New York Jets DE Carl Lawson carted off from joint practice session

carl lawson, new york jets

Lawson was one of several key New York Jets injured on Thursday as they prepare for a preseason contest in Green Bay.

Per multiple reports from Green Bay, New York Jets defensive end Carl Lawson was carted away from a joint practice session with the Packers with an apparent leg injury. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo have stated that Lawson will undergo an MRI on his Achillies, a tear of which would end his 2021 season.

The Athletic’s Connor Hughes stated that Lawson went down during a pass rush/red zone drill. North Jersey.com’s tandem of Daryl Slater and Joey Chandler revealed that Lawson tried to get up but was unable to put any weight on the affected leg. Head coach Robert Saleh has yet to comment on the incident. 

Adding to the wariness behind Lawson’s injury is his medical history. ACL tears in 2014 and 2018 respectively cost him his entire sophomore season at Auburn and nine games with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Lawson established himself as one of the rising pressure artists in the NFL during his time in Cincinnati. Eager to bolster their pass rush, the Jets inked him to a three-year, $45 million deal with $30 million guaranteed. That contract made him the most expensive addition of the Jets’ eventful offseason.

Alas for the Jets, Lawson wasn’t even the only major contributor to leave Thursday’s proceedings with an injury. Another Hughes report said that Denzel Mims limped off the field with a trainer with defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins while D.J. Bien-Aime of the New York Daily News said that undrafted rookie cornerback Zane Lewis was likewise carted off. The Jets might’ve caught a break when it comes to Mims, as Brian Costello of the New York Post says that Mims was removed as a precaution.

The Jets’ joint practices in Green Bay are in preparation for a preseason game on Saturday late afternoon at Lambeau Field (4:25 p.m. ET, WLNY/NFL Network).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets: Three attainable goals for Saturday’s preseason opener

ESM’s New York Jets experts know Gang Green won’t solve every issue on Saturday, but there are honorable landmarks within their grasp.

You made it, Gang Green Nation.

It’s been 223 days since the New York Jets have put on their pads for an officially sanctioned NFL contest against another opponent…and 601 days since they’ve played in front of a crowd at MetLife Stadium.

Both dubious streaks will end on Saturday night, as the Jets resume their annual preseason battle against the New York Giants (7:30 p.m. ET, WNBC). It will be the Jets’ first preseason contests since the summer of 2019 and the first MetLife Stadium football game to be held in front of fans since February 2020.

“Every day is an unbelievable blessing. But it’s always about the players. It’s a great opportunity for them to showcase who they are,” Jets head coach Robert Saleh said of Saturday’s proceedings, per notes from the team. “You can take (the preseason) for granted from a team standpoint because it doesn’t matter in the win/loss record but your style of play and what you want to represent and what you want the entire league to know about you starts Saturday. That’s why I think there’s tremendous value to these preseason games.”

With kickoff looming, ESM’s Jets experts each have an attainable goal for the Jets to reach…

New York Jets, Bless Austin
New York Jets, Bless Austin

Geoff Magliocchetti: Corner the Cornerbacks 

No one was going to quarrel with why it was wiped out, but the cancelation of last year’s preseason put the Jets in a tough spot. Exhibition games return in 2021, albeit with only three on the slate rather than the customary four. Preseason football, scorned as the concept may be in modern times, was made for teams like the modern Jets. With nearly half of their starting lineup from last year’s opener in Buffalo exchanged, the developing Jets need to take advantage of every consequence-free game situation.

Centering Saturday’s MetLife Stadium civil war around Zach Wilson’s emergence is tantalizing, yet naive. Sure, there would be no better way to silence the critics who are using a poor intrasquad scrimmage to label Wilson a bust already…amateur and professional alike…than having Wilson tear apart the Jets’ quasi-rivals in front of a MetLife Stadium crowd that waited a year-plus to get in. But hinging all preseason success on the quarterback is a nominally fickle way to approach the summer slate.

The current state of the Jets’ cornerback situation showcases why preseason football still has a place in modern society: the Jets are going into a new era, a new base set under new leadership with a hodgepodge of inexperienced day three draft picks and undrafted journeymen. The safety spots are relatively secure with Marcus Maye and Lamarcus Joyner (even if Ashtyn Davis will miss all three games), but the Jets need to have someone separate themselves in the cornerback room.

With the Giants set to hold out several regulars including quarterback Daniel Jones, a perfect opportunity lies ahead for penciled starters like Bless Austin, Bryce Hall, and Javelin Guidry to build some momentum as they assume larger duties. Austin and Hall are slated to be the Jets’ top two cornerback options, each of them looking for something to prove.

Born in Queens and emerging from Rutgers, there’d be no more appropriate hero in the return of the Snoopy Bowl than Austin, who has developed a professional reputation as a strong hitter who must show major improvement in his coverage. Austin issued a dire warning to those disregarding the Jets’ secondary solely because of the inexperience between him and the sophomore Hall.

“A lot of people forget me and Bryce were highly rated dudes coming out of college. We just fell short to injury,” Austin said this week, per Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post. There’s a reason why they didn’t bring a veteran cornerback in here. Not to knock any out there, but they see something in us.”

Saturday should also be a tremendous showcase for the Jets’ defensive potpourri brought in during the most recent draft weekend Saturday. Expect extensive time for Michael Carter II, Jason Pinnock, and Brandin Echols (a big opportunity lingers for the undrafted Isaiah Dunn as well), as well as safeties-turned-linebackers Hamsah Nasirildeen and Jamien Sherwood.

“There’s a lot of competition going on, there’s competition at the nickel, corner spots, so those are gonna be fun to watch,” Saleh told Steve Serby of the New York Post in a July Q&A. “It’s a very young group. Someone’s going to come to fruition. Bryce Hall had a really nice OTA, Bless was having a nice OTA, then he had a minor setback with an injury that kept him out. He’s good to go. Some of the rookies had a chance to showcase their skills. We’ve got a really good young nucleus of guys that are gonna compete, and we’ll see how it goes.”

new york jets, zach wilson

Brendan Carpenter: Attack With Zach

It’s a big day. Jets football is back. With all of the excitement, however, some uncertainty lingers. The future of Jets football is currently resting somewhat uncomfortably on the shoulders of Zach Wilson. That uncertainty will either be expanded or diminished when he finally steps on the field on Saturday.

Some of the goals and expectations for Wilson have been anywhere from realistic to wildly unrealistic, from fans and analysts alike. When it comes to his preseason debut, there is one goal that could both ease and excite those watching him closely: have Wilson and the primary offense put together multiple drives that get into enemy territory.

