The latest New York Jets dilemma came about this week as the organization announced that safety Marcus Maye would miss three to four weeks with an ankle injury.
Shortly after, Maye’s agent Erik Burkhardt implied that the impending free agent would prefer to be traded once he’s healthy. The star safety is up for an extension and the Jets have failed to provide one, so there could actually be some fire behind this smoke.
Head coach Robert Saleh told the media that he had no response to Burkhardt’s tweet before praising the playmaker. Whether Maye is eventually traded or not, he’ll be out for Week 4 and with Lamarcus Joyner already sidelined for the remainder of the season, Gang Green will be forced to get creative at the position.
The Jets could look outside of the organization to find a worthy starter but they have yet to do so and we’re now one day away from Sunday. That’s not happening before Week 4, meaning the coaching staff will handle this matter using players that are on the roster already.
That brings up more questions about who might start with safeties Ashtyn Davis and Sharrod Neasman returning to the active roster. Fortunately, both Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich decided to fill in the blanks.
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Jets Will Use Rotation at Safety
Going back to the summer, Coach Saleh has made it clear that there are positions he’s willing to rotate players at and other positions that he’s more reluctant about.
For example, he loves to rotate on the defensive line to keep his pass rushers fresh. The Jets also utilize a heavy rotation at running back and wide receiver, as most teams do. On the flip side, the HC has been adamant about keeping a set offensive line, along with set cornerbacks and linebackers (for the most part). Safety was always a gray area.
The initial plan was to have Maye and Joyner form a partnership like Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt in San Francisco. In this scenario, Davis would have been the super sub that fills in all over the defense. That didn’t work out.
Now Davis is finally healthy but the starters are gone, creating a very different situation.
“We got a group of guys that gotta step up,” Ulbrich told reporters on September 29. “Fortunately, we do have good safety depth getting Neasman back, [and] getting Ashtyn back this week is going to be a huge part of that. By Sunday we’ll figure out who’s the best [but] if not, maybe by committee to replace [Maye].”
Besides Davis and Neasman, the other members of this “committee” would be Jarrod Wilson and Adrian Colbert. The latter has received the lion’s share of the snaps in place of Joyner after Sheldrick Redwine failed to seize the opportunity in Week 1 (when the injury occurred).
Colbert played 57 out of 59 snaps in Week 2, but that number evened out a bit more in Week 3 as Wilson stole away 21 defensive snaps. Colbert ended up with 42 out of 67 in Denver.
According to Pro Football Focus in Week 3, Wilson was the third-highest rated defender for Gang Green in limited action (71.3). Like Colbert, Wilson is strongest as a run defender and tackler. Ironically, both of these options fill Maye’s role better than Joyner’s.
Neither has been very impressive in coverage, but that’s where Neasman comes in. The former Atlanta Falcons safety earned a cumulative 80.5 coverage grade during his three preseason appearances. Davis has excelled closer to the line of scrimmage, like the two above, but he’s versatile enough to do both.
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How Healthy Is Ashtyn Davis?
The key here is Davis. On September 29, Coach Saleh gave a detailed description of what he liked about the 2020 third-rounder. “We were high on him in San Fran, [we] thought he had great red-line to red-line speed, he’s very smart, his speed shows up on tape so he has great play speed, he’s a grinder, he’s a hard-hitter, and like I said the mental makeup [is tremendous].”
The Jets HC went on to say that he sees Davis as an “interchangeable” piece that can play as a box safety or a deep-man. If he was 100%, he’d probably demand a starter’s snap count within this group. The thing is, he’s not 100% according to Saleh.
“Obviously we can’t get him a full game in there,” the Jets HC noted about Davis, “he hasn’t played football in a year but we do plan on getting him in part of the rotation along with Jarrod Wilson and Neasman.”
Saleh continued: “We’ll have a good little rotation in there and play the hot hand but they’ve all got to be ready to play.”
Interestingly, he left out Colbert, but it was most likely an oversight being that he’s played the most out of the four in recent weeks. It’s also important to point out that these comments came on October 1, two days after Ulbrich’s.
If there was any hesitation about a rotation from the DC, Saleh seemed to clear that up in his press conference. Ulbrich has been very successful at mixing and matching this season, leading this Jets defense to a top 10 ranking in yards allowed per game, despite the struggles on offense.
The Jets will no doubt play to the strengths of each replacement at safety, using Neasman in coverage situations and a thumper like Colbert to combat Derrick Henry. It’s a smart call from the defensive coaches — Mike LaFleur should take notes.
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