Struggling Jets Youngster Could Be Forced Into Sink or Swim Role

Ashtyn Davis

Getty New York Jets safety Ashtyn Davis combines for a tackle on December 6, 2020.

Crucial injuries are not foreign to the New York Jets organization and in 2021, the defensive side has been hit hard by long-term losses.

We all know the list by now; Carl Lawson, Vinny Curry, Lamarcus Joyner, Jarrad Davis (returned in Week 8), Jamien Sherwood, Hamsah Nasirildeen (returning soon), Blake Cashman, Kyle Phillips (from 2020 injury) and now for the second time this season, Marcus Maye.

To make matters worse, a majority of these names were supposed to be the veteran stabilizers of this young defense for DC Jeff Ulbrich and HC Robert Saleh. Needless to say, it has made their job quite challenging as the season has gone on and the Jets D went from bright spot of the franchise to worst in the NFL in yards and points allowed per game.

The unfortunate part is that they may not have truly reached the bottom yet.

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Opportunity Comes Knocking

"Just Trying To Get Better Week To Week" | S Ashtyn Davis Media Availability | New York Jets | NFLS Ashtyn Davis speaks to the media on Wednesday, November 10, 2021. Subscribe to the New York Jets YT Channel: For more Jets NFL Action: #NewYorkJets #Jets #NFL For more Jets action:

Gang Green entered the season with a veteran backend of Joyner and Maye. The hope was that Ashtyn Davis would play a sort of “utility role” as the third safety on the roster and someone that could also man the slot in a Big Nickel formation.

Unfortunately, that plan never came to fruition. Davis was sidelined to begin the year and Joyner suffered a season-ending torn tricep in Week 1 that quickly promoted a variety of signings into starting roles. Those journeymen were:

Of course, Davis had been the most recent starter alongside Maye. In a recent press conference, the 2020 third-rounder noted that he’s still adjusting to live reps after returning from a long-term injury towards the tail-end of his rookie campaign.

“We got guys that can play in our room,” Davis told reporters, “it’s just about building cohesiveness amongst us, getting reps in practice, getting the communication together and making sure we’re all on the same page.”

As the “high-profile” safety on the roster right now, Davis didn’t shy away from the responsibility but preached a team effort from his room. “It kind of falls on all of our shoulders… I’m gonna do whatever I can within my power — I’m not going to go outside my body — but I’m going to make the plays that I can and I’m not going to try to play Superman but I’m going to do what I need to do 100%,” he replied.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen poses a unique challenge for the safety unit, being that he can extend plays and throw the ball deep downfield at any moment. This inexperienced group will have to work with the linebackers to watch the scramble while also keeping an eye on talented wide receivers like Stefon Diggs and Emmanuel Sanders sneaking in behind them.

It’s no cakewalk of a matchup for the group, but it looks like Davis and company will be forced to sink or swim either way.

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Backup Safeties ‘Have to Step Up’

DC Jeff Ulbrich Press Conference | The New York Jets | NFLDC Jeff Ulbrich speaks to the media following the team's matchup against the Indianapolis Colts. Subscribe to the New York Jets YT Channel: For more Jets NFL Action: #NewYorkJets #Jets #NFL For more Jets action:

Ulbrich spoke on the unit’s latest loss during a press conference on November 5. The Jets DC voiced:

Yeah it’s heartbreaking. He’s a guy that [is] obviously in the midst of a contract year… Normal football in this league has shown that the guys in those situations a lot of times can become very selfish — and I get that too, I acknowledge and recognize this is a business… what was absolutely so heartbreaking with Marcus is he never became that guy, he came into work every day and worked his ass off unselfishly. Whether it was crossing his mind or was a conversation away from this building or not, about saving himself or protecting himself, I never saw it on the field, he laid it on the line every single time he went out there — practices, games — yeah it’s heartbreaking from that standpoint and it’s heartbreaking selfishly from our standpoint as a Jets defense because he’s a guy that [is] the communicator back there, he’s the general back there, he’s the one that helps us get on the same page, he’s the guy with the moxy and the savviness to anticipate and communicate pre-snap indicators and the whole deal, and he’s been a guy that’s been a reliable eraser for us — he’s really helped limit explosives at times when he’s been healthy — so he’ll be sorely missed and we’ve got a group of guys [that are] going to have to step up.

In some ways, you have to feel for the coordinator who’s finally getting a full-time opportunity after taking over as the interim DC in Atlanta last season. He added that “as coaches, we gotta keep fighting to find answers and find solutions [because] it’s not good enough.”

Ulbrich did not lean on a single excuse in this presser after the Indianapolis Colts steamrolled his defense, which is somewhat commendable. Coach Saleh also gave his thoughts on the matter.

He stated: “Marcus is a really good football player obviously, that safety position has taken quite the hit in terms of just the amount of players that have come through there. Got a lot of faith in Jarrod Wilson, he’s been here since the beginning of the season. Sharrod Neasman got here during training camp, Ashtyn is working to get his legs underneath him and get within the groove and so that safety group is trying to work together, get continuity, and just see if we can string together a couple of games where we have the same guys out there so they can continue to get better and improve. Is it a challenge? Yes, but do we have faith in our guys? Absolutely.”

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