This isn’t exactly a headline-setting goal, but it’s perhaps the most crucial one. Back when the Green & White Scrimmage was the talk of the town, everyone seemed to be focusing solely on Wilson’s struggles, as expected. Through the scrimmage, he went just 11-for-24 for 112 yards and two interceptions. Additionally, his seven drives just totaled only three points. If Wilson can show that he can lead the offense into opponent territory multiple times, it’ll be a decent win regardless of the final score.

It will be a learning process for the rookie out of BYU and some sustained drives could help ease both his nerves and the unrivaled scrutiny directed his way even before he’s taken a snap.

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Dylan Price: Bring the Boom to Big Blue

The battle of MetLife won’t give us the battle between Daniel Jones and Zach Wilson that we all hoped for, but the battle still promises to be a good one.

The Gang Green faithful needs to take everything with a grain of salt, as the new era is still establishing comfort and familiarity. However, I expect the Jets pass rush to steal the show.

I foresee John Franklin-Myers, Bryce Huff, and Carl Lawson putting on a clinic and headlining a real impressive outing. Franklin-Myers will likely open things up for everyone else and make a few plays. Lawson will likely command the most attention given his notoriety and standing as the Jets’ lead pass rusher. Still, look for Lawson to catch eyes in the first quarter of the game with a few big hits or even maybe a sack.

I’d expect Huff to likely put on the flashiest performance, as he’s had a spectacular camp. Overall though, look for the entire pass rush rotation to excel. All and all, I truly expect to come out of Saturday thoroughly impressed with the direction of the defense, specifically the pass rush.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

ESM’s New York Jets experts name a top breakout candidate for 2021

carl lawson, new york jets

As the preseason opener looms, ESM’s New York Jets experts name a veteran breakout candidate for the 2021 campaign.

The story of the 2021 New York Jets is one that could well be defined by the term “breakout”.

As ESM’s Gang Green experts discussed last week, asking the Jets to end their decade-long playoff drought is a little too much to ask for in an AFC packed with established contenders. However, with little to lose and minimal national expectations thrust upon them, several veteran players have big opportunities to enjoy breakout campaigns, ones that can prove they belong to stay for the potential good times ahead.

ESM’s Jets experts return to name their biggest emerging star from the Jets’ roster in 2021…

New York Giants, Corey Davis
 Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Geoff Magliocchetti: WR Corey Davis

The curious case of Corey Davis describes the Jets’ current landscape in a nutshell: he’s shown fleeting flashes of brilliance, but the football gods have loved to toy with the fifth overall pick of the 2017 draft.

A hamstring injury weighed down his rookie season. Despite relative consistency, Tennessee declined to pick up his fifth-year option. Even in the midst of a career-best season, divine intervention played a cruel trick: Davis spent two games on the COVID-19 list, denying him a chance to obtain his first 1,000-yard season (stopped at 984).

Davis comes in with the perfect ingredient for a breakout candidate: he has something to prove. Despite playing a sizable role in the Titans’ ongoing mini-football renaissance (only Kansas City, New England, and New Orleans have played more playoff games than the six Tennessee has seen since Davis’ entry in 2017), Davis’ work was buried under the electrifying on-field antics of Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown.

Brought into New York as one of the Jets’ more expensive arrivals ($37.5 million over three years, including $27 million guaranteed), Davis is a rare metropolitan rep who has had a taste of the NFL promised land. The Jets are also desperate for a big-play receiver to rise up. That becomes even more of a necessity with a new franchise thrower in tow. No one’s reached four digits in yardage since the Brandon Marshall/Eric Decker tandem in 2015.

Davis made his goals and endeavors clear when he signed with the Jets in March: he wants to prove to the league that he has lasting power as a primary target.

I do consider myself a No. 1 wide receiver,” Davis said upon signing in March, per D.J. Bien-Aime of the New York Daily News. “My ability to get open, my speed, separation, releases, I feel like I could do it all. I’m a thousand-yard receiver. It’s just up to me to put in the work. Make sure that I’m healthy and can play a full season.”

ashtyn davis, new york giants

Brendan Carpenter: S Ashtyn Davis

The Jets have an abundance of players who could be poised for a breakout season. One player, though, stands out above the rest in my eyes: his name is Ashtyn Davis.

First, before we get into the specifics, it’s important to point out that this selection is dependent on his health, obviously. Davis was placed on the PUP list due to a foot injury and is not expected to play Week 1. However, once he’s cleared, he should command the starting strong safety role.

The former third-round pick is a do-it-all safety who can tackle, trace some receivers, and move into the box when needed. He can also make an impact on special teams, as he was named the unit’s MVP twice at Cal-Berkeley. As a rookie last year, he played in just ten games, starting six. In those contests, he totaled 36 tackles (one for loss), one pass breakup, and one fumble recovery. If he stays healthy, he should surpass those numbers easily.

Davis can impact the game in so many areas. It’s hard to not be excited for what he’ll bring to the field this year. Barring any extensive time missed, Davis should be a major part of the Jets’ defense this season and is a prime candidate for a major breakout.

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Dylan Price: DE Carl Lawson

The Jets added an impact player in Carl Lawson this past offseason. Although he’s the natural pick to be breakout player of the year, it’s truly the easiest pick to make.

Lawson consistently ranked in the top of the league in pressures and win rate. Now, he goes to a defense that will give him the opportunity to thrive and produce big numbers.

I’m not kidding when I say eight or nine sacks feels like the floor for Lawson right now.

Nobody can stop him in camp, and this weekend (as well as the trip to Green Bay) will be the best indicator of the level of dominance Lawson could assert on the league in this upcoming season. Expectations are high in Florham Park and East Rutherford but look for Lawson to break out as one of the most efficient pass rushers in the league.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

What are realistic expectations for the 2021 New York Jets?

new york jets, zach wilson

The New York Jets undoubtedly became a better team over the past eight months. But are they a playoff team? ESM’s experts discuss.

The 2020 New York Jets left the franchise’s immediate and long-term future in a rare state of optimistically macabre: after the Jets sunk to the depths of the football underworld…plummeting to dubious valleys that even the cursed Rich Kotite era managed to avoid…any move the team made in the offseason could’ve been seen as an improvement.

With both the Stanley Cup and Larry O’Brien Trophy…not to mention every medal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo…earned and bestowed, it’s officially socially acceptable to start forecasting the 2021 NFL season. The metropolitan arrivals of so many elite new faces, of both the rookie (Zach Wilson, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Elijah Moore) and veteran (Carl Lawson, Corey Davis) variety have gotten fans excited, as has the hiring of head coach Robert Saleh.

