It is rare that a team sees early dividends from their rookie players two games into the season.
But that’s been the case with the Jets’ rookies so far. Jets coach Robert Saleh compares it to when he was a defensive quality control coach with the Seattle Seahawks.
“I learned that in Seattle with Pete [Carroll] going all the way back to his USC days,” Saleh said Friday. “He played a very young group all freshmen and sophomores.
“Then when he got Seattle, it was just about play the young guys with the objective being veterans don’t make mistakes, but they’re not nearly as explosive as the young guys. Young guys make tons of mistakes, but they’re not as smart as the old guys. I’m kind of used to it and the flash plays are really exciting. We see the flashes, you see the talent, it’s about how we can get that to be consistently great.”
Sauce Gardner, the overall No. 4 pick in last April’s draft, has been impressing coaches with his knowledge and speed of the game. Starting opposite D.J. Reed, Gardner has held his own covering some of the Ravens’ and Browns’ best receivers.
This week will provide a bit of a test for Gardner as the Bengals have a talented duo of receivers in Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. Although Gardner has had his positive moments, he did have some miscommunication issues against the Browns last week, which allowed a touchdown to Amari Cooper.
“It’s something you’re always conscious of with rookies just to keep your eye on them,” Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said. “There’s going to be these ebbs and flows, and there’s going to be these learning experiences which can be painful.
“You just got to observe the man, and I think each man is so unique and each rookie is so unique when it comes to that that they could potentially get shell-shocked, and they could start losing confidence and they could start wavering and they could start abandoning technique and start making things up.
“I’ve seen that a lot, and that’s not the case with him so far, at all. He acknowledges the mistakes. He grows from it. I really believe he’s not going to be an error repeater, which is the best thing you can ask of your rookies.”
It isn’t just Gardner contributing, as Garrett Wilson was the best player on the field against the Browns. He recorded eight catches for 102 yards and two touchdowns. Wilson also was solid against the Ravens as he caught four passes for 52 yards in just 41 snaps.
The rookie wide receiver feels like his time at Ohio State has prepared him to contribute early in his career.
“I owe Ohio State everything,” Wilson said. “That environment was very special. You really can’t practice that, you really can’t get yourself prepared for seeing other DBs on the other side until it happens. At Ohio State, that is something you don’t miss out on.”
Edge rusher Jermaine Johnson, running back Breece Hall and tackle Max Mitchell have also been key contributors early on for the Jets. Mitchell is starting at right tackle following the injury to Duane Brown, which forced George Fant back to left tackle.
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Hall was the Jets’ leading rusher against the Browns as he had 50 yards on seven carries with a receiving touchdown.
Having young players starting and contributing this early for the Jets can only be looked at as a positive sign. Especially with the lack of talent they’ve had prior to this season.
“They’re all doing a great job,” Saleh said. “It is all about the crunch of excitement of fans as they only see the good that they do.
“We give them this long leach and we make excuses for their mistakes because I can give you a laundry list of stuff. The unbelievable flash plays that they’re capable of versus the backbreaking things that derail the stuff that we are trying to get done. When that gap closes, that’s when it becomes unstoppable explosive plays.”
Quarterback Zach Wilson (knee) will be out another week, but the Jets expect to have everyone else available against the Bengals.
Left tackle George Fant [knee] was limited on Friday and is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game, but he is expected to play. Safety Jordan Whitehead [calf] was also limited and is listed as questionable.
Tight end C.J. Uzomah [hamstring], who missed last Sunday’s game against the Browns fully participated in practice and is also questionable. Defensive tackle Quinnen Williams [foot], wide receiver Corey Davis [knee], John Franklin-Myers [toe/quad] are all also questionable and fully practice Friday.