Chris Herndon’s return to Jets is looking more real

It’s getting so close, the Jets can almost smell the white smoke. Sunday, they may even see it — in the presence of Chris Herndon.

The young tight end could make his 2019 debut against the Giants. He’s trending in the right direction, running hard and without limitations the past two days in practice. He even said, “I feel great,” when asked about the nagging hamstring injury that has kept him out for several weeks.

“I’ve been itching to get back out there,” said Herndon, who was technically limited on Thursday in practice. “At the end of the day, this is the sport I love, that I’ve loved for years. Not being able to be out there has been crushing to me.”

There were high hopes for the second-year tight end after he caught 39 passes for 502 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie. He quickly developed chemistry with quarterback Sam Darnold — the two were rookie roommates in training camp — and coach Adam Gase had described the 6-foot-4, 253-pound Herndon as a “unicorn type of player,” because of his explosive and well-rounded skill set as a receiver and blocker.

“He’s just a really big body to throw to,” Darnold said. “He’s a really good tight end, really good pass-catcher and so he’s naturally a good target down there. Especially if you get him matched up with a linebacker or even if he’s matched up with a [defensive back]. You can put it on his body and he can go up for a rebound and catch it.”

Chris Herndon
Chris HerndonBill Kostroun

In early July, Herndon was suspended for four games by the NFL for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, the aftermath of a DWI the summer after he was drafted. Then, at the tail end of the suspension, Herndon felt his hamstring tighten up as he was running routes on his own getting ready to return. He has been out since, forced to watch the offense he was supposed to be such a big part of struggle immensely without him.

“It was very difficult, because personally I felt I was doing everything I could to come back and be the best player I could be for my team,” he said. “When I found out [I was hurt], it was a blow. But I continued to keep my head up, stay focused when I’m here and be the best teammate I can be.”

To ease the frustration, Herndon did things to keep his mind occupied. One activity was hot yoga. It loosened up his body while helping him stay patient. It has gotten him this far, to the point where a return seems near.

Until this week, Gase had yet to see Herndon cut loose, as if the tight end were worried about reinjuring his hamstring. But the coach has begun to see the explosion and speed he saw in the summer, prior to Herndon’s suspension.

“After practicing this week, running routes fully, blocking fully, doing special teams as well, I feel pretty good,” Herndon said.

Herndon’s return would be a significant boost to an offense in need of playmakers, especially against the Giants, who are allergic to covering athletic tight ends. The Jets are last in scoring (12.0) and last in passing yards (157.3) per game.

Herndon is also a quality blocker and would help the Jets’ weakness in that area as well.

“Hopefully he can go out there and be an impact player for us,” Darnold said. “Chris is a huge threat and we’re looking forward to him being out there.”

For more on the Jets, listen to the latest episode of the “Gang’s All Here” podcast:

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