FLORHAM PARK, NJ
The New York Jets can’t deny the dismal numbers their defense put up last season.
They were downright ugly and embarrassing.
But a year after being ranked last in nearly every key defensive category, the Jets are optimistic they’ll not only bounce back in a big way, but they’ll be really good. Especially in their renovated secondary.
“I think we’ve got the guys to do more than just get the job done,” cornerback DJ Reed said Wednesday. “I think we can dominate.”
That’s a bold statement, especially considering how hard the secondary struggled at times last season. But it’s a sentiment shared by safety Jordan Whitehead — who, like Reed, is a newcomer to the Jets and is counted on to help turn things around quickly in the back of the defense.
“I think this may be one of the best secondaries I’ve been to in five years,” Whitehead said. “These guys are hungry.”
That includes first-round pick Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, Cincinnati’s No. 4 overall pick who could be in line to be a Week 1 starter against Reed.
“He’s very talented, he’s very smart,” coach Robert Saleh said. “He is thirsty for knowledge, he is a great competitor.”
Bryce Hall and rookie Brandin Echols were the outside starters at cornerback last season and showed promise, but also struggled against their opponents’ top receivers on a weekly basis. While Reed will step into a starting role after signing a three-year, $33 million deal in March, Saleh isn’t handing the job to Gardner – despite expectations the rookie will have an immediate impact.
“I’m not trying to make headlines, I probably will, but he still has to go and win it,” Saleh said. “Bryce started, he’s taking the (first team) reps and it’s not for show. You have to earn your right to play football. Just because you got drafted from a certain place, that doesn’t mean say nothing.
Just ask Reed, who was a fifth-round pick by San Francisco in 2018 at Kansas State. After two years with the 49ers — where Saleh was his defensive coordinator — he was waived and picked up by Seattle. Reed has become a solid player with the Seahawks and was a starter for most of last season, ranking among the best in the NFL at that position.
“He’s overcome a lot to be where he is today and he’s only going to get better,” defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said. “I don’t think this league has seen what he can become.”
Whitehead will team up with veteran Lamarcus Joyner at both safety points, which was a revolving door last season after Joyner was lost for the year with a triceps injury in Game 1 and Marcus Maye got a tear the Achilles tendon at week 9.
Maye signed with New Orleans in March and the Jets replaced him with Whitehead, who signed a two-year, $14.5 million contract in March after spending his first four NFL seasons at Tampa Bay. . He was impressed with what he saw from the Jets last season when they gave Tom Brady & Co. a hard time before the Buccaneers rallied to win 28-24 in Week 17.
When he became a free agent, he remembered that game — and the Jets’ vibe despite New York’s 4-13 season.
“These guys, the record, whatever the record, whatever – they went out and played hard,” Whitehead said. “So we have a fresh start, new players, new group of guys, new acquaintances and everything. We could be very special.
The Jets also made improvements up front, signing defensive end Jermaine Johnson in the first round and Micheal Clemons in the fourth. Carl Lawson is expected to return after missing all of last season with a ruptured left Achilles tendon. Jacob Martin was also signed in free agency. Vinny Curry was also re-signed after sitting out last season after developing blood clots after surgery to have his spleen removed. All five have a knack for reaching quarterback and should increase New York’s total sack count by 33, which ranked among the lowest in the NFL last season.
Ulbrich and Saleh also plan to continue using rotation among their interior D-linemen, namely Quinnen Williams, John Franklin-Myers, Solomon Thomas, Sheldon Rankins and Nathan Shepherd, to keep them cool.
“This style that we play in, this attacking front, is best when you play 30-35 snaps a game,” Ulbrich said. “We didn’t have that luxury last year because of the depth we didn’t have, so the fact that we have more depth now, you can really get back to the essence of that front.
“Let these guys absolutely rip, jump off the ball, run around all day and then when they get tired, boom, you have another guy to replace him.”
Dismissal of quarterbacks. Locking wide receivers. Games support.
“That’s the secret to good defence,” Ulbrich said. “When we play complementary football – rushing and covering – when they work together, that’s when you play really competitive, tough and stingy defence. We’re working on that. We’ve got a lot of work to do. “
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://apnews.com/hub/pro-32 and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL