Zach Wilson’s debut was exactly what he and the New York Jets needed

zach wilson, jets

The quiet yet effective preseason debut of Zach Wilson brought a much-needed aura of peace to the New York Jets.

Welcome back to the NFL preseason: where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.

After a year off, the NFL restored nirvana for the hot take artists of social media last week through the resumption of the summer exhibition slate. Last Saturday was particularly blissful for the premature prognosticators, as the four of the five quarterbacks chosen in the first round of last spring’s draft donned their game jerseys for the first time. The outlier, New England’s Mac Jones, was perhaps too busy penning his Hall of Fame speech after social media put him in Canton after his own debut on Thursday against Washington.

Burdened with a history that has made them the butt of many a gridiron joke, the 2021 New York Jets have been dealing with preseason fortune tellers even before the annual MetLife Stadium civil war against the Giants. Any other locale would be bestowed enthusiasm about Wilson being thrust into a situation that brought in offensive reinforcement, bolstered its pass rush on defense, and hired one of the most coveted assistant coaches in football, Robert Saleh, to oversee the whole operation.

Instead, Wilson (among others) has paid the “Jets tax”, where everyday football struggles are instead hysterical comedy fuel. A brief rookie contract holdout felt like a hostage situation before a tough public intrasquad scrimmage (Wilson completed less than half of his attempts and lost two interceptions) at MetLife Stadium was straight-up apocalyptic.

zach wilson, jets

Wilson continues to navigate a situation where not only the simplest mistake, even factors beyond his control, can become the next viral sensation, but also one where he’s playing in a market that doesn’t take the concept of a rebuild too well. Even the gargantuan task of merely appearing in a Super Bowl isn’t enough…how often have you heard Giants fans speak fondly about the 2000-01 season after the Eli Manning pair? With the Jets holding the NFL’s longest active playoff drought (10 years), their long-suffering fans aren’t interested in witnessing another chapter in the endless saga of rebuilding.

Fans know that the phrase “trust the process” has become such a tired trope. The Philadelphia 76ers’ coining of such a phrase (which has yet to yield a result better than seven games in the conference semifinals) was a gift to front offices everywhere: losing streaks and supposed attempts at tanking could be excused as being part of a greater plan to make things right. But when it came to the state of the modern Jets, it’d be hard to deny that some kind of process…and a massive amount of patience…will be necessary moving forward. The Jets are coming off one of the most, if not the most, cursed seasons in franchise history, sinking to depths that even Rich Kotite’s doomed bunch managed to avoid.

Wilson knew what he was dealing with upon entering camp in late July.

“I’m just trying to learn every single day, how I can improve and just knowing my plays better, and just the different looks our defense is throwing at us. It’s going to be a process,” Wilson said, per notes from the Jets. “I would say there’s no pressure behind it, it’s just that the game is fast and you just have to be able to get used to it and catch up to it, and how quickly can I process through things.”

Wilson made his professional debut on Saturday in the Garden State’s late summer tradition informally referred to as the Snoopy Bowl. For some, it’s a mock Super Bowl, an excuse for metropolitan football fans to get together for one last summer hurrah. Others…remember Victor Cruz?…take the opportunity to leave not-so-subtle warnings to the rest of the league. Other times, the game leaves fans feeling wary about the future, presumably leading to the cancellation of some Super Bowl travel packages.

Somehow, someway, Wilson took on the best of both worlds: he left a calming aura amongst Jets while acknowledging that the battle back toward relevancy isn’t going to be an overnight conquest.

Wilson ended the day with a 6-of-9 mark for 63 yards, good for an 86.8 rating. He wasn’t sacked despite decent pressure from the Giants’ reserves. The Jets got into Giants territory on each of his two possessions, including one that began inside their own 10. They might’ve gotten further if not for an offensive pass interference penalty that wiped out a third-down conversion strike to Jamison Crowder. Wilson did convert two other third downs, including a 16-yard strike to Keelan Cole on third-and-nine while the Jets were still trapped at their own 20.

Despite a decent box score, there was room for improvement. He tried to force a third connection with Corey Davis on a third-down in the red zone. The first toss to Davis picked up eight yards on a mini-rollout, but Wilson looked somewhat stagnant in the pocket, often keeping to the safety of inside the hashes.

But no major mistakes, nothing that will appear on SportsCenter‘s Not Top 10, no fodder for the cackling hyenas of Twitter to pounce on, all on a major metropolitan stage against a notorious opponent and moving the ball effectively…what more could the Jets ask for?

Instead of debating Wilson’s Canton case or dooming him to the unholy brotherhood of busts, the Jets can further cherish some of the positive storylines that emerged from Saturday’s proceedings, like an improved pass rush that took down Giants quarterbacks five times and Denzel Mims reclaiming the narrative on his summer.

Obviously, anyone wearing even the slightest shade of green would’ve loved to see Wilson create multiple touchdowns as Justin Fields did in Chicago. They would’ve love to see him thread the needle on a deep ball, Trevor Lawrence-style. But even a perfect performance wouldn’t have solved anything for the Jets. Now, they know what they need to work on moving toward the next Saturday preseason contest in Green Bay (4:25 p.m. ET, WLNY/NFL Network).

“I thought it was good, still things to clean up, but it was a great experience,” Wilson said in a report from D.J. Bien-Aime of the New York Daily News. In that same report, head coach Robert Saleh was more cautious but equally excited.

“There’s still a lot of things that he’s going to learn from. There’s a lot of opportunities for him to grow,” Saleh said. “Even here in this game, despite the fact that he looked comfortable, there’s still going to be things he can learn from.”

Things have rarely panned out for the Jets since a certain Sunday in South Beach in January 1969. Perhaps it’s a cruel reality that the best-case summer scenario, at least in the opening week of exhibitions, is a sub-100-yard performance and only three points. But part one of the Wilson era produces clarity and groundedness…something that’s ironically been missing from a franchise named the Jets, one that’s so desperate to stick the landing…the Jets will happily get on board.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: The importance and symbolism of the right tackle battle

As the New York Jets continue to seek clarity on the offensive line, an intriguing battle for snaps has emerged between two veterans.

Addressing the offensive line is the football equivalent of having a salad: no one wants to do it.

Everyone would rather have a tasty cheeseburger with a side of fries, downing it with a cold beverage…i.e. add a flashy skill player, one whose antics can become a staple in the pregame hype videos played on stadium videoboards. But, at the end of the day, the consumer knows deep down that adding a blocker or keeping up on their fruits and vegetables will lead to its long-term survival and prosperity.

The New York Jets indulged themselves for far too long. Prior to taking Mekhi Becton with the 11th overall choice of the 2020 draft…passing on several elite receiving talents…they had gone nearly a decade without choosing an offensive lineman within the first 64 picks (dating back to second-round tackle Vlad Ducasse in 2010). While the first round was mostly dedicated to defensive washouts (Kyle Wilson, Quinton Coples, Dee Milliner, Darron Lee), some of their second round choices saw them miss out on future NFL protection staples. Cody Whitehair went to Chicago seven picks pick after the infamous Christian Hackenberg selection in 2016. Aerial busts Stephen Hill and Devin Smith were respectively chosen ahead of Kelechi Osemele and Rob Havenstein.

The Joe Douglas era has seen the general manager attempt to atone for that negligence. Even if his moves haven’t fully panned out (i.e. convincing Ryan Kalil out of retirement, trading for Alex Lewis), the mere action was refreshing from a New York standpoint. Becton’s breakout, a rare silver lining of the woebegone 2020 campaign, was perhaps the first example of Douglas’ blocking blueprint yielding visible, on-field results.

“You guys know how I feel about the offensive line: it’s hard to have a good team without one,” Douglas said of the line during the 2020 Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, per Ralph Vacchiano of SNY. Few would know of the importance of winning a good trench battle better than Douglas, a two-time all-state blocker at Lee-Davis (now Mechanicsville) High School in Virginia before embarking on a lengthy college career at Richmond.

At the time of those comments, the Jets were looking to protect Sam Darnold as he entered his third year as the team’s franchise quarterback. Now, they’re fortifying their wall as the professional debut of last spring’s second overall pick Zach Wilson looms. Bolstering the line could also help awaken a run game that hasn’t finished in the NFL’s upper half since 2016.

The Jets continued their renovations on the blindside when they traded up with Minnesota to take guard Alijah Vera-Tucker out of USC with the 14th choice. Vera-Tucker has dealt with a pectoral issue that will keep him out of Saturday’s preseason opener against the New York Giants (7:30 p.m. ET, WNBC), but should be ready for the Jets’ visit to Green Bay next week.

In the meantime, the right side of the unit faces an intriguing battle, one that has only intensified with the release of the Jets’ first depth chart earlier this week. While the opening positions are mostly solidified, one top slot stood out: not one, but two names resided in the right tackle’s role: George Fant and Morgan Moses.

It’s a battle of depth, a war of experience, one that serves as a strong monument to Douglas’ goals in the trenches.

Some assumed that Moses would automatically gain primary right tackle duties when he joined the as a late signing in July. The third-round pick from the 2014 draft (chosen 17 picks after the Jets took star-crossed tight end Jace Amaro out of Texas Tech) had established himself as one of the more reliable outside blockers during a seven-year career in Washington. He is a blocker who has stayed healthy, someone who had made himself a staple (he had been in the team’s starting lineup in each of the last 96 games) on a playoff team (Washington ended a four-year playoff drought with an NFC East division title last season). Such consistency, at least that of a veteran variety, hadn’t been seen in New York since D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold saw their final snaps.

Yet, he wasn’t going into Florham Park assuming anything and that feeling hasn’t subsided as game day approaches. In fact, he welcomes and has appreciated the ongoing battle between him and Fant.

“Competition is everything for me,” Moses said this week, per Dennis Waszak of the Associated Press. “Nothing is given. Everything that I’ve worked for in this league since I’ve been in the league, I’ve earned. And that’s how I want it to be. I feel like if things are given to you, we take it lightly. I’m here to get myself better and try to make this team and make the offensive line better.”

Training camp has served as a solid reintroduction for Fant, who was part of Douglas’ blocking splurge during the 2020 offseason. The group endured an up-and-down endeavor as a whole but Fant showed he had lasting power in New York. His teammates voted him an offensive captain and appeared on 829 snaps with the group.

The Jets could’ve saved about $7 million if Fant was released this offseason, but they kept him aboard even with Moses in tow. His self-confidence was apparent in a reflection of the 2020 season published by team reporter Ethan Greenberg.

“I proved to myself and I feel like I proved to everybody else that I deserve to be in the league, (that I) deserve to be a starter in this league, and that I could play at a high level consistently,” Fant said in Greenberg’s report. “There are more things I want to work on, but I feel like that’s the number one thing. I needed that for myself, the confidence in myself and hopefully put that confidence in the team as well.”

In team notes, head coach Robert Saleh said that starters would play “a quarter, couple series” in Saturday’s metropolitan showdown. Right tackle reps will likely be split between Moses and Fant. Saleh said after Thursday’s practice that their matchup, equally sprinkled with intensity and professionalism, has been one of the most enjoyable parts of his first metropolitan training camp.

“It’s competitive, they’re two professionals,” Saleh said in further notes from the Jets. “I’m actually enjoying the fact that those two talk all the time about technique and they’re helping one another out, I think it’s pretty cool. They exemplify professionalism and it’s been fun to watch.”

The competitive respect between Fant and Moses has up with Saleh’s theme of respect, one that shockingly drew ire and annoyance on Fox Sports’ Speak For YourselfThe blockers’ battle has served as a perfect counterargument to the idea that the Jets have “no fire”, as analyst and former NFL defensive lineman Marcellus Wiley declared.

Instead, the two are making each other better for not only Saturday’s exhibition opener, but for a crucial 2021 season as a whole. Fant, signed one for one more season after 2021 while Moses is on a one-year deal, knows that the competition can also make him a better blocker for the future. If it makes him better immediately, the Jets’ new era of offense, headlined by youngsters like Wilson, Elijah Moore, and Michael Carter, can get off to a strong start, one full of confidence for the road ahead.

“It’s a great opportunity to add depth to the team,” Fant said at the onset of training camp, per video provided by the Jets. “He’s a really good player, a great veteran to add to our room…That’s what this game’s all about. That’s what the NFL’s all about: you’re competing at all times.”

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 

New York Jets starters will get “a quarter, couple of series” on Saturday

new york jets, zach wilson

New York Jets fans shouldn’t be late to MetLife Stadium on Saturday if they wish to see Zach Wilson’s unofficial debut.

While it appears that the New York Giants will hold their young franchise thrower out of this weekend’s metropolitan showdown, their MetLife Stadium roommates are taking a different approach.

New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh announced on Thursday that Zach Wilson and the primary offensive unit will play at least the first two series during Saturday’s preseason opener (7:30 p.m. ET, WNBC). It will mark the first unofficial action in a Jets game uniform for Zach Wilson and several others, including receivers Corey Davis and Keelan Cole.

“We’re thinking about a quarter, couple of series for all those guys,” Saleh said precisely when it came to Wilson’s time, per notes from the Jets. “(We) just kind of (want to) get him his first action.”

Speaking after a practice session on One Jets Drive, Saleh noted that between the incoming rookie class and last season’s young group, over 30 players will be partaking in their first NFL preseason game on Saturday. Last year’s exhibition slate was completely wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are a very, very young football team and they’ve got to be able to go through the process of pregame and prepping themselves mentally and getting in their own space and getting ready to play a football game and then going out there and playing a couple of drives,” Saleh said. “To me, this is a big deal. These moments are priceless, especially for this team.”

Though Jets fans will who venture out to MetLife Stadium for a sanctioned NFL contest for the first time since December 2019 will get to witness Wilson’s first game action, several other debuts could be delayed.

Saleh announced that receiver and second-round pick Elijah Moore would “probably” require an MRI after leaving practice with what he described as a quad issue. Fellow rookie Alijah Vera-Tucker will miss Saturday with a quad issue, but Saleh was optimistic that he would be ready to prepare for the following weekend’s tilt in Green Bay, labeling him “day-to-day”. Dan Feeney currently sits in the second slot behind last spring’s 14th overall pick in the left guard slot on the Jets’ opening depth chart.

Injured veterans like defensive lineman Quinnen Williams (foot) and receiver Braxton Berrios (groin) are set to join Vera-Tucker in the Packers prep, per Saleh.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets Zach Wilson addresses camp struggles, preseason opener

new york jets, zach wilson

Nearly a week removed from a tough showing at MetLife Stadium, the New York Jets’ developing franchise QB addressed his publicized struggles.

Observers of both the professional amateur status alike are abuzz about Zach Wilson’s unofficial MetLife Stadium debut. Alas, many disregard the fact it comes this Saturday against the New York Giants (7:30 p.m. ET, WNBC), but instead turn to the prior weekend.

Unofficial accounts from East Rutherford had him earning an 11-of-24 completion rate for 112 yards and two interceptions last weekend. For example, it was enough for Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd, famous for asking for Jets AFC title game tickets when Adam Gase was hired, to liken him to Johnny Manziel.

Mind you, this wasn’t a reaction to Wilson’s Week 1 showing or even the upcoming Snoopy Bowl…this came in the aftermath of the Jets’ Green & White Scrimmage.

Wilson’s struggles in both East Rutherford and the Jets’ camp proceedings in Florham Park have been a national talking point over the last few weeks, causing some observers to prematurely prophesize him as a bust. With game day approaching, Wilson himself addressed his struggles after Wednesday’s practice on One Jets Drive.

In a statement perhaps best characterized by its uncanny pairing of bluntness and hope, Wilson declared that he would refuse to back down from a dangerous, if not lucrative, throw in practice if the only thing holding him back was the fear of making a mistake. It’s part of a process, a search for a philosophy that Wilson calls “aggressively smart”.

“I can’t be afraid to make mistakes, especially in practice. This isn’t a game; this is where I’m learning what I can get away with and what I can’t,” Wilson said on Wednesday, speaking about a pass nearly intercepted by C.J. Mosley, per quotes from the Jets. “As we get closer to game, you have to start teaching yourself, in that situation C.J. got his hand on it, he made the play and so it’s like next time in that situation and that same look, I’m going to check the ball down. That’s what we practice for is to play situations out like that.”

Unlike his critics, Wilson believes that practice performances can’t be judged by conventional box score stats. These sessions, particularly the preparation in training camp, are a time for everyone to experiment, including the defenses he’ll be facing.

He prefers to view the matters on a play-by-play basis.

“You can’t really grade stats or how many touchdowns or how many yards because every play is really what we’re grading,” Wilson remarked. “We’re grading how did we do on that one play. I think I’ve said this before, you don’t look at the whole practice and say, ‘How was practice today?’ It’s like, ‘How did I do on some of these plays and what plays can I get better at?’”

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

Even if Wilson wishes to dispose of the box score mindset when it comes to practice, he had a strong showing by conventional standards on Wednesday. Per Connor Hughes of The Athletic, Wilson was 10-of-18 with four touchdowns during team sessions.

Wilson knew right from the get-go that his status as a New York quarterback, especially one for the star-crossed Jets, was going to cast him in a permanent spotlight. The second overall choice in last spring’s draft believes his time elevating the mid-tier BYU program to the national spotlight helped prepare him for the challenges ahead.

It was reportedly nothing the Cougars’ program, storied as it may be, had to offer, but rather the typical history, burdens, and expectations forever associated with the quarterback spot.

“I think I really learned it at BYU just because the ups and downs of the journey that come with playing quarterback. I understand it’s part of the position and I think there are a lot more pros than there is cons.”

“It doesn’t really tell the story when other people are watching, they don’t understand how detailed and what my reads are, what I’m thinking, what a receiver is doing,” he continued, “They don’t understand any of that stuff and that’s why we keep our circle within us, and we do what we’re supposed to do as far as just learning what we’re supposed to be learning. (I’m) just ignoring the outside noise and listening to what my coaches say.”

One way to get the early critics off his his back, even if they’ll undoubtedly come no matter the result of Saturday’s game, would be a strong showing against the Jets’ MetLife Stadium roommates.

The annual metropolitan civil war and preseason has previously served as a stage for breakouts on both sides. Victor Cruz memorably broke out for three touchdowns in the 2010 edition (the unofficial first contest at East Rutherford’s new facility) while Wilson’s predecessor Sam Darnold temporarily showed the Giants what they were potentially missing with a strong showing eight seasons later.

As expected, Wilson is the first quarterback on the Jets’ depth chart entering Saturday’s action. Metropolitan bragging rights aren’t the utmost importance, especially in an exhibition game, and both the scrimmage and open training camps allowed him to get the culture shock of New York football with fans out of the way early.

Wilson instead views the game as an extended, higher octane practice sessions…only this time, he’s excited to see what a non-green defense throws at him.

“Right now, we don’t know what they’re going to give us because it’s a preseason game. So, it’s like how can we keep getting better ourselves?” Wilson said. “I’m excited, it’s going to be good to prepare, just to get back into a season. It’s crazy how fast it flies by from college to now, preparing with these guys. I feel like we’re learning a lot and we still got a lot of time to just keep learning. We’re learning now, we got a lot of learning this week and when we see these different opponents, it’s going to be great for us.”

Following the Giants’ “visit”, the Jets will go to Green Bay before wrapping the exhibition slate back at home against Philadelphia.

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

New York Jets: Four standouts from the Green & White Scrimmage

Playing in front of an East Rutherford crowd for the first time since December 2019, several New York Jets made early statements.

MetLife Stadium welcomed New York Jets fans through its gates for the first time since December 2019 on Saturday night, hosting the annual Green & White scrimmage.

Nearly 20,000 supporters came out to watch the special practice, which was the first sporting event at MetLife since an XFL contest in late February 2020. The team will spend another Saturday at the stadium next weekend, when open their preseason slate against their East Rutherford roommates, the New York Giants (7:30 p.m. ET, WNBC).

“It was awesome to come out here,” Jets head coach Robert Saleh  It was awesome to just be able to go through this thing, go through the stadium and just be able to go through as game-like of an experience as we can create for the players so next Saturday is normal. But it was cool.”

In case you missed the proceedings at MetLife, ESM has four names who stood out…

K Matt Ammendola

The Jets will likely wait until game situations against squads of different colors to make their decision at kicker. But it’s hard to not pencil in Ammendola’s name at the top of the early depth chart after Saturday.

Team reporter Ethan Greenberg stated that while Chris Naggar converted only 1-of-4 attempts, Ammendola was perfect in his quartet, half of them coming from at least 50 yards away. The Jets have converted only 6-of-11 from that distance since Jason Myers absconded to Seattle after the 2018 season.

