It’s a glorious day here on August 3, the 2021 league-wide moment where NFL players finally strap back on the pads. For New York Jets fans, it’s also a test.
- Will this offensive line play like an improved unit?
- Which rookies can hold up at the pro-level now that physicality is involved?
- Are the Jets cornerbacks strong enough to succeed in Robert Saleh’s system?
- Which running backs will separate themselves from the others?
- Can the defensive line and linebacker crew become the backbone of this unit?
- Is Zach Wilson THE guy or just another guy?
So many questions entering day one of padded training camp, with so many narratives to focus on during an exciting offseason for the Green and White.
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5. Test of Toughness
There are a lot of youngsters trying out for this 2021 roster and make no mistake, the NFL level is much different than college. There are plenty of rookies that have looked awesome in OTAs and minicamp but not all will be able to match the intensity of pro-level athletes.
There will be a learning adjustment, and the first-year players that figure it out the quickest will end up being the ones that make a difference early in the season.
I’ll highlight a few players that I believe are ready for the chaos.
- Alijah Vera-Tucker; Hall of Fame offensive tackle Anthony Muñoz predicted that AVT won’t play like a rookie. That’s high praise.
- Jamien Sherwood; the hard-hitting safety-turned linebacker loves to make contact. Mel Kiper Jr. called him one of the best college tacklers he’d seen in a long time. Physicality isn’t just a huge part of his game, it’s his nature.
- Michael Carter; the running back has excelled all offseason but his ability to break and bounce off tacklers will only make him stand out more as the eventual RB1.
On the other side of the coin, here are a couple of rookies that I could see taking a step back now that pads are in play.
- Elijah Moore; “don’t @ me” because I may be the biggest Moore fan there is, but if there’s one possible weakness in his game it might be his size. The 5-foot-10, 178-pound receiver is certainly tough as nails and overall, I believe he’ll hold up against NFL talent. At the same time, he’s been playing at an elite level so a slight regression is certainly reasonable due to his small frame.
- Tristen Hoge; playing offensive guard at BYU is a lot different than facing Foley Fatukasi and Sheldon Rankins, good luck rook!
4. Cornerbacks Attempt to Stand Tall
This Cover-3 scheme will rely on pass rush from the front four, but it will also rely on press coverage and physicality on the outside.
At the same time, Joe Douglas didn’t draft/sign four rookie defensive backs without first consulting his new head coach. Jason Pinnock, Michael Carter II, Brandin Echols and Isaiah Dunn are all feisty, stingy corners that are built for the aggressive in-your-face system that Saleh employs.
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3. Lead Horse in Running Back Room?
Will there even be one? Probably not in Mike LaFleur’s outside-zone system, but that doesn’t mean different backs won’t separate themselves.
I already mentioned Carter but another player to watch is 2020 draft pick, La’Mical Perine. He’s had a productive summer after many challenged that his style wouldn’t fit this offense as well as others on the roster. The Florida graduate has always had a physical edge to his game, especially near the end zone. Padded practice could help him secure a roster spot.
Josh Adams is another tough, strong runner that needs to make a push during this stage of camp.
2. Another Test for Wilson
The quarterback position doesn’t change all that much with pads but the areas around him will. Generally speaking, it’s easier to pass-block with pads so perhaps the rookie will have some more time to throw.
He also should hand the ball off more than in OTAs, as the Jets hone and evaluate their rushing attack.
Wilson won’t take any big hits yet — at least he better not — but this is just another opportunity to prove that he’s the face of this franchise for years to come. There has been a lot of doubt and chatter around the league when it comes to the BYU product. So far, he’s had an impressive ability to “shut people up.”
Oh, and by the way, August 3 is QB1’s 22nd birthday. Hold the gifts though! Wilson already told us that money can’t buy what’s on his wish list.
1. Trench Warfare
The area that is most impacted by this change is the offensive and defensive line. These guys go head-to-head on a daily basis and things have been pretty civil so far, outside of a Cameron Clark scuffle with Tanzel Smart on August 2.
John Franklin-Myers even told reporters that the O-line and D-line have been training together to make each other better, with lessons from veterans like Morgan Moses and Carl Lawson. Iron sharpens iron, right?
Definitely, but with pads on there may be a little less comradery between the counterparts. Rankins told the media that this defensive line’s mindset is “get three yards into the backfield… however the f*** it happens.”
Saleh’s own personal mantra is “extreme violence,” with the words on a bracelet he wears around his wrist.
“Football is a violent game, but it doesn’t just mean hitting people — violent in getting off the ball, violent in getting in and out of your breaks, violent in hand usage, violent in technique,” explained the head coach.
Yep, this should be fun.