Jets’ Robert Saleh Hypes 2 Forgotten Rookies: ‘Son of a Gun’s Gonna Be Good’

Jermaine Johnson

Getty New York Jets defensive end Jermaine Johnson II in 2022.

We have reached the depressing portion of the New York Jets season where playoff hopes are dead and buried.

With that comes a ton of speculation and maybe — if you’re a glass-half-full type of fan — optimism about the future. The Jets do have a young roster built around an exciting core (Sauce Gardner, Quinnen Williams, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Breece Hall, Garrett Wilson, etc.), and head coach Robert Saleh is doing his best to remind ownership and fans of that as he sings their praises ahead of Week 18.

“With rookies, I’m always anticipating flash plays and headaches and hair-pulling moments — not that I have hair — but just chaos,” Saleh admitted to reporters on January 4. “That’s what usually comes with rookies [and] that’s why youth is so hard to stick with because it can make you look really bad as a football coach. Fortunately, [Gardner and Wilson] made coaches look really good.”

He continued, highlighting a more unsung draft pick of this class: “The biggest thing I can say is that the second they walked into this building, and I’ll put Breece Hall and Jermaine Johnson [in that group too] — I know [Johnson] doesn’t get much fanfare but that son of a gun’s gonna be good, really good — it’s not too big for them. They stepped right in — their mindset, their desire, their work ethic — they’ve stepped right into it, it hasn’t been too big for them, and that’s why you’ve been able to see them consistently get better throughout the course of the year.”

Robert Saleh Foresees Bright Future for Jeremy Ruckert

The other forgotten rookie that received some hype earlier in the press conference was tight end Jeremy Ruckert, who has not gotten much playing time in 2022 with veterans Tyler Conklin and C.J. Uzomah eating up reps.

“I’m really excited about Jeremy,” Saleh noted, “I know he hasn’t had a lot of action this year but that’s more of a testament to Conk and C.J., and then [Kenny] Yeboah’s emergence from a special teams standpoint. The excuses I can make for [Ruckert] is that he missed all of OTAs and he misses all of training camp so he’s just kind of been behind the eight ball.”

“What you see [in practice] is an uber athletic young man,” the Jets HC touted. “And if he can put together a really good offseason, I think people will see a damn good tight end. Not just a good one but a really, really good tight end. He’s got a really good chance [to succeed].”

Johnson has obviously shown more than Ruckert, with 2.5 sacks, three tackles for a loss, and four quarterback hits during his rookie campaign. The first-round edge rusher has also proven to be an above-average run defender according to Pro Football Focus, with a low missed tackle rate (8.3), 19 key defensive stops, and a 71.5 grade against the run.

Ruckert was only targeted once over 27 offensive snaps in 2022. The pass in the flats went down as a drop off his hands, and the hometown youngster has not been targeted since.

The Jets were always planning on taking the long and steady approach with Ruckert after signing Conklin and Uzomah, so fans obviously shouldn’t write the Ohio State product off. Tight end is one of the more challenging NFL transitions in the game, and remember, even future Hall of Famer Travis Kelce had a lost rookie season.

Robert Saleh Reiterates That Starters Will Play in Week 18

The other day on January 2, Saleh revealed that it will be business as usual against the Miami Dolphins in terms of playing veterans over prospects — outside of one injury promotion.

He reiterated that on Wednesday, stating that the starters have “earned the right to finish the season strong and finish the season that they [began].”

“In this building, I feel like we’ve always stood firm on giving the people who deserve the opportunity to play that opportunity to play,” Saleh explained. “For example, C.J. Mosley. If he wants to finish the season strong, he’s going to get that opportunity, he’s earned it.”

This player-first mentality contradicts the typical fan and front office mindset of wanting to see the youth in action once the postseason is out of reach, but Saleh has always been a friend of the locker room and he’s not one to toss aside his principles. In some ways, it’s easy to respect that about the Jets HC as a man, but those same principles can be frustrating as a coach.

Like anything else, winning changes everything and Saleh must know that he has to start winning again in 2023 — assuming he makes it that far.

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