WR Corey Davis

Davis helped the Jets make the most of a tough night offensively. Per ESPN’s Rich Cimini, Zach Wilson struggled, completing only 11-of-24 passes and throwing two interceptions. But the incoming Davis helped the unit keep their chins up and gave the fans something to cheer about.

A lot of excitement in the Jets’ new receiving outlook has surrounded Elijah Moore, particularly after he stole in the show in public training camp practices in Florham Park. But Davis made a decent case for primary receiver duties on Saturday, making three big grabs during two-minute drills. One highlight reel grab saw him tear the ball away from Bryce Hall.

Some may have already built the Jets’ offensive future around the Wilson-Moore connection, but it’s clear that Davis plays into the team’s long-term plans and can’t be forgotten.

LB C.J. Mosley 

Fans had to be extra patient when it came to seeing Mosley again. Saturday marked only the third time in the last 24 months that his cleats touched the MetLife Stadium turf, as his Jets career has been weighed down by medical issues.

Mosley knew going into Saturday’s proceedings that he was going to have to do a lot to live up to the five-year, $85 million deal granted to him in 2019 as the final marquee signing of the Mike Maccagnan era. Even a perfect showing wasn’t going to alleviate the concerns, but he was one of the biggest breakouts of a strong day for the New York defense.

The former Baltimore Raven, down nearly 20 pounds from his last listed playing weight (250) worked mostly in coverage during Saturday’s proceedings. His shining moment came during a two-minute drill, when he cashed in on Lamarcus Joyner’s breakup of a Wilson pass intended for Jamison Crowder, diving to earn the interception.

Mosley was pleased to reintroduce himself to the New York faithful but acknowledged that it has to be the start of something bigger.

“I haven’t put (anything) on tape in two years. I just have to remind everybody,” Mosley said afterward, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. “Today was a great start. It felt good to be out there after a long time.”

“There’s always more to improve on. I missed two tackles out there, two big tackles, in my opinion. That’s something I’ve just got to get back to working on in practice.”

Assessing the defense was a little tough considering Saturday’s restrictive nature…live tackling was kept to a minimum…but several defenders managed to post strong showings. John Franklin-Myers tallied a sack, while Javelin Guidry likewise earned an interception of Wilson.

QB Mike White

Much like their kicking slate, the Jets’ backup quarterback conundrum will likely gain more clarity through the exhibition slate. But in the absence of newly minted favorite Josh Johnson, who did not partake in Saturday’s event, White gained some early ground.

White was the only Jets thrower to earn multiple scoring passes, finding Josh Malone and Kenny Yeboah for the respective tallies. A big opportunity awaits the former Dallas Cowboys draft pick, who has been on and off the Jets’ active roster over the last two years. Fellow New York returnee James Morgan likewise had a scoring pass on Saturday, finding rookie rusher Michael Carter.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Elijah Moore takes things personally in new motivation

elijah moore, jets

The New York Jets’ showstopping rookie receiver has found a special form of motivation going into his NFL debut.

Michael Jordan took things personally and it appears Elijah Moore is about to do the same.

Speaking with The Athletic’s Connor Hughes, the New York Jets’ rookie receiver unveiled a new brand of motivation going into his first professional campaign. Before Moore descends upon Jets training camp, his focus lingers on his hotel room’s bathroom mirror, where the names of five fellow first-year receivers dwell on a piece of paper. Each was chosen ahead of him during the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland.

Moore was labeled a first round choice out of Mississippi in many mock drafts going into April’s proceedings but was not among the five receivers that went within the first 32 picks. Those honors instead went to Ja’Marr Chase (Cincinnati), Jaylen Waddle (Miami), DeVonta Smith (Philadelphia), Kadarius Toney (NY Giants), and Rashod Bateman (Baltimore).

These names are the last things he sees before he departs for Florham Park. Hughes’ report dictates that Moore will also speak them aloud before he makes the short trip to One Jets Drive.

“A chip (on my shoulder)? You could say that,” Moore told Hughes. “I think I’m the best. God doesn’t make any mistakes, but yeah, I’m going to show them why I should’ve gone first.”

