Robert Saleh walks around practice during stretches
The honeymoon is still in its very early stages for new Jets head coach Robert Saleh, as evidenced by the cheers he got when he was shown on the MetLife Stadium scoreboard during the Green & White scrimmage on Saturday night. So far, everything seems great.
But how great is it really? After eight practices and one full-team scrimmage, here are some of my observations of Saleh’s Jets:
– The defense has looked good – really good – particularly up front. It’s very young, and Saleh isn’t shy about working rookies in with the first team. But it seems much faster than it did in recent years. The most notable player has been defensive end Carl Lawson, who has been very disruptive (and a bit of a thorn in rookie quarterback Zach Wilson’s side). The defensive line usually has a bit of an edge over the offensive line this early in camp, but Lawson’s speed and burst have still been pretty evident.
– If camp is any indication, then Saleh has been telling the truth when he’s been insisting that rookie Elijah Moore is not just a slot receiver. He’s been lining up everywhere and making plays from everywhere. I began camp thinking the Jets would have to decide between him and Jamison Crowder, but it seems pretty clear offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur will have a role for both of them, maybe even on the field at the same time.
– Wilson seems to have great chemistry with Moore, but not so much (yet) with the other receivers. He’s seemed to have particular difficulty connecting with Corey Davis, his No. 1 receiver. That’s a bit of a worry, though it’s still very early. Wilson was way off on his passes to Davis during the scrimmage. The good news, though, is Davis made some terrific plays. He made an outstanding diving catch along the sidelines (though he landed out of bounds) and showed his muscle on another catch, ripping the ball away from a defender. He looks like a guy who could have a big year if he and his quarterback can get on the same page.
– As for Zach Wilson, no he has not looked particularly good, which is a bit surprising coming off a good spring. But none of that is surprising or unexpected, especially given that the Jets have been installing their offensive scheme. He’s a rookie with a lot on his plate and it’s a learning experience for him. He seems to have the tools – the arm, the ability to escape the pocket – but his reaction time is slow. It very much looks like he’s thinking too much and holding the ball a bit too long, or is just indecisive with his throws. That’ll change, and as he gets more comfortable, he’ll look better. But it might not happen quickly, and this summer could be the precursor to a very bumpy year.
– When the Jets signed DB Lamarcus Joyner, they were privately very excited about what he could do, with one source calling him a “wild card” in the young secondary. It’s hard to define his role yet, but he has been all over the field. That was really clear in the scrimmage. He can be an incredibly disruptive presence in the defensive backfield.
– It’s almost impossible to judge running backs in non-tackling drills, but rookie Michael Carter has looked as good as anyone. He runs with power, has open-field moves and good speed. Some think he’ll emerge as the No. 1 back, but it’s looked to me like there may not be a No. 1 back. My sense is the Jets are going to use a very heavy rotation that will include Carter, La’Mical Perine, Tevin Coleman, and even Ty Johnson in what will definitely be a run-first offense. I’m not sure if they’ll just ride the hot hand or use them all situationally, but I don’t sense that they feel a need to have a clear lead back.
– Much has been made about LB C.J. Mosley losing weight so he can be faster, and he sure has looked fast this summer. He was very active in the scrimmage. This has all led to hopes inside the Jets that Mosley will actually be the player they thought they were getting two years ago when the old regime signed him to a five-year, $85 million contract. When the Jets signed MLB Jarrad Davis, there was speculation Mosley would be traded – something that’s probably impossible given what’s left on his contract. Now it seems likely there’ll be room for both of them on the field.
– Nearly two weeks into camp, it’s not clear at all whom the Jets’ top tight end will be. Maybe he’s not even on the roster. They’ve all been incredibly inconsistent. Everyone at the stadium saw the two awful drops by Trevon Wesco and Tyler Kroft on Saturday night. Chris Herndon has seemed buried on the depth chart all summer. Kenny Yeboah, an undrafted free agent, has had a good camp and had a touchdown catch in the scrimmage, so maybe he’ll get a chance. But I keep thinking of how effective George Kittle was in this offense with the 49ers and I just don’t see anyone capable of doing that here.
– Corey Ballentine, the former Giants draft pick, had a couple of really good kick returns on Saturday night, including one that maybe could’ve been broken for a long gain. Again, it’s hard to tell how good it was since it wasn’t live tackling, but he’s fast and seems to have a knack for finding a hole.
– It’s hard not to love what the Jets are building up front on offense. The young left side of Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker is so impressive, not just in their size, but in their athleticism. And Morgan Moses has been a big (literally and figurately) addition to the right side. They have the size and talent to be a very good line. The key will be what it always is for O-lines: Staying healthy and building chemistry. Even with the upgrade in talent, they won’t thrive if they get stuck in an injury rut like they did last season.
– Denzel Mims is so buried on the camp depth chart it’s hard not to wonder if he has a place on this team. I can’t imagine GM Joe Douglas would simply give up on a second-round pick after just one year, so I don’t think he’ll be cut. But maybe he’ll be dangled as trade bait late in camp. Otherwise, he might end up spending this season as a spare part. NFL rules don’t allow me to list exactly where everyone is on the depth chart yet, but safe to say there are a lot of players ahead of Mims right now.
– It’s a risky experiment, going with young cornerbacks, but the Jets have to like what they’ve seen this summer from Bryce Hall and Bless Austin, and they may have gotten an unexpected bonus with the emergence of undrafted rookie Isaiah Dunn. Those three have the size, speed and skills to be good cornerbacks. We’ll see how they fare when tested in live games against top receivers. My guess is they can hold their own, and Saleh will count on protecting them with an improved pass rush and a lot of help from Joyner, his “wild card.”
– It’s early and there’s been no adversity yet, but all the good things you’ve heard about Saleh seem genuine. The players like him, feed off his energy, and believe in what he’s doing – something that’s been a refreshing change around Florham Park. He has a commanding and calming presence that people throughout the organization have noticed. And he has a flair for dealing with the media in a way that the Jets haven’t had since … maybe Herm Edwards 16 years ago? It’s an underrated, but important thing for a coach. He knows how to project the image he wants, doesn’t need to act like a clown, and doesn’t duck the tough questions either. He’s refreshingly honest and candid and always leaves the impression that he’s in charge and everything is under control. That tends to be more important to fans (and people inside the organization, too) than anyone ever wants to admit.