New York Jets: Bryce Hall ready to become veteran statesman among CBs

jets, bryce hall

Bryce Hall is about to enter his second NFL season…which makes him a relic amongst New York Jets cornerbacks.

In Star Wars terminology, Bryce Hall is the NFL equivalent of a Padawan learner, an apprentice in layman’s (or people with a social life’s) terms: the fifth-round pick from Virginia has appeared in eight professional contests and is set to enter his second official season of service. The games on Hall’s infantile ledger were mostly irrelevant affairs in the grander sense of the NFL’s standings, though he made the most of the opportunity, recording 36 tackles and his first career interception.

By the New York Jets’ current cornerback standards, however, Hall is a seasoned Jedi Master.

Hall’s rapidly-gained seniority is part of the Jets’ efforts to eradicate almost every prescience of their garish two-win campaign from 2020. Of the 22 men listed in the Jets’ starting lineup from their most recent Week 1 contest (a 27-17 loss at the hands of the future AFC finalists in Buffalo that was nowhere near as close as the final scoreboard indicated), only eight are still with the team.

Cornerback Bless Austin was the latest casualty, as the Rutgers alum was surprisingly released in the aftermath of 2021’s first 53-man roster unveiling. Left behind is a hodgepodge of names who heard their names pressed into NFL service during the annual Saturday portions of the draft, be it through outright selection like Hall (158th overall) or post-Mr. Irrelevant free agency.

“I was surprised that they cut (Austin). He was working with the ones, so I didn’t have any knowledge of what was going on,” Hall said of the surprising transaction, per Peter Botte of the New York Post. “But that’s the nature of the business and you just have to keep going. You have to take it day by day and appreciate every opportunity that you get here. And the ball keeps rolling.”

Both head coach Robert Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas have publicly stated that the release of Austin was made to afford more snaps to the Jets’ younger defenders in the secondary: the team drafted Michael Carter II, Jason Pinnock, and Brandin Echols and also kept undrafted rookie Isaiah Dunn. Another undrafted invitee, Javelin Guidry, returns for his second season in New York while his comrade Lamar Jackson lingers on the practice squad.

The release of Austin made Hall the most experienced NFL veteran in the Jets’ cornerback department. Justin Hardee is technically speaking the elder statesman…the 27-year-old is entering his fifth professional season…but he’s far more renowned for his special teams endeavors.

Thus, Hall is left to lead the Jets secondary into an uncertain future: everyone’s already aware of Marcus Maye’s franchise tag situation while Maye’s veteran partner at safety, Lamarcus Joyner, is likewise inked for only a single season in green. Guidry, he of 11 games in 2020, likewise has Hall slightly beat, though he’s expected to primarily handle the slot. Austin’s vacancy next to Hall has yet to be filled on the Jets’ unofficial depth chart.

Unexpectedly thrown into the New York spotlight, Hall isn’t looking for excuses for any shortcoming the Jets might face in what could be a trying yet optimistic 2021 season. The slate begins on Sunday afternoon as the Jets face the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte (1 p.m. ET, CBS). Carolina’s aerial attack is headlined by the former metropolitan connection of Sam Darnold and Robby Anderson and their receiving corps are further bolstered by DJ Moore and rookie Terrace Marshall Jr. Star running back Christian McCaffrey, who is set to make his return from an injury that erased most of his 2020 campaign, has proven to be an equally dangerous aerial threat.

“You grow up quick in this league,” Hall said in a report from Al Iannazzone of Newsday. “There’s no excuse, no explanation, you just got to come in here and work. I think it’s good because it’s challenging me to step up into a leadership role to grow faster. That’s what I need and that’s what I want.”

If anything, Hall’s ascension up the Jets’ tenure ledgers is a prime opportunity for him to prove that some early hype was well-earned. Entering the 2019 draft, Hall was seen by some as a first-round talent as his junior season ended in Charlottesville. He led the nation in pass breakups en route to All-American honors.

Hall’s decision to return to Virginia was brought upon by a situation remarkably similar to the quagmire the Jets find themselves in: the history of Cavalier football has often been defined by a one step forward, two steps back struggle in which they’re forced to deal with a more renowned in-state rival (Virginia Tech). Hall’s junior year antics helped UVA earn its first postseason win in 13 seasons, as the Cavaliers earned a 28-point shutout over South Carolina in the 2018 Belk Bowl. He didn’t wait long to disrupt the 2019 mock drafts, announcing his decision to return hours after the Cavs demolished the Gamecocks.

