The former NFL linebacker, Ulbrich, knew Saleh back from their days coaching together in Seattle with the Seahawks. On Pete Carroll’s staff, Saleh was the defensive quality control coach from 2011-13 and Ulbrich was a special teams assistant from 2010-11.
Ulbrich also spoke on June 4, and in terms of Saleh, the DC said that “hopefully it’s a relationship [where they] just feed off each other and bring it every day.”
Being a former player, the high-energy lifestyle comes easy to Ulbrich. He commented on his background and how it helps him as a coach: “I think, at times, it can help me relate to the player and help me connect with the player, the fact that I’ve been in their shoes and know what it feels like. It gives me perspective in that way. Hopefully, it gives me a little street cred, the fact that I’ve done it and played for a while, that there’s a level of trust there maybe that a former player can generate.’’
Although most people see Saleh as the face of this unit, Ulbrich will actually call the plays. He’s done this twice before in his career, once at UCLA and last season with the Atlanta Falcons, after Raheem Morris was promoted to interim head coach. The Falcons defense improved under Ulbrich’s tenure as defensive coordinator.
The Jeff Ulbrich Philosophy
One thing Ulbrich stressed to the media was that this defense is going to be about the players. Whether it’s their strengths, effort level, or technique, the DC made it clear that his system is tailored to them.
Sound familiar? We heard a very similar explanation from Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, another student of the Saleh way.
Ulbrich described the style as “simplicity and players first,” but he did add that “finer details make the difference in this defense.”
The 4-3 scheme won’t be disguised too much according to Ulbrich, at least at this stage. He told reporters that his players will “learn through the burn,” if they get picked on by their counterparts on offense.
When you’re based upon “principle” and the “essence of this game” like the DC noted, it’s less about scheme and more about toughness and mental grit. Ulbrich wants his players to outwork the opposition, have more heart than the opposition, and in the end outplay the opposition.
He’ll have his work cut out for him, as the Jets 2020 defense ranked 26th in points allowed, 28th in passing yards against and 27th in first downs allowed. There were a few silver linings to build off though, for example, the run defense was 12th in yards allowed and the Jets were 13th in red zone touchdown percentage.
The Tools & How They Fit
The media asked Ulbrich about a plethora of players, starting with star linebacker C.J. Mosley. The DC didn’t feel that his MIKE-backer has shown any rust in practice, saying that Mosley is an “authentic alpha leader” that “just knows how to run the defense.”
The Jets need Mosley to stay healthy in 2021, after a 2019 season that went south quickly and a 2020 campaign that was lost to the pandemic and the opt-out. Ulbrich has been responsible for uncovering linebackers like Deion Jones, Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack among others, but Mosley is already well-known. He can become a Bobby Wagner type of field marshal in this unit under Ulbrich’s teaching.
It’ll be even more intriguing to see what the ex-linebacker can get out of Jarrad Davis, a former first-round pick that never lived up to expectations in Detroit. Ulbrich voiced Davis’ progress, saying that it feels like the change of scenery is “breathing new life into him.”
Another key cog that was asked about was Marcus Maye. Ulbrich’s first thoughts were that the safety “can do it all.” He showed Maye high praise, noting his “range, speed and athleticism” as well as his “ball-skills, instinct and courage.”
Ulbrich also told the media that he appreciated Ashtyn Davis’ engagement in the classroom and Lamarcus Joyner’s drive and leadership on and off the field.
Next up was edge rusher, Carl Lawson. Ulbrich brushed off his absence at OTAs, touting his work ethic and communication with the staff. He referred to the defensive end as a “technician” that is “obsessed with the game.” The DC thought Lawson could “definitely have an increase in sack total” next to players like Quinnen Williams.
In terms of Williams, Ulbrich confirmed that the defensive tackle was the “ideal three-technique” lineman. After a huge sophomore campaign, Williams will hope to shake off foot surgery this summer as he prepares for year three.
Questions at Cornerback
One last interesting part of this conversation with Ulbrich was his thoughts on the Jets young secondary. As we know, Saleh stressed that the Jets have no problem developing the talent on their roster, rather than pursuing a veteran cornerback in free agency.
Ulbrich responded that the best course of action for this inexperienced group is to “put them on repeat.” He elaborated, stating that it’s important to be able to do “the same thing over and over again” with success.
By having them master these techniques through repetition, Ulbrich believes the group will accelerate in terms of performance, knowledge and understanding.
This area definitely has to improve for the Jets in 2021, whether with the help of a ferocious pass rush or a more efficient coverage. Right now, the starting jobs are open for the taking, and Ulbrich echoes the rest of Jets nation when he says that he’s “excited about what [the coaches] can find in that room.