The New York Jets’ injury report resembles the top of its depth chart. What can they do to hold down the fort in the early going?
There are growing pains, and then there’s what Robert Saleh has had to deal with within his first 24 hours of being a ledgered head coach of the New York Jets.
In his comments from the aftermath of a 19-14 defeat at the hands of the Carolina Panthers, Saleh’s injury updates resembled the unveiling of the Jets’ starting lineup seen shortly after kickoff during Sunday broadcasts. The headliner is offensive tackle and 2020 first-round pick Mekhi Becton, who’s out for at least four weeks after dislocating his kneecap on the Jets’ first scoring play of the afternoon.
For Saleh, adaptation after intervention from the football gods is nothing new. He had to work through several medically-induced absences during his final year as the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive coordinator last season, posting respectable results after losing Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, K’Wuan Williams, and Richard Sherman, among others, to injuries. He hinted that help from abroad may be on the horizon.
“There’s going to be talks, obviously,” Saleh said per notes from the Jets. “(General manager Joe Douglas) and his staff getting together and gathering names, but there are going to have to be some additions.”
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Of Saleh’s subtractions, none may be more glaring that than the loss of Becton, the Jets’ anchor of the offensive line and their top pick from the 2020 draft. The Jets’ Sunday protection looked scary enough with Becton there: Zach Wilson was sacked six times and Jets rushers put up less than three yards a carry.
Saleh claimed that Becton’s departure may not be a death blow in part due to his limited prep time going into the 2021 season: injuries limited the Louisville alum to two practices in the “two or three weeks” leading up to game day in Carolina. Saleh confirmed that George Fant will assume Becton’s duties on the blindside while Morgan Moses will fill in for Fant on the right, as was the case on Sunday afternoon in Carolina. Becton is not expected to undergo surgery, but that could change if a second opinion recommends such a measure.
The Jets’ blocking depth took a hit before the season started: Connor McDermott and Becton’s fellow 2020 selection Cameron Clark linger on injured reserve and won’t be eligible to come back until Week 4. Jimmy Murray, Isaiah Williams, and undrafted rookie Grant Hermanns were part of the Jets’ final cuts from training camp but were retained on the practice squad. A promotion or two may be in the cards.
But simple promotions haven’t been the Douglas way: in making up for the blocking negligence of the Mike Maccagnan era, Douglas has left no stone unturned, no matter how seasoned that stone may be. His first moves upon taking office were to trade for Alex Lewis from Baltimore and convince Ryan Kalil to postpone his retirement. The trend continued this offseason when the team added Moses in the latter stages of the pre-training camp slate.
Not everything has worked out, but that’s probably not going to deter the proactive Douglas. Most available names have shown a preference for the right, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Douglas nonetheless inquire. Asking for a name like Russell Okung might be a stretch, but the team could possibly take a waiver on someone like veteran Ricky Wagner or Chaz Green. An intriguing journeyman to watch could be Corbin Kaufusi, a former metropolitan practice squad rep (2019-20) whose time at BYU overlapped with Zach Wilson’s by a year (2018).
A rare sign of good medical news in the linebacking corps…that in the fact that C.J. Mosley was finally able to complete a game for the first time in his Jets career…was immediately offset by further calamities. Blake Cashman has return to the injury report with a hamstring issue while Jamien Sherwood sprained his ankle in his NFL debut. Each is expected to miss two weeks.
New York was already missing one potentially sizable contributor in Jarrad Davis, who was lost in the preseason visit to Green Bay. Del’Shawn Phillips filled in serviceably on Sunday, earning a team-best dozen tackles in defeat. Formerly of Buffalo, Phillips should remain on the active roster after his recent promotion from the practice squad.
The signing of Quincy Williams after cuts toward the original 53-man rosters feel particularly timely. He was inactive for Sunday’s game but he should be ready for the home opener. The older brother of Quinnen, the Jets renowned third-year defender, has starting experience from his two seasons in Jacksonville but, perhaps more importantly, has a long-term NFL case to prove.
“We care about winning football games. That’s all that matters to us. He is not just Q’s brother. We want to win,” Quinnen said, per team reporter Jack Bell. “Whether he’s my brother or not, we play football games to win, not to lose. He needs to come in and put (his) best foot forward every day, and we need to hold each other accountable.”
Despite the emergence of Phillips and the potential arrival of the elder Williams, the Jets will likely look to practice squads and free agency for assistance. Several former Jets linger on the latter front, including Avery Williamson and James Burgess.
Enough has been written about the Jets’ problems and lack of experience at cornerback, but the makeshift group held its own on Sunday. Bryce Hall, Brandin Echols, Michael Carter II, and Javelin Guidry united to allow only 77 yards and four first downs.
The true issues lied at safety, where some inopportune deep balls led to the Jets’ demise. Lamarcus Joyner was forced to leave the game early with an elbow issue, which Saleh as since diagnosed as torn tendons that will keep him out for remainder of the season. Sheldrick Redwine, a final cut from Cleveland, took over in Joyner’s wake. Alas, his lasting mark from Sunday’s game was getting victimized by the long scoring hook-up between Sam Darnold and Robby Anderson that helped Carolina break the game open.
Joyner was already standing in for Ashtyn Davis, who’s stuck on injured reserve (along with another safety, Sharrod Neasman). Neither will be back until Week 4. It’s thus inevitable that the Jets will seek further assistance elsewhere. Adrian Colbert, another recent practice squad promotee, is likely on board to stay.
The Jets will be without sophomore punter Braden Mann for 4-6 weeks, suffering a knee injury on his second attempt of the day. Mann made several trips in and out of the medical tent and was later seen pacing the sidelines in a knee brace on his left leg. According to Saleh, Mann’s situation is not expected to require surgery.
One almost wouldn’t blame the Jets if they stood pat at punter: Matt Ammendola stepped in and wound up amongst the league’s Week 1 leaders. The 65-yard boot on his second attempt was the best individual effort amongst Sunday competitors. But there’s no use in wearing down Ammendola, especially with kicker being such a vital role for an offense in transition. Saleh declared that the Jets will work out several legs.
It’s a surprisingly opportune time to be searching for a punter from a Jets standpoint, as several veteran names linger on the open market. Thomas Morestead is a former Pro Bowler from New Orleans while two entries from the Colquitt punting dynasty (Britton and Dustin) are also available. Chris Jones recently wrapped a decade-long stretch as Dallas’ fourth-down man. The Jets probably aren’t looking for a long-term solution here, as they have a little something invested in the sophomore Mann, a sixth-round choice from 2020.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags