’s getting late early for Gase, the Jets and Herndon.
“Hopefully we can get that turned around and he can get rolling a little bit,’’ Gase said. “We’d love it if we can get him rolling. Every week, we’re trying to find different ways to get him the ball, get him going, see if we can make him somebody that teams pay attention to.’’
That would require Gase dialing his number up more often and, of course, Herndon holding onto the football.