Chosen 34th overall, the second pick of the second round, Moore’s selection is nonetheless historically high from a Jets perspective, as he’s the highest receiver the Jets have chosen in the draft since Santana Moss went at No. 16 in 2001. He’s been well worth the wait, turning into one of fellow rookie Zach Wilson’s favorite targets as training camp rolls on.

Moore’s early returns have yielded positive reviews both domestically and abroad. An agile victory against cornerback Corey Ballentine in training drew Instagram praise from both Odell Beckham Jr. and A.J. Brown. The latter is quite familiar with what Moore can bring to the table, as they spent a season together in Oxford, while Beckham labeled Moore “special” in a tweet from March.

The Jets are all too pleased with what the Moore experience has done to their offense in the early going.

“He wants to be as good as he could possibly be,” offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said of Moore this week, per notes from the Jets. “He’s just ultra-prepared, he knows what he’s doing. He’s extremely detailed, that’s what’s cool about him because when he makes a mistake or he doesn’t know what he’s doing, he just flat out doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

“He rarely makes the same mistake, if ever. He’s just on top of his stuff, he’s a talented young man. It’s cool because as he’s learning this scheme you can tell that he’s getting comfortable and his skillset can really shine through.”

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: Faith lingers in tight end Chris Herndon

It’s likely no returning New York Jets has a hotter seat than tight end Chris Herndon, but the new staff has faith in him.

Spring cleaning took on a whole new meaning for the New York Jets’ lauded offseason. For example, half of the starting lineup that they put out for last year’s opening weekend contest in Buffalo isn’t partaking in this summer’s training camp activities in Florham Park.

Tight end Chris Herndon is part of the other, Jersey-active half. By Jets standards, he’s practically a relic, set to enter his fourth season in green. Speaking of those jerseys, Herndon is the sole leftover from the Jets’ J.B. Smoove-hosted fashion show that unveiled the new look, marketed as one of the future faces of the franchise alongside departures like Sam Darnold, Robby Anderson, and Leonard Williams.

It’s understandable as to why the Jets have bid most of their models farewell: the team’s perpetual rebuild has hit drastic new depths, including a two-win valley that triggered an in-season fire sale. Any reminder of that past few seasons is better off miles away from One Jets Drive, especially with a new quarterback and head coach set to forge a new path back to NFL respectability.

Yet, Herndon remains and is currently engaged in one of the most intriguing battles of camp. The current staff didn’t move on from Herndon as they did from three of his 2018 draft classmates (including Darnold, the first-round choice and Herndon’s training camp roommate), but they did raise the heat on Herndon through the addition of reliable red zone option Tyler Kroft. Spring’s minicamp was an ordeal for Herndon, who lost his premier team reps to Kroft and Ryan Griffin.

The status of Herndon, a rare survivor of the Robert Saleh-induced rapture, was a hot topic as the Jets embarked on their first full week of training camp practices. Saleh, whose energy and attention to detail has been one of the early highlights of camp, believes Herndon simply needs some consistency to get his NFL career back on track.

“(We want) him to just be consistent and try to find ways to get better every day,” Sahle said earlier this week, per notes from the Jets. “I’m not going to put any expectations with regards to result.”

Herndon is best known for his rookie year output, where he was among the top ten rookies in receptions (39) and yardage (502). But the past two seasons have been riddled with inconsistency and absences of both the medical and disciplinary sort. Injuries and a suspension limited him to 18 sophomore snaps in 2019. He partook in all 16 games last season (13 starts) but earned only 287 yards on 31 catches.

For his part, Herndon knows about the challenges that lie ahead and won’t sugarcoat how tough things got in 2020.

“Those types of years, they humble you,” Herndon said of last season in a report from Brian Costello of the New York Post. “They remind you no matter how hard things get for you or the team to just keep your head down and keep working and never give up on yourself, never lose confidence.”

Despite the brutality of 2020, Herndon did manage to somewhat resemble his rookie form over the Jets’ final three games, earning 145 yards on 14 receptions, two of which went for scores.

“He’s had moments where he’s looked very good in his career. He’s had moments where he’s kind of disappeared and he’s had injuries. But at the same time, (we want to) let him get into a rhythm,” Saleh said in looking back on Herndon’s career to date. “Let’s get some consistency going and just play with the effort, the technique, and the violence that we look for. If he can do that day in and day out, we think Herndon can have a pretty darn good year.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags