It sounds like the Jets are going to corner the market on youth this season at corner.
The Jets opted not to sign any veteran cornerbacks this offseason and they have very little experience at the position. Jets coach Robert Saleh spoke earlier this spring about the value of getting the young players practice repetitions, but there was a thought the Jets might add a veteran before training camp. During a call with the media on Thursday, Saleh made it sound as if the Jets will roll with the young guys.
“The difference between Player A and Player Z is minimal, and the only thing that keeps Player Z from becoming Player A is an opportunity and reps,” Saleh said in his final press availability of the spring. “Let’s see what happens. Does it always happen? It doesn’t, but unless you’re willing to be bold enough to coach your tail off and to invest as much as you can into these young men and give them the opportunity to be seen, give them the opportunity to get reps, and give them the opportunity to get better, you’ll never know what you might find. So, that’s just the belief and the philosophy of not only our coaching staff but the entire organization, and that’s something we’re committed to.”
The Jets have only one player at cornerback who has been in the league for more than three years — Justin Hardee, who was signed mainly to play special teams, not defense. Their projected starters are Bless Austin (18 total games) and Bryce Hall (eight games) with Javelin Guidry (11 games) and rookie Michael Carter (zero games) fighting for the nickel corner job. The Jets have four rookies at cornerback, and all of them did get a lot of reps with the first team — Carter, Jason Pinnock, Brandin Echols and Isaiah Dunn.
None of those players are household names, but Saleh wants to give them a chance. He cited one of his mentors when talking about going with youth.
“Pete Carroll once said, ‘You can’t be afraid to play young guys,’ ” Saleh said of the Seahawks coach. “They’re hell on wheels and they’re fun to watch. It could go either way, just mentally there’s so many things that they can learn, but there are going to be ups and downs, that’s part of youth. But if you coach and you invest, and as a player you reciprocate and you invest back, especially when you’re youthful and you’ve got juice in your legs and you’re still running that 4.4-forty that you ran at the combine because you’re young and you can get your mind to a veteran’s frame of mind as fast as you can then that’s where you become an explosive team in a hurry.
“But to get to that point takes some trials and tribulations, some bumps in the road and some headaches. You can’t, as a football coach, be afraid to go through those bumps because there’s light at the end of the tunnel. It might be a freight train or it’s actual light, but it doesn’t matter, we’re going through that tunnel and you just got to go. It’s an exciting time for these young guys, it’s an exciting time for this organization and we’re just excited to see how it plays out.”
Saleh’s defense is predicated on creating pressure with the defensive line, but in order to turn pressure into sacks, the quarterback is going to have to hold onto the ball long enough for the linemen to get to him. That is where the cornerbacks come in and how quickly these young cornerbacks develop could be one of the keys to the Jets season.
“We’ve seen some good improvement,” Saleh said. “Joe [Douglas] and I were just talking a little about it today, we’ll talk more obviously in the next couple of weeks, we were just talking about some of the rookies and the improvements that they’ve made. We talked about the guys who have been here, and the improvements that they’ve made, and the excitement to get them to training camp, to get them against other receivers, to see them against the receivers that the Giants have in the first preseason game, and to see them against Green Bay and Philadelphia. These are going to be really great moments for those guys because we are going to be able to see what they are capable of doing. There has been some good improvement and there’s a lot to look forward to.”