Jets DC Jeff Ulbrich Reveals Year 2 ‘Challenge’ for Sauce Gardner

Sauce Gardner

Getty New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner trains during 2023 OTAs.

Rookies don’t typically step into the NFL arena and shine as brightly on a weekly basis as New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner did in 2022.

For coaches, the challenge is maintaining that level of excellence after it seemingly comes so easy for a younger prospect in year one. “[Jets defensive coordinator] Jeff Ulbrich says the sophomore slump is a ‘real thing’ for certain players,” ESPN’s Rich Cimini relayed live from OTA press conferences on May 31.

Cimini added that Ulbrich said “he doesn’t see any signs of that with Sauce Gardner.” He’s “more hungry” than ever, the Jets DC voiced, noting that his new “challenge” for the rising star is to create “more takeaways” in 2023.

Despite a Defensive Rookie of the Year performance last year, Gardner only registered two interceptions with zero forced fumbles. It’s especially hard to find turnovers when the opposing team avoids you, which makes this an adequate challenge in terms of motivation. After all, the top-five selection did just about everything else in 2022.

Jets CB Sauce Gardner’s Statistics Were Unmatched in 2022

In terms of consistency, no cornerback — rookie or veteran — could contend with Gardner statistically during his rookie campaign.

According to Pro Football Focus, Gardner led all CBs (minimum of 50% of snaps played) in the following categories:

  • Coverage grade (90.0).
  • Reception percentage allowed (45.9%).
  • Forced incompletions per target (27%).

He was also second in total pass breakups with 14, fifth in yards allowed after the catch (105), fourth in total receiving yards allowed (361) and third in NFL passer rating against (53.9).

The only area Gardner could really stand to improve — outside of taking the ball away more — is in the penalty department. As a rookie, the sticky Cincinnati product was flagged five times.

He turns 23 years old on August 31, and it’s absolutely incredible what he’s accomplished just one year into his NFL career.

Aaron Rodgers Impacting Jets at OTAs Despite Calf Ailment

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers hasn’t run many drills at Organized Team Activities due to a calf issue early on, but his influence is still very noticeable to both coaches and media members.

“His impact on this team, especially these younger players, is going to be felt for the remainder of all their careers,” Ulbrich told reporters. “He’s going to change the course of these young players’ careers forever.”

Head coach Robert Saleh also mentioned that Rodgers’ mere presence raises the standard around the organization. “To have a guy like him who embodies all of that [winning culture and standard], who embodies what you want out of a football player, and who has the track record and has had success, and who has a voice [inside the meetings and locker room] like he has, it makes our job easier because we’re not having to worry about things that we don’t have control over,” Saleh explained, “and because of it, [the result] is awesome.”

“You’re not spending time talking about what the standard is,” Saleh continued, concluding: “As a coach, when a player should already be controlling that, you’re really [able to] focus on scheme and trying to help the guys get better so that they can make the plays they need to make.”

This appeared to be evident to the NYJ beat during May 31 OTAs as well, as Dennis Waszak Jr. (Associated Press) noted that Rodgers was “coaching up” some of the quarterbacks and wide receivers during drills and Cimini informed: “Even though he’s not practicing, Aaron Rodgers (calf) stays engaged. He’s on the field, standing close to every drill. He has offered tips to young RBs and WRs. At times, he looks like a coach.”

The future Hall of Fame QB has had a similar impact in the meeting room, according to coaches and teammates.