Aside from getting Zach Wilson signed and in the door, the largest concern for New York Jets fans heading into training camp seems to be the cornerback room.
Many Gang Green supporters are legitimately pissed off that Joe Douglas did not sign a veteran corner this offseason, despite having ample cap space available to do so. It’s a fair complaint.
There was interest in Richard Sherman, who could have helped both as a locker room leader and serviceable starter on the outside. New York wasn’t his first choice but the market for Sherman was also down, so the assumption was that the Jets might be able to wait him out in free agency and pick him up towards the end of training camp.
In theory, they still could, but after Sherman’s surprising legal troubles I expect Douglas to stay clear of the possible distraction.
Other fans were high on either Steven Nelson or Brian Poole for the most part. These guys are scheme fits but in terms of talent, I didn’t feel they were major upgrades on what the Jets currently have. There were also character concerns about Nelson after the way he left Pittsburgh, although the Steelers also deserve a large portion of the blame.
No matter how you felt about these two free-agent band-aids, they’re officially in the past. Nelson signed with the Philadelphia Eagles and Poole joined the New Orleans Saints.
So what will the Jets do at cornerback? How will they survive?
Simple, they’ll do exactly what Robert Saleh has said they would do all spring and summer — develop the youth that’s on the roster, using a ferocious pass rush to mask any deficiencies on the backend.
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Pass Rush Wins Championships
I’m starting to think that pass rush, more so than defense as a whole, wins championships.
Look at the 2007 and 2011 New York Giants, 2013 Seattle Seahawks, 2015 Denver Broncos, 2018 New England Patriots, or even last year’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers that got to Patrick Mahomes with double-digit pressures (10 QB hits and three sacks) in the Super Bowl.
Is it always the case that a tremendous pass rush wins out in the end? Of course not. Saleh’s own 2019 defense with the San Francisco 49ers had one of the more fearsome defensive lines in recent NFL history and they fell short against the Kansas City Chiefs. They still made it to the big game though.
Coach Saleh actually told Rich Eisen that he learned from the 2020 Super Bowl, elaborating: “Joe Douglas and I share the same belief, obviously it starts with the quarterback but in order to protect the quarterback it starts in the trenches both offensively and defensively… Wilson can be as great of a quarterback as anyone in football, but we’ll never know unless we can protect him.”
The same can be said about just about every signal-caller in this league. The Jets have bulked on the offensive line this offseason but they’ve also beefed up their edge rushers and defensive tackles.
The strategy? Wreak havoc in the trenches on both sides of the football.
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Jets Pass Rush to Act as Crutch as Corners Develop
Earlier today, Saleh commented on what it’s going to take for this young cornerback core to become NFL-ready during his initial training camp press conference.
He responded: “Reps, reps are everything. Being out there and going through as many situations, as many reps, seeing as many routes, seeing as many motions — change of strength motions — getting in and out of press. However many times they have to go through it, the footwork, the hand placement, the eye placement, all of it… that’s what helps.”
The Jets HC is sticking to his guns, and he’s either going to prove that he can coach these guys up, or face the music later this season. As much as we all love to be right, I’m rooting for the former.
Saleh added: “As they progress, we’ve got a lot of faith in this group in terms of one of them [or] a couple of them being able to rise to the top and show that they belong in this league.”
An absolutely ripped-looking Carl Lawson also addressed the media today. The edge rusher spoke to the depth of the defensive line, and how he embraces the responsibility of the pash rush in this defense.
“Being able to be a good defensive line you got to have waves, that way everybody [can] stay fresh and I’ve seen tons of talent on this D-line,” Lawson stated.
He added that the depth “just gives [the opposition] more people to run from,” referencing teammates Quinnen Williams and Folorunso Fatukasi. “We all work together to go hunt.”
Then came an interesting, but clever analogy from the former Cincinnati Bengals pass-rusher. Lawson said: “It’s like chasing a chicken, you don’t want to chase it by yourself, you want to corner [it] with a bunch of people.”
Say what you want about Lawson, he certainly knows how to make headlines with his candid, yet charismatic personality. This is the same player who had a lengthy discussion with New York Daily News beat reporter DJ Bien-Aime on Dragon Ball Z and anime cartoons during an earlier press conference.
When asked if Lawson’s latest analogy came from experience, the Jets edge rusher admitted that he never tried to catch a real chicken, but joked that he probably could have if he wasn’t “lazy” in the past.
One thing’s for certain, Lawson is no chicken on the field, he’s the predator. The alpha-male isn’t the only one, this defensive line is stacked from top-to-bottom.
C.J. Mosley called the D-line’s mentality “attack football,” noting that their success creating pressure and stifling the run game will make the linebacker’s jobs “a lot easier” as well.
It all works in unison, the question is whether or not Saleh’s pass rush can carry the load for the secondary in 2021.
“Football starts in the trenches,” Lawson told reporters, “that’s how games are won and lost in this league [and] I take pride in being a part of the trenches.”
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