“I feel like I want to finish what I started here,” Hall said of his decision to return, per David Teel of Daily Press. “This program gave me so much, and before I leave I want to give everything I have to them. I want to develop also as a leader, and when that next phase of life comes, I want to be prepared.”

(Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images)

Virginia indeed took things to the next level upon Hall’s return: they won the ACC’s Coastal Division (their first such title since 1995) and topped the hated Hokies (for the first time since 2003) en route to the conference title game and an appearance in the lauded Orange Bowl.

Alas, Hall was unable to reap the spoiled of his return. As the Cavs, ranked 20th in the Associated Press poll, battled Miami in Coral Gables, Hall endured devastating injuries to both his left leg and ankle. He missed the final eight games of the season and saw his draft stock plummet. Lingering effects from the injury cost him his first professional training camp, as well as the first half of his debut campaign in green.

But the experience allowed Hall to develop skills that will help define the rest of his football career. Though Hall’s name was missing from UVA’s lineups, he remained a reliable gameday prescience. He was granted a headset for the Cavs’ home games and commandeered positional meetings as the postseason dream became more realistic.

The process also allowed Hall to find clarity in his personal life: he realized that he would marry UVA field hockey player Anzel Viljoen, who remained by his side after his devastating ailment. He successfully proposed to Viljoen shortly after the Jets called his name at the draft and the couple welcomed its first child this offseason.

“(The injury) was huge. I felt like, usually, I am a guy who leads by example, but when I got hurt all I had was my voice and all I had was the experience that I had,” Hall said, per Joey Chandler of NJ Advanced Media. “I tried my best to help out the new guys, so I definitely feel like that has helped me as a leader to relate to the guys. Especially guys who are hungry and want to receive the knowledge that I have. I think that has trickled down into this system and this opportunity.”

Thus far, a roller-coaster career has culminated in Hall leading the Jets into a season that’s expected to be defined by development. Two of his most important football seasons have been gnawed at by circumstances beyond his control. But in a tumultuous time for unproven leftovers on the New York Jets timeline, Hall has made himself essential and figures to be one of the pillars supporting the team’s quest to make it back to the NFL’s playoff conversation.

Simply put…The Force is strong with this one.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets CB Bless Austin has big plans as a primary defender

Granted one of the New York Jets’ primary cornerback roles, Austin promised to live up to the great expectations placed upon him.

If you tried to turn Bless Austin’s football career into a movie, a Hollywood studio would probably reject. Not only is Austin’s NFL journey in its infantile stages, but the screenplay could be criticized for being too on the nose.

Fortunately, Austin has been watching his fair share of film as is.

Speaking after the Jets’ training camp activities on Monday, Austin is penciled in as one of the Jets’ primary cornerbacks as their preseason opener looms this weekend. As Austin prepares for extended duties, he’s taken in head coach Robert Saleh’s San Francisco filmography, with 49ers cornerback Emmanuel Moseley serving as his muse. Austin also admitted to taking a look at Saleh’s former division rival Jalen Ramsey out in Los Angeles.

It’s part of a personal goal of Austin’s that is anything but modest: to become one of the NFL’s best defenders.

“I think I’m the real deal. (There’s) no secret in that,” Austin said in a report from Dennis Waszak Jr. of the Associated Press. “Of course, I make mistakes, but there’s also a lot of plays I’ve made on that field that other corners in this league aren’t making.”

Born in Queens and starring at Campus Magnet in Cambria Heights (formerly known as Andrew Jackson High School), Austin stayed in the tri-state area, moving on to Rutgers during some of their earliest days in the Big Ten. He immediately made an impact with 14 pass breakups in his sophomore season but injuries ate away at his latter two seasons.

Austin nonetheless found redemption from a familiar source: a New Jersey-based club with New York branding.

The Jets chose Austin with their final pick of the 2019 draft (196th overall) after partaking in only five games in his last pair of collegiate campaigns. Entering his third professional season, Austin is now an elder statesman in Gang Green’s secondary: he’s the longest-tenured Jet in the team’s cornerback room and might be the most experienced at the position overall: special teams ace Justin Hardee is the only listed such defender who has been in the league longer.

Through his first two NFL season, Austin has developed a reputation as a physical defender, but his coverage needs work. A brutal coverage grade of 47.4, bestowed by Pro Football Focus, ranked 112th among 136 qualified cornerbacks. PFF has refused to let up, calling the Austin-headlined New York cornerback group one of the weakest units in the league back in April.

With the Jets woefully undermanned in terms of experience in the secondary, some have clamored for the Jets to search for veteran help from abroad. C.J. Henderson, a top ten a pick a year ago, could be up for grabs with the Jaguars reportedly ready to put him on the trading block.

New York Jets, Bless Austin
(Photo: Getty)

The cornerback, however, won’t hear of it. He’s not only confident in his own abilities but he also spoke glowingly of his new co-worker in the secondary.

Austin is set to work next to Bryce Hall, another day three choice with something to prove. The Virginia alum was projected to be a first-round pick after his junior season but a devastating ankle injury relegated him to the fifth round of the 2020 draft, where the Jets scooped him up. Hall showed promise over eight NFL contests after the Jets’ in-season fire sale purged several veteran corners, even earning his first professional interception in the team’s first win of the season over the Rams.

Austin unveiled a dire warning to those disregarding he and Hall simply because of their star-crossed collegiate careers: do so at your own risk. That notice might extend to the Jets’ front office, which has rarely used the calendar as an excuse for inaction on the free agent front.

“The front office and the coaching staff does a great job of communicating to us where their head is at,” Austin said, per Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post. “A lot of people forget me and Bryce were highly rated dudes coming out of college. We just fell short to injury. 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.”

“I don’t pay attention to outside noise. I’m between the white lines and I know what I’m about. Other people in the league know what I’m about as well.”

The Jets’ revamped receivers, headlined by the arrivals of Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, and Keelan Cole, have given Austin a formidable challenge as he enters a year that could well determine the course of the rest of NFL career. It’s a challenge where he can’t “go through the motions and think I’m gonna have a successful day”, according to DJ Bien-Aime II of the New York Daily News.

But, true to the warning he bestowed to the Jets’ front office and the lingers free agent market, Austin is apparently impressing the right people as game day approaches.

“He’s got a dog’s mentality, from a football sense,” Saleh himself said of Austin’s summer endeavors, per notes from the Jets. “He is absolutely fearless, he’s very strong at the line of scrimmage, at least from the time I’ve gotten here, doesn’t look like he’s really bothered by the play before, he can move on. It’s just those attributes, the length, the strength, he’s fast enough, it’s just a matter of working the technique and understanding where you work in the defense. He’s shown everything that we want, it’s just a matter of trying to get better and see what he looks like once we get with other opponents.”

“Bless (is) long, strong, aggressive, tough,” defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich added in those same quotes. “He’ll challenge you. He wants to play at the line of scrimmage, he wants to get his hands on you, he wants to disrupt. He’s a proven tackler, he’s tough, he’ll show up in the run game to support.”

The Jets open the preseason on Saturday night against the New York Giants in a battle for MetLife Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET, WNBC).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Robert Saleh lays out expectations for New York Jets cornerbacks

New York Jets, Bless Austin

The lack of a proven force in the New York Jets’ cornerback group didn’t stop Robert Saleh from clearly defining his expectations.

The macabre gift of the New York Jets’ 2020 season was that things became so dire that any move they made over the offseason could’ve been viewed as an improvement. But the Jets’ offseason to-do list could stretch from one end zone to the other after a disastrous two-win season. Even with a cap space surplus, some area on the modern depth chart was going to be neglected and prevent the Jets from becoming immediate contenders.

It’s not hard to find the affected areas.

With matchups against four of the top five passing units from last season looming on their upcoming schedule (Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Houston, Atlanta), the Jets’ secondary remains undermanned and inexperienced as kickoff weekend approaches. The safeties at least have a slight safety blanket (pun intended) with Marcus Maye back on a franchise tag and Lamarcus Joyner, one of only five New Yorkers who are at least 30 years old, coming over from Las Vegas.

The Jets’ front line in the secondary, the cornerback area, leaves much to be desired. Only newcomer Justin Hardee (115 defensive snaps over the past three years) has more than two seasons of NFL experience and he was primarily brought in for his special teams expertise. Four cornerbacks have no experience at all, as the Jets spent the Saturday of draft weekend adding new names to the ranks. Michael Carter II, Jason Pinnock, and Brandin Echols arrived in the draft’s later rounds while Isaiah Dunn was added through undrafted free agency.

At the top of the depth chart, Bless Austin and Bryce Hall…a combined 23 starts between them…are set to take starring roles. Behind them lies a hodgepodge of journeymen (Corey Ballentine, Bennett Jackson) and undrafted youngsters (Javelin Guidry, Zane Lewis, Elijah Campbell, Lamar Jackson…no, not that one, obviously).