But the ultimate question lingers: after a two-win season and now ensnared in the NFL’s longest active playoff, just how much improvement will the Jets show in the one place it matters…the standings, namely the win column?

ESM’s Jets experts ponder this quandary as the preseason opener against the New York Giants looms on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, WNBC)…

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Geoff Magliocchetti

To take a page out of another New York sports decisionmaker Brian Cashman, let’s view Joe Douglas’ New York Jets from the perspective of the Death Star.

Ignoring the fact that the Star Wars-based superweapon is destroyed in each of its incarnations, Douglas does have a Death Star at his disposal. But it’s not the behemoth seen in A New Hope (and, by extension, Rogue One), nor is it the partially constructed but “fully armed and operational battle station” from Return of the Jedi. Rather, the Jets’ Death Star resembles the infantile version Vader and Palpatine look over at the end of Revenge of the Sith.

The Jets began this offseason with the hiring of head coach Saleh. In contrast to the Adam Gase hire, a transaction praised exclusively by modern hot take artists, the Saleh move was lauded by on-field participants both domestically and abroad. New York was and is by no means a football destination yet…one needs to establish a victorious on-field prescience before they become that…but the Jets were able to attract several names with championship experience, winners that were attracted to what Saleh was trying to build.

Douglas and Co. could’ve stood pat on the pass rush, a rare 2020 silver lining after the breakouts of Quinnen Williams, Foley Fatukasi, and John Franklin-Myers. They instead bolstered the unit by bringing in rising pressure artist Lawson and NFC postseason staples Sheldon Rankins and Vinny Curry. Elsewhere on defense, they prepared for Saleh’s reimplementation of the 4-3 with the arrival of linebacker Jarrad Davis, whose finest defensive days came in Florida and Detroit’s similar formations.

On offense, newly minted quarterback Zach Wilson’s arsenal appears to contain more firepower than anything Sam Darnold had to work with. Two-time Super Bowl participant Tevin Coleman is ready to work with potential day three draft gem Michael Carter in the backfield, while the upgraded aerial attack features Davis and Moore uniting with returnees Jamison Crowder and Denzel Mims. Mekhi Becton returns on the line with Alijah Vera-Tucker on Wilson’s blindside.

Yet…the playoffs remain a pipe dream.

The AFC East already appears to be under the control of a new potential dynasty in Western New York, so capturing the quartet for the first time since 2002 appears to be out of the question. The North could well send three teams to the postseason, while the West’s mighty Kansas City Chiefs show no signs of slowing down, even with the Los Angeles Chargers rising fast with Justin Herbert. Even with an extra playoff spot, it’s asking a lot for the Jets to establish themselves in the crowded conference.

Even if the AFC wasn’t packed to the brim with contenders, the Jets aren’t fully completed just yet. There were so many holes so fill, so much damage to repair from the Gase era that it was a guarantee that some area of the roster was going to be neglected. One look at the current depth chart shows that the secondary got the raw deal, as inexperienced options like Bless Austin, Ashtyn Davis, and Bryce Hall are set to assume primary roles. On offense, there are plenty of players that can become major contributors (Carter, Moore, Davis), but they lack the experience in the primetime situations they’ve been called upon.

Until Saleh’s group proves otherwise on the field, their dire straits are more indicative of just how poorly the Gase era went. Gase might be gone, but the dark spirits of his tenure will linger over the Jets’ facilities until the fruits of Saleh’s process appear in the win column. A good season in 2021 would be to at least double the two-win tally from last season and perhaps earn an upset win over an elite opponent, a similar process to what the Chargers went through last year with Herbert.

Record Prediction: 6-11

new york jets, zach wilson
Mandatory Credit: New York Jets/Handout Photo via USA TODAY Sports

Brendan Carpenter

The New York Jets have a lot of hype leading into the season and for good reason: rookies Wilson and Moore highlight a revamped offense. Lawson adds a much-needed pass rush to a defense that needs it with unproven corners.

The Jets, however, are not a playoff team just yet. Aside from their own play, they find themselves in an increasingly brutal AFC East. Each team is improving, but, at the moment, Gang Green finds themselves behind Buffalo and, most likely, either New England or Miami…maybe even both.

Yes, the future is bright and fans should be excited. All of the excitement should be taken with a grain of salt, though. There need to be reasonable expectations for this season. So, realistically, look for this team to win about 6 games of the newly-implemented 17 game schedule.

Record Prediction: 6-11

carl lawson, new york jets
(Photo: Getty)

Dylan Price

As the Jets head into a season filled with promise, I want to make one thing clear before I begin: I do NOT expect the New York Jets to make the playoffs.

I expect the team to take a significant step up and approach the 7-9 win territory. With that said, I foresee hiccups along the way: Wilson will likely experience significant growing pains early as he leaves Brigham Young University and acclimates to the bright lights of Broadway. I firmly expect struggles from both sides of the ball early as they look to establish a new identity under a new coaching staff. Lastly, I have a bad feeling about the secondary, but guys like Hall and Michael Carter II will likely get better as the season progresses.

On a lighter note, I foresee a strong debut in green and white for Lawson, Rankins, and Davis. Lawson is a legitimate threat to finish in the top ten in sacks, while Rankins and Davis will likely be impact contributors if they can stay healthy. Finally, look for rookies, Michael Carter (the running back) and Alijah Vera-Tucker to make names for themselves early, although the story will be Moore, the budding star receiver.

Record Prediction: 7-10

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

The Becton/Lawson relationship can shape the New York Jets’ future

A relationship that spans both sides of the line of scrimmage could eventually lead to the New York Jets’ ultimate salvation.

After the chaos and fractures of the Adam Gase era, the New York Jets could use any semblance of unity going into a new era.

Ironically, however, it’s a daily training camp battle…one could even describe it as a war…that could lead to Gang Green’s long-sought salvation.

Mekhi Becton was one of the rare, consistent silver linings of the Jets’ woebegone 2020 season. He more than justified management’s faith in passing on several elite receiving talents in the virtual draft, bring clarity to a blocking situation that was long neglected. Upgrading the offensive line is a job that nobody wants to do, but remains drastically vital.

In essence, the Jets bought themselves plenty of flashy, expensive gifts from both the veteran and rookie markets, personified as metaphorical luxury sedans for the driveway. (i.e. Le’Veon Bell, Jamal Adams, Leonard Williams, Trumaine Johnson). But in that process, they ignored the mold damage in the basement that would bring the entire structure down entirely. No matter who lined up under center, he was going to need protection. Becton did what he could to end the Sam Darnold era on the right note and earned the right to be the anchor of the age of Zach Wilson.

“He truly cares and he truly wants to help. I think he is a player that is going to help us long-term,” Joe Douglas said of his first pick as the Jets’ general manager back in November, per team reporter Ethan Greenberg. “We’re excited about working with him every day because you’re talking about a young man that loves football. He’s very smart, he’s tough as nails and has a rare size and athleticism.”

“He’s just scratching the surface of what he can do physically. There’s a lot of desire from him to want to be the best player that he can be, so we’ve made it our mission to sort of bend over backward to try to help him reach his goals.”

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton

Becton’s short-term reward? A daily summer battle with one of the NFL’s most promising pressure artists.

The emergence of Carl Lawson, as has been discussed all offseason, isn’t visible through conventional numbers. That makes it perhaps all the more appropriate that he and the Jets found each other through a $45 million contract that lured him away from Cincinnati. The Jets’ silver linings and aspiring NFL staples (like Becton who, frankly, has little if any conventional numbers to fall back on as an offensive lineman) were likewise removed from the mainstream NFL conversation. Lawson instead made his mark through lesser celebrated stats like quarterback knockdowns and “sacks created“, tying for the league lead in the former with Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt.

Granted the most expensive contract of the Jets’ busy offseason, Lawson is expected to be a difference-maker in the team’s return to football relevancy. So far, he’s living up to the hype in an admittedly minuscule sample size.

“He hasn’t been stopped yet,” fellow incoming defensive lineman and Georgia high school football competitor Sheldon Rankins said of Lawson, per team reporter Jack Bell. “It’s what I expect having known him dating back to high school.”

Much like the stigma Becton has to beat on the offensive line, Lawson is also looking to end some dubious New York pass-rushing history: no Jet has earned at least 10 sacks in a season since Muhammad Wilkerson tallied a dozen in 2015.

With the Jets preparing for what’s projected to be a developmental season that can nonetheless yield positives, fans have reveled in the intense clash of a different brand of New York giants. Their get-togethers are part of new head coach Robert Saleh’s demand for increased intensity in the trenches, where he believes games are still decided. 

“On the interior where those guys are getting true genuine work, (we’re getting) some one-on-one’s going…it’s going to be exciting to see those guys progress,” Saleh said as padded practices got underway, per notes from the Jets. “The thing that you’ll hear us talk about, you can never have enough good O-linemen and D-linemen…The game still is won in the trenches.”

To that end, Saleh has added himself to the list of those who can’t enough of their antics. It’s one training camp fight he’ll refuse to break up.

“It’s like the opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of size,” Saleh said. “Carl is not going to see a man that big, and Mekhi is not going to see a man that small and sawed-off, and as strong as he is. For those guys to get that work, they’re making each other strain in different ways that they’ll see all season.”

carl lawson, new york jets

Training camp battles and later in-season injury woes failed to afford Becton consistent competition in his first New York practices. This year’s battles against Lawson, a new kind of crossover summer blockbuster, have proven both humbling and beneficial.

“He’s got a lot of speed and power. He does, like, this power spin that’s really tough. He’s a great rusher,” Becton said in another report from Dennis Waszak of the Associated Press. “It’s helping me a whole lot because I can get my losses out of the way right now.”

Lawson, described as “slippery” by Becton, hasn’t spoken publicly at the New York podium since the Jets strapped their pads on. His play has instead spoken for him, impressing teammates, coaches, and Florham Park visitors alike. New defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich once again cited advanced numbers and labeled him an “obsessed” student of the game.

“The general public is obviously, very caught up in sacks, and quarterback disruption, the statistical part of (pass) rushing. He doesn’t always check those boxes, but he’s been a guy that’s got historic win rates,” Ulbrich said in notes from Jets. “His obsession with this game, now to see him up close, as far as his stance, the timing of his hands and his feet, the distance from the tackles foot, the way he studies the tackle set, the way he studies the offense.”

Etched in the Jets’ left tackle spot for the foreseeable future, Becton perhaps never expected that one of his biggest obstacles, if not the biggest obstacle, in keeping his quarterback safe would emerge from his own locker room.

But Becton wouldn’t have it any other way. He believes these civil wars will help New York improve both immediately and in the future ahead.

“Iron sharpens iron,” Becton labeled his battles with Lawson, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. “He gets me better and I’m getting him better. It helps me a whole lot.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Cameron Clark expected to make full recovery from spinal cord injury

New York Jets, Cameron Clark

The New York Jets ended practice early after Clark, a second-year blocker, was stretchered off the practice field.

Tuesday’s practice at New York Jets training camp ended early after offensive lineman Cameron Clark suffered a neck injury during a team drill.

Clark was motionless for nearly ten minutes while medical staff attended to him and he was eventually stretchered off the field and transferred to Morristown Medical Center. The Jets have announced that Clark was diagnosed with a spinal cord contusion but is expected to make a full recovery. He will be held in Morristown overnight for observation.

A further report from ESPN’s Rich Cimini dictated that Clark’s father Al reported a positive diagnosis. Clark reportedly lost feeling in his legs after the incident but returned while he was being transferred. The elder Clark says his son is “fine” and reiterated that there is no spinal cord damage, though he will undergo an MRI in Morristown.

Addressing the situation after practice, head coach Robert Saleh had another team session planned but broke practice out of respect to Clark’s situation.

“It’s never good because football goes away at that moment,” Saleh said in a report from team writers Eric Allen and Ethan Greenberg. “It’s about the person, his family, his mom, and everything in his life. So that’s what takes precedence at that moment. Football kind of goes away. You get empathy in the sense that we all have families. Everything’s going to be good.”

Saleh further reported that he saw the Clark incident “out of the corner of (his) eye”.

“It looked like he was kicking into protection and then he was on the ground,” the head coach said. “I’ll have to go to the tape to see exactly what happened.”

Defensive end Carl Lawson agreed with Saleh’s shutdown and mentioned that the team had a moment of silence in Clark’s honor.

“It shows what type of man Coach Saleh is to at that point realize the situation and cut practice from there to make sure he was OK,” Lawson said. “I think the sentiment was for everybody, even the fans, that we’re hoping nothing is seriously wrong.”

Clark, 23, was chosen in the fourth round of the 2020 draft (129th overall), though he did not partake in any games last season. He is one of the most prominent faces of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s rebooted football team, partaking in a program-record 49 games. Primarily working at tackle, Clark earned first-team All-Conference USA honors and helped the 49ers partake in their first bowl game at the end of his final campaign in 2019.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets revel in front of fans for the first time since 2019

New York Jets fans saw their team in person for the first time in nearly 20 months when 1 Jets Drive opened to the public over the weekend.

Granted access to their team for the first time since December 2019, New York Jets fans took full advantage, packing Florham Park for the first public training camp session over the weekend.

With both training camp and MetLife Stadium closed to the public during the health crisis last year, it had been nearly 20 months since the Jets held activities in front of a flesh-and-blood crowd, dating back to the 2019 season’s penultimate contest against Pittsburgh. Things looked a little different: ongoing precautions pushed back certain training camp traditions like photos and autographs another year. On the field, only 15 players that partook in that win over the Steelers remain on the Jets’ roster.

But that was of little concern to the fans, who giddily made their prescience felt with the Jets’ future on display. The loudest cheer of the day was likely reserved for a long scoring hook-up between rookies Zach Wilson and Elijah Moore.

Jets fans had made it clear that they were excited to see their team again…after all, free tickets to the public sessions in Florham Park disappeared in less than 24 hours…but physically seeing their supporters officially made the return of relative gridiron normalcy a reality.

Alijah Vera-Tucker kicked things off by leading the first spelling of Jets in a video shared by team owner Woody Johnson. One young fan proudly displayed his makeshift Wilson jersey, as strips of duct tape buried the Sam Darnold marks originally printed. According to NFL Network’s Judy Battista, the excitement was so palpable that one overzealous fan was ready to book tickets to Southern California for February’s Super Bowl.

The summer debut of Carl Lawson was one of the most anticipated events of camp, evidenced by a group of fans clad in shirts depicting Lawson adorning a Jets beanie shortly after his March signing. Lawson has lived up to the early hype and thanked fans for their support by declaring “Man I love being a jet” [sic] on Twitter shortly after Saturday’s festivities.

The Auburn and Cincinnati Bengals alum previously spoke to the team’s official site about the impact he’s hoping Jets fans will have on the revamped pass rush this season.

“Please come to a game, especially our home games, because it will help me a lot. It will help the D-line a lot,” Lawson implored in an interview with team reporter Eric Allen. “You are actually helping by being at the game…You don’t (have) to like me. You don’t have to do anything extra. Please, just come to the games and scream as loud as you can when the offense is on the field so they can hear nothing, and that would help me a lot.”

If the weekend was any indication, Jets fans are not only going to be big fans of Lawson, but will be more than happy to acquiesce to his request.

Head coach Robert Saleh likewise earned high approval ratings from fans. Florham Park engaged in hysterics when Saleh turned his famous “All gas, no brake” mantra into a chant for the fans, promising them “a lot of fun” once they get back to East Rutherford. The Jets open their preseason slate against the New York Giants on August 14 and their 2021 home debut comes on September 19 against the New England Patriots.

“It’s fun just to have human interaction again and fans, listening to them scream and boo and whatever else they were doing over there. It was awesome,” Saleh said, per notes from the Jets. “I appreciate them coming out. It’s not easy in this climate right now to be able to step out and break out of your comfort zone. For them to come out here and enjoy a practice, hopefully it was worth it for them.”

Fans will be welcomed back to Monday and Wednesday’s practice sessions at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center on 1 Jets Drive this week, with additional availability on August 9, 11, 24, and 25. Tickets to Florham Park are sold out but a limited number of entries are available to the Green & White practice at MetLife Stadium this Saturday. They can be obtained on the Jets’ official site.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

New York Jets 2021 opponent report: New England Patriots

There would be, perhaps, no better way for the New York Jets to open a new era than by ending their losing streak against the Patriots.

The Opponent: New England Patriots
The Dates: Week 2, September 19, 1 p.m. ET, CBS (@ NY)/Week 7, October 24, 1 p.m. ET, CBS (@ NE)*
The Series: New England leads 69-54-1 (last meeting: 2020, 28-14 NE)

*-(subject to flexible scheduling)

Year one of the post-Tom Brady era was a merciless kick back to reality for the New England Patriots. Yet, one tradition lingered from Brady’s historic tenure: beating the New York Jets.

For all the Patriots’ faults in 2020, they managed to keep their winning streak against the Jets alive, sweeping the annual pair for a fifth straight season. The Jets haven’t earned a sweep against New England since 2000…one year before Mo Lewis’ hit on Drew Bledsoe inadvertently shifted the course of NFL history. New England’s ten-game winning streak is the longest in the series that dates back to the days of the AFL, breaking a nine-game tally the Jets had between 1966 and 1970.

The Jets came close to ending the streak last season in a Monday night showdown in November at MetLife Stadium. New York, in fact, owned a two-possession lead entering the final quarter, but surrendered 13 points over the final six-plus minutes en route to a 30-27 defeat.

New York and New England also met in the final week of the season. Meaningless finales between the Jets and Patriots have been nothing new since the NFL instituted an all-divisional matchup slate for the last week, as New England would often rest starters going into the playoffs. This time, though, mere pride was on the line and the Patriots sent the Adam Gase era note out on an appropriate thud, topping the Jets 28-14.

Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The Skinny on the Patriots

Bill Belichick is burdened with a load he hasn’t had to deal with in a long, long time: something to prove.

Few can question the impact and legacy…more a path of destruction…that Belichick has left behind. But last season created the closest thing to a smear one can make on Belichick’s New England ledger: Brady moved on to Tampa Bay and immediately won another Super Bowl with Belichick over 1,300 miles away.

Belichick isn’t like Michael Jordan: he won’t publicly declare that he “took that personally”. But Brady’s instant success in a new locale has to be eating at him a little. Every eye in the football world will turn to Foxboro on October 3, when Brady and the Buccaneers arrive for a Sunday night visit. But the Patriots will have a spotlight on them all season after last season’s flop.

Despite the departure Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and recent retiree Julian Edelman, the Patriots still have leftovers from their most recent glory days. Sony Michel’s third season was cut short by bouts on the COVID-19 list and injured reserve, but he performed well over the final three games of last season (287 yards on 40 touches). Devin McCourty returns for his 12th season, flanked by cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson (the latter earning nine interceptions last season).

New York Jets, Hunter Henry
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

What’s New in New England?

Belichick did what any supposed villain would do after getting wronged: he spent a lot of money in an attempt to get revenge. 

New England spent over $316 million in free agency endeavors this offseason, a project headlined by swiping the top two available tight ends. The post-Gronkowski situation was even more garish, as Ryan Izzo and Devin Asiasi united for only 238 yards on 15 receptions last year.

New England remedied this issue by brining in Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, dedicating over $12 million in 2021 cap space to the former AFC foes. The Patriots have never been hesitant to use two tight ends, routinely pairing Gronkowski with names like Brandon LaFell, Martellus Bennett, and Aaron Hernandez. Expect to see them reemploy more 12 personnel sets with two elite names in tow.

On defense, the Patriots brought in two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Matthew Judon. He’ll join  returnees Kyle Van Noy and Donte Hightower will re-don the Flying Elvis after one-year absences. Van Noy returns after one year with divisional rival Miami while Hightower opted out of last season in the midst of the health crisis. Speaking of front seven additions, the Patriots also added former Jet Henry Anderson, who never lived up to the $25 million extension granted to him in 2019.

No discussion about the post-Brady Patriots would be complete without looking at the quarterback situation. Cam Newton got off to a hot start but was never the same after missing an October game in Kansas City on the COVID-19 list. The 32-year-old Newton is projected to be the opening day starter but the Patriots used April’s 15th overall selection on Alabama thrower Mac Jones.

When it comes to the quarterback’s targets, the Patriots appear to be moving on from first-rounder N’Keal Harry. Jakobi Meyers returns for his third season after a breakthrough year in the slot (729 yards), while team added Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor from the west cost.

(Photo By Streeter Lecka)

How to Beat Them

-Wow, What a (Pass) Rush 

The home opener against the Patriots will be an early test for the Jets’ revamped pass rush.

Even Brady finds himself flustered by a strong backfield invasion; if not for that of the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles, for example, he might have a Super Bowl ring for every finger. The Jets played a rare role in a Brady denial during their most recent playoff triumph: on that magical evening in January 2011, the Jets took down the arguable GOAT five times.

No matter whom the Jets face under center, they have to up the pressure. Newton can still move around as he gets deeper into his 30s…he scored two on the ground in the first meeting last season…but this isn’t the same Newton we saw during his Carolina heyday. New England was 3-6 when teams blitzed on at least 25 percent of Newton’s snaps last season. The pressure situation should only increase with Jones in tow, as there would probably be no better way to welcome the national champion to the NFL than a relentless rush.

The Jets know just how important pressure will be. Their most impactful 2021 contract is Carl Lawson’s three-year, $45 million deal that lured him away from Cincinnati. Enough has been written about how Lawson has made a defensive impact despite pedestrian sack totals. The early showdown with the Patriots will give him a perfect opportunity to back the early praise up.

-Push the Patriots off the Pedestal 

The horrors that the Patriots have subjected the Jets to could qualify as the stuff of urban legends at this point. November’s aforementioned Monday night loss, for example, was a positive in mere sense that it was the Jets’ first one-possession loss since the infamous Austin Seferian-Jenkins incident in 2017.

Nothing would symbolize a new era of Jets football better than taking down the hated Patriots. So desperate is the metropolitan area for a sports celebration…the Canyon of Heroes has been vacant to local affairs since the Giants’ parade in 2011 (the United States’ World Cup champion women’s soccer team in 2015 and 2019 notwithstanding)…that plans for a Robert Saleh statue could be submitted if the Jets take that Week 2 tilt. The fact that fans will be welcomed back to MetLife Stadium for an NFL regular season game for the first time since December 2019 only adds to how much the Patriots’ will mean.

But the Jets can’t go in with that mindset. A win is a win, no matter who it comes against. The Patriots are the Patriots…they’re a football team not a boogeyman. New York shouldn’t buy into the increased hype just because it’s been a while since they’ve enjoyed a win over a certain divisional rival.

Saleh walked through MetLife Stadium for the first time in June. Unlike, say, Rex Ryan, the newly minted Jets boss wasn’t looking to create bulletin board material for the New England locker room. Instead, his focus lingered only what a win would mean for the New York area. He hoped to create a similar atmosphere seen during late spring’s postseason endeavors at Madison Square Garden and Nassau Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum, where he witnessed the respective playoff runs of the New York Knicks and New York Islanders.

“I’m really excited to get it going and get that stadium filled where that thing becomes live again like it’s been in the past,” Saleh said in a report from team writer Eric Allen. “New York fans are extremely passionate. They love their home teams, they’re rabid to a sense and it’s awesome. It comes from just absolute love for their teams. But like everything else in the world, you got to earn it.”

“We’re excited about all the work we’re putting in. We’re excited to get the opportunity to earn the same response at MetLife stadium and let the fans light that place up.”

How important is it for the Jets to end their losing streak against New England? Follow @GeoffJMags on Twitter and continue the conversation.

Three reasons why the New York Jets can make the playoffs

new york jets, zach wilson

It won’t be easy…but it can happen. ESM has three ways the New York Jets can pull off the unthinkable in 2021.

The world was a different place the last time the New York Jets partook in an NFL playoff game. It was a freezing January evening in Pittsburgh, as the Jets fell one step short of their Super Bowl dream for the second consecutive season in the AFC championship contest.

At that time, MetLife Stadium didn’t exist…well, the building itself was there, but it was free of corporate sponsorship under the identity of New Meadowlands Stadium. A basketball team called the Nets was no longer stationed at the arena next door…then known as Izod Center…but they still played under a Garden State branding. At the cinema, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a mere three movies old and the idea of expanding the Star Wars galaxy was merely fanfiction.

In short…it’s been a while. The Jets’ playoff drought now stands at a decade, a record inherited when the Cleveland Browns clinched a spot last season. What’s scarier is that the second-most dire active drought has made to only five years, a dubious distinction shared by Arizona, Cincinnati, and Denver.

Conventional wisdom suggests that the trend isn’t ending any time soon. The Jets are trapped in a division where one reign of terror in New England gave way to another in Buffalo. Their conference’s wild card landscape isn’t any more forgiving, as established contenders pepper the other divisions. Even their own rivals in the East, Miami and New England, will be back with a vengeance. Combine that with a first-year head coach and franchise quarterback working with a mostly new cast and it’s difficult to see the Jets make major headway in the win/loss columns. Many observers agree that the Jets got better this offseason…but it comes with the caveat that the 2020 season was so brutal that there was nowhere to go but up.

But…ESM is going to look at things a little more optimistically. We have three ways the Jets’ improvements can lead to a long-awaited postseason revisit:

New York Giants, Corey Davis
Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Not Sorry, Wilson

This time last year, the Jets were going into the 2020 season with an offensive cabinet that left much to be desired. Year three of the Sam Darnold era was expected to rely upon a first-round washout (Breshad Perriman), a Le’Veon Bell who was constantly denying that he was arguing with Adam Gase, and an assortment of veteran reserves in the skill positions. A rare silver lining of hope, Denzel Mims, missed almost all of the summer preparation with hamstring issues. Darnold was also working with his third different center in three NFL seasons. Needless to say, the Jets’ offense played a major role in their two-win downfall and Darnold posted the worst numbers of his career.

Granted the second overall pick in April for their troubles over the fall, the Jets opted to start from scratch (again). Before they used that premier pick on one of the touted quarterbacks of the draft…later revealed to be BYU’s Zach Wilson…management did all they could to retroactively atone for the mistakes of the Darnold era. What they’ve assembled for Wilson is, at least on paper, is better than anything Darnold had to work with.

Corey Davis, coming off a career-best year in Tennessee, is the projected top target. Free agency endeavors also brought in Keelan Cole, who tallied 2,242 yards over the last four seasons despite endless quarterback turnover in Jacksonville. They’ll welcome back Mims and reliable slot target Jamison Crowder and when Elijah Moore fell to their grasp with the second pick in the second round at the draft, they immediately pounced. At running back, they found a potential day three draft gem in Michael Carter and signed Tevin Coleman a two-time Super Bowl participant with something to prove, to a one-year deal. Though questions linger at tight end, vis a vis Chris Herndon, they did add red zone option Tyler Kroft to the fold as well.

Wilson will also be able to take in the benefits of a revamped offensive line. Mekhi Becton was well worth the risk of passing on several elite receiving talents last season. He’s now joined by USC protector Alijah Vera-Tucker, who indirectly comes from a pick used in the infamous Jamal Adams trade (a pick acquired from Seattle was traded to Minnesota to move up the board). New York enjoyed a late-offseason surprise in the form of the consistent tackle Morgan Moses, who is expected to take over on the right side.

The depths to which the Jets sank on offense last season (only six games over 300 yards, nine games with 14 points or less) should be impossible to reach at the NFL level. But those called upon are reliable names with championship panache. If the newcomers rise to their potential, the Jets could reopen the scoring floodgates and repopulate East Rutherford’s end zones.

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Pressure Treated

Perhaps no intermission interview during a hockey broadcast is complete without the phrase “pucks on net” being uttered, to the point it’s become a bit of a meme. The football equivalent could be “pressure the quarterback”.

The NFL is undoubtedly a league ruled by offense, evidenced by its inflated scoreboards. But, every so often, we’re reminded that defense wins championships. MetLife Stadium’s turf knows about the concept better than anyone, playing host to the Seattle Seahawks’ 43-8 dismantling of the historically explosive Denver Broncos offense in Super Bowl XLVIII. Even the might Patrick Mahomes isn’t immune to the dangers of a strong pass rush. The Kansas City Chiefs are 44-10 (including postseason) with Mahomes as their starter; half of those losses (a 7-5 mark overall) have come when he’s sacked at least three times. One of those losses came against Todd Bowles’ relentless rush in last year’s Big Game.

The Jets’ downfall has only been exacerbated by a lack of pressure. They’ve applied pressure on only 21.4 percent of opposing dropbacks over the past two seasons, ranking 25th in the league in the category last season…a bit perplexing for a unit overseen by Gregg Williams. When you’re trapped in a division that bestows you two guaranteed matchups with Josh Allen for the foreseeable future, having a fearsome pass rush will be vital.

New York plans to start from scratch again with head coach Robert Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich in tow. The team is set to run a 4-3 base for the first time since the Herm Edwards/Donnie Henderson days. They spent the offseason bolstering the front seven in an effort to prepare for the transition.

For better or worse, the Jets’ most impactful free agency signing for not only the coming season but for the next few years could likely become Carl Lawson. The narrative behind Lawson is that his on-field influence goes far beyond the number in his sack column (no more than 5.5 after 8.0 in his debut campaign out of Auburn in 2017) and he has the less conventional numbers to prove it.

Though the Jets recently announced some their defensive breakouts won’t be available for the start of training camp, it’ll be interesting to see what Quinnen Williams, Foley Fatukasi, and John Franklin-Myers can do for an encore with a little extra help. The transformation in the front seven further continued with the arrival of Jarrad Davis, whose finest gridiron hours have come in 4-3 sets with the Florida Gators and Detroit Lions. While Davis has struggled to live up to his first round billing since Teryl Austin and Jim Caldwell were dismissed from Detroit, he has kept his pressure numbers consistent. A return to a familiar 4-3 setting could help him up the ante not only as a backfield invader but as a a leader as well. Championship contenders Sheldon Rankins and Vinny Curry have likewise joined the fold.

Questions, of course, still linger in the secondary. For example, Marcus Maye and Ashtyn Davis (the latter recovering from surgery) are respectively on the Non-Football Injury and Physically Unable to Perform lists, further depleting a safeties group desperate for answers. But the Jets are going to make life a heck of a lot easier for themselves if they can make quarterbacks feel uncomfortable again.

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Meet the New Boss

Say what you will about the Todd Bowles era: its final chapters were penned in poignancy, as players were disappointed not for themselves, but that they let a strong football mind and a man of great character down. They sang of Bowles’ praises to the very end and many were upset to see him let go after the 2018 season.

Those warm feelings didn’t seem to translate to the ousting of Bowles’ successor. When the woebegone Gase was let go after two disastrous seasons, there was an aura of “good riddance”. The players’ relative silence on the matter spoke volumes, though fans were more than happy to chime in.

The hiring of Saleh, most recently the overseer of the lauded San Francisco 49ers’ defense, comes at an interesting time on the pro football timeline. It’s a move made as the league values offense, posting scoreboards that flirt with those from the defunct Arena Football League. One would also foresee an offensive mind coming in with a new franchise quarterback to mold and develop.

Yet, the players’ response to what Saleh is advertising could slowly signal the return of good vibes to Gang Green football.

Saleh had a tall task to deal with upon his arrival: convince outsiders and prospects that a two-win team that the internet turned into a football meme bank had something to work with, something that hinted at a championship climb. What he did was immediately get to work, adopt a catchy yet inspirational mantra that quickly caught on to players and fans alike, and slowly got momentum back on the green side of the New York football bridge.

What Saleh (along with general manager Joe Douglas) did this offseason was from a free agent unit of not exactly what the Jets were looking for, but finding parts that they needed. Lawson brings pressure, Davis brings knowledge of the 4-3. Saleh mostly avoided stocking up on former Bay Area pupils but the major holdover (running back Tevin Coleman) brings knowledge of offensive boss Mike LaFleur’s system and what it takes to compete for a championship. Wilson’s offensive cabinet is stocked with no true No. 1 receiver, but a series of skill players eager to proves themselves…which could well describe the state of the Jets as a whole in this point in time. Financials likely played a large role, but Saleh’s plan was apparently able to convince Jamison Crowder (by far the most consistent offensive weapon over the last two seasons) to stick around for at least one more season.

Saleh himself has admitted on several occasions that his New York restructure and tenets  are going to take some time to fully install. Votes for Coach of the Year might be more realistic at this point…after all, it won’t take much to improve upon the horrors of 2020. But faith in the right coach is capable of doing some incredible things.

Do you think the New York Jets can overcome the odds and end their postseason drought? If so, how can they do it? Follow @GeoffJMags on Twitter and continue the conversation.

New York Jets 2021 offseason recap: Defensive line

The arrival of Robert Saleh should help stabilize a New York Jets defensive line packed with young potential.

Following the conclusion of minicamp activities, the NFL offseason is officially over. The next time the New York Jets convene in Florham Park, they’ll be getting ready for preseason and regular season action for the 2021 campaign. 

With the offseason in the rearview mirror, ESM looks back on the green offseason that was, position-by-position. Our next portion turns to the front seven, starting with the defensive line…

Oct 18, 2020; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; New York Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams (95) reaches for Miami Dolphins running back Myles Gaskin (37) during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

How It Started

If you, the reader, often skipped these sections of the offseason recaps, this writer could hardly blame you. After all, reading them from a Jets fan’s perspective may be the Gang Green equivalent of watching Avengers: Infinity War and skipping to Thanos’ snap. 

But the Jets’ defensive line was a rare bright spot in 2020, featuring several breakouts from young pieces. By far the most impressive was that of Quinnen Williams, who immediately reclaimed the narrative on his NFL career after a sputtering rookie season. Williams’ greatest leaps came in the pass rush, more. than doubling his pressures (14 QB hits) and sack totals (7 after 2.5 in 2019). The third overall pick of the 2019 draft credited his resurgence to an adjusted workout and diet routine in a report from team correspondent Olivia Landis. He believes last season the precursor to something bigger.

“I didn’t want to be the player that I was my first year. I hit that goal and I wanted to say that I was on the right track for my career,” Williams said. “I feel like this is the stepping stone for me to get better and better every year.”

Williams wasn’t the only one whose introduction to the mainstream NFL conversation was washed out by the antics of the Jets’ 2020 season. Foley Fatukasi followed through on the promise shown at the end of the 2019 season while previous Super Bowl participant John Franklin-Myers had a career-best year in the interior. Together with Williams, both Fatukasi and Franklin-Myers were among Pro Football Focus’ top 35 best-graded interior defenders.

Admittedly, not everything was a breeze for the Jets’ front group. Kyle Phillips missed a majority of his sophomore season after impressing as an undrafted rookie, while the team bid farewell to veteran leader Steve McLendon through a de facto fire sale in October. McLendon was dealt to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he eventually earned a Lombardi Trophy hoist in February. The Jets are also set back to bring back Ontario-based Nathan Shepherd. Chosen in 2018’s third round out of Fort Hays State, Shepherd has yet to live up to his day two billing but reportedly “turned heads” at minicamp last month.

Oct 6, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (98) celebrates after a sack of Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (not pictured) in the second half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

How It’s Going

The arrival of new head coach Robert Saleh has many projecting that the Jets will switch to a 4-3 setup, which will rely on a strong, rotating edge rush. Their defensive line additions saw them address that area, home to a long-gestating renovation project that hasn’t seen a consistently disruptive backfield invader since John Abraham’s departure.

When Saleh called tackle Sheldon Rankins about joining the cause, the former New Orleans Saint was all in.

“When he called me and expressed his interest and how much he really wanted me to be a part of this and the vision he had for me and Quinnen inside and Carl (Lawson) out on the edge, it got me fired up,” Rankins said, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. “It made me want to be a part of something special.”

One of the first moves the Jets made this offseason, from a roster perspective, was releasing DE Henry Anderson, who had failed to live up to the hype of a $25 million contract. Afforded an additional $8 million through Anderson’s release, the Jets surrounded their young core with veterans that should only up their pressure.

Casual observers dismissed the addition of defensive end Carl Lawson ($45 million over three years after four seasons in Cincinnati) by complaining about his pedestrian sack numbers (11.5 in the last three years after eight in his debut campaign). But Lawson has been one of the league’s most prevalent pressure artists in recent memory, his dominance on display through advanced stats. Even if Lawson wasn’t the one taking the quarterback down, played a major role in the thrower’s eventual demise. Lawson was one of only 11 defenders who reached double figures in ESPN’s “sacks created” category and, in a more conventional area, ranked sixth in QB pressures.

In addition to Rankins, the Jets also welcomed Saleh’s former San Francisco disciple Ronald Blair into the fold before using their final draft pick on DT Jonathan Marshall from Arkansas. Vinny Curry, who previously appeared on Philadelphia’s championship squad, can provide depth and veteran leadership.

carl lawson, new york jets
carl lawson, new york jets

Are They Better Off?

The Jets need to plan for a future where they’re almost guaranteed to face Josh Allen (and possibly Tua Tagovailoa) twice a year until further notice. A strong pass rush is going to be vital if they want to pull themselves out of the playoff drought mire.

General manager Joe Douglas deserves some props for his activities on the defensive front this offseason. Few could’ve blamed the Jets for becoming complacent after the breakouts of Williams, Fatukasi, and Franklin-Myers. Instead, they upped the pressure by surrounding a defensive coach with elite defensive talents that will help foster in this latest…and most hopeful…chapter of the Jets perpetual rebuild. Lawson’s contract, for example, may be steep from a financial sense, as he’s the Jets’ biggest 2021 cap hit at over $14 million. But if he follows the promises of pressure on display over the last few seasons with the Bengals, the three-year deal could wind being one of the most consequential moves in Douglas’ tenure in both a short and long-term lens.

The green glory days have been characterized by strong defensive efforts. With the frontline additions, the Jets have set themselves up handsomely for what’s sure to be a dangerous, yet ambitious, road ahead.

Final Offseason Grade: B+

Are you more confident in the Jets’ defensive line with Robert Saleh in tow? Continue the conversation Twitter @GeoffJMags