Head coach Robert Saleh isn’t worried.

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

One would perhaps expect Saleh, a defensive coach in several assistant stops throughout the NFL, to assemble a more worthy group of defenders for his first year as a head coach. When that proved to be unfeasible, Saleh worked with management to come to a relative compromise of stocking up on young secondary talent on draft weekend Saturday after spending the first two days preparing for the new franchise quarterback’s arrival. So far, he’s happy with the young clay that he gets to mold in his first season at the New York helm.

Saleh doesn’t care about where they’ve been or how they were obtained. He carries one burning question for his new young talents, one he carries with him from his days as the defensive boss in San Francisco.

“Can you win on third down? That’s pretty much it. It’s that simple,” Saleh said on Thursday, per notes from the Jets. “When you’re looking at traits, we had Richard Sherman, who’s all of 6-3, long, incredibly smart, and we’ve had Jason Verrett, who’s all of 5-9, strong and wiry.”

“So they come in all shapes and sizes but the dog mentality, the ability to win in man coverage, the fearlessness to get up there in press (coverage) and win one-on-ones. That’s what matters, because at the end of the day, when it’s crunch time and you’ve got to win in football, it comes down to your ability to win in one-on-one, whether it’s man, zone, however you want to count it.”

The current starters’ respective battles with gridiron adversity are particularly inspiring to a New York team desperate to overcome relentless vibes and reminders of the “same old Jets” concept. Austin, a Queens native, enjoyed a breakout sophomore season at Rutgers but injuries limited him to only five more games in Piscataway over his last two seasons. Hall might’ve been an opening round pick in 2019, but an injury sustained during his senior year banished him to the Saturday wilderness.

To their credit, Austin and Hall have garnered positive reviews in their early camp showings. Brian Costello of the New York Post said that Hall “looks like he is ready to make a jump” in his sophomore season while Austin has been a thorn in the side of Zach Wilson early on. Saleh has been pleased with the early returns, once bringing up the size differences in analyzing each defender.

New York Jets, Bryce Hall

“Bryce is so long and big. Bless is obviously more wiry and twitchy, but they both have an incredible mindset to get up there, get in your face, use their length, use their athleticism,” Saleh said. “What we’ve been doing defensively is we teach a little bit different of a man technique, obviously, and our zones. So try to get them the reps they need to be able to blend the two is not easy and it does take time, but these guys have gotten better every day.”

Just because Austin and Hall have the early edge, however, doesn’t mean that Saleh is going to simply hand the primary duties for them. Saleh has been proud to work the rookie defenders into the rotation, namely calling out Echols and Dunn for “(earning) the right to get a little peek at getting some run with the ones”. He’s also excited for the ongoing nickel group, which appears to consist of Campbell, Carter, and Guidry.

Saleh had a prime opportunity to add in some veteran talent. Both Sherman and Verrett, his former Bay Area proteges, were available on the free agent market, but he opted for a young revolution that can allow for the Jets’ new staff, headlined by Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich to shape their new secondary in their image. Saleh compared the feeling to a roller-coaster on the Garden State Parkway.

“When you’re dealing with young guys, the excitement is like when you’re driving on the freeway and you’re on (empty), you’re like, ‘When’s it going to happen?’ It’s like a roller coaster, but at the same time, you see an unbelievable amount of growth happen from play-in and play-out, and day-in and day-out,” Saleh said. “I’ve seen teams win, I’ve seen teams have growth, you see everything. I’ve seen veteran teams lose, it’s a matter of gaining confidence, gelling, having the ball bounce your way and really getting confidence, and this group is a very confident group, it’s a very young, confident group.”

“They’re having a lot of success here in training camp and when they get to go against Green Bay, and Philadelphia, the Giants, and they get to test themselves against other players, I think that’s where you’ll start to see the identity of this team kind of take shape.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Report: New York Jets signing veteran corner Logan Ryan to prove it deal

New York Jets, Logan Ryan, Tennessee Titans

Throughout this offseason, New York Jets GM Joe Douglas has been very active in signing players to prove it deals to attempt to fill critical needs. He’s also been very aggressive in trying to fill one of the Jets’ biggest voids. Last season the Jets’ cornerback group was one of the worst in football. With minimal depth and no proven entities, the Jets had to upgrade the position this the offseason.

They released Trumaine Johnson and Darryl Roberts, two bad signings from the old regime, and added Pierre Desir on a one year deal. They also brought back Brian Poole on a one year deal as well. The Jets still have Bless Austin, Nate Hairston, and Arthur Maulet, but they looked to upgrade the position in the draft.

The Jets then came out of the draft with two more new corners—Bryce Hall from Virginia and 23-year-old former second-rounder from the Colts, Quincy Wilson. Although there were reports before the draft of the Jets’ interest in CB Logan Ryan, it seemed as though the team was comfortable with their corners. Well, apparently they were not. The New York Jets have reportedly signed Logan Ryan to a one year deal per Manish Mehta of the NY Daily News.

Who is Logan Ryan?

As we’ve covered extensively here at ESM, Logan Ryan is a reliable veteran coming off a very successful season. Ryan is a hometown kid who attended Rutgers University. After a solid career there, Ryan was drafted in the 3rd Round of 2013 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots. When Ryan debuted, he immediately carved himself a role with the Pats. Ryan was an excellent corner with them until he left in 2016.

He then joined the Titans, where he’s been coached by Mike Vrabel. He comes from a very good coaching tree, and he’s got a championship pedigree with two rings under his belt. Ryan is also 29 years old; he’s still got a few years of good football left. After remaining unsigned for the first two months or so of free agency, he now goes to a team in need of a reliable lead corner.

How Will Ryan Fit?

Logan Ryan is coming off a season where he had 113 tackles, 4 INTs, and 4 TFLs. In one of the best years of his career, he also picked off his former teammate, Tom Brady, in what was ultimately the last play of Brady’s time in New England. Now the former Patriot is coming home to the Jets.

Ryan will be tasked with leading a young cornerback group while also trying to perform well to earn himself a long term deal. What better coach to have with that pressure then one of the best defensive coordinators in the game, Gregg Williams. The opportunity to play under Gregg has been a critical reason that players like Brian Poole and Jordan Jenkins took such cheap deals to return to the Jets and is likely a reason Logan Ryan is coming to Gang Green. Williams gets the best out of his players, and he will try to do that with a veteran player who’s had a lot of success.

Even if this move bombs, the Jets have loads of young talent in the secondary that need mentorship. Bryce Hall and Bless Austin could both benefit from learning behind an experienced player, and even Quincy Wilson and Pierre Desir could pick up a thing or two from Ryan. Overall, the Jets have solidified their secondary for the upcoming season and formulated serious competition for the starting roles.

If there is anything you can pull from this offseason, it’s that Joe Douglas likes two things, leadership and establishing competition. By adding a talented player like Logan Ryan, he did just that. 

New York Jets: Attempting To Solve The Cornerback Issues

New York Jets, Jason Myers
This past Thursday night proved a few things but none being clearer than the true seriousness of the New York Jets cornerback issues. The Jets released Derrick Jones today, who was one of the disappointments in the past. They also have decisions to make on a few other corners. The situation is really bad but there are a few solutions the team could explore.

Bringing Back Morris Claiborne

Morris Clairborne was statistically one of the better corners in all of football last season. Despite a suspension, he still provides a good value to the team. He was great last year and no doubt could be a big help to the weak secondary. He was one of the few smart moves by Mike Maccagnan and Joe Douglas should consider bringing him in.

Trade for Jalen Ramsey

Hear me out, it may sound wild but the logistics make sense. He’s a young, big personality but he’s also one of the best corners in the game. Jalen Ramsey has been having some issues in Jacksonville and if Douglas wants to make some big moves, one would be to go out and get him from Jacksonville.

Trade for Xavier Rhodes

”Rhodes Closed”, Xavier Rhodes is a great cornerback. Rhodes is at 29, still a shutdown corner who can hang with most team’s #1 receiver. He’s a 2-time pro bowler and a 1-time all-pro in 2017. He is also semi-realistic. He has a tough contract and he’s 29. Both of those circumstances could make for a less large package being given and could make it a real possibility.

Bring Someone Out Of Retirement

I mean nobody saw Ryan Kalil coming, so why not another one. Adam Pacman Jones is the only semi-realistic corner who is still talented and could make an impact. The other main retirees either have health issues or haven’t played in a while. Although Pacman has some off the field issues, maybe he’s the guy the Jets could get. It’s a low chance, but who knows.
Ultimately in all seriousness, the New York Jets need help. Their cornerback situation is atrocious. Trumaine Johnson was overpaid and needs a big season. Darryl Roberts and Brian Poole could be good but the Jets still need depth beyond them. They currently lack that and that issue needs to be fixed very soon.