It all starts in the trenches for Robert Saleh
The New York Jets‘ defensive line was one of the rare silver linings of a 2020 season incurred from the depths of the football underworld. Not only did Quinnen Williams, 2019’s third overall pick, reclaim the narrative on his NFL career, but Foley Fatukasi and John Franklin-Myers each enjoyed breakout seasons.
When Robert Saleh arrived in New York, he felt it could be better.
The Jets’ head coach lauded his group when speaking after Monday’s training camp activities in Florham Park, praising what it has been able to do without its headliner. Williams is still rehabbing from an offseason foot injury, but Saleh is inspired by the efforts of the returnees, as well as newcomers Carl Lawson, Sheldon Rankins, and Vinny Curry. Kyle Phillips, an undrafted standout from 2019, is also set to return after missing most of last season with an ankle injury.
Saleh’s revamped front unit is part of the emphasis he and his staff has placed on winning battles in the trenches as they prepare to lead the Jets into a new era. While he acknowledges that a good quarterback remains the primary key to victory in a modern NFL that continues to put the offense on a pedestal, he stressed that a strong defensive line is the best way to throw even the most elite passers off their games.
“When you look at the quarterback position being the most important, there are schemes that can get him off his rocker and you can try to get him off his game. but when you start bringing pressure and you start trying to trick a quarterback, the great ones can make you pay in a really, really bad way,” Saleh said, per notes from the Jets.
“The only position that can really genuinely affect the quarterback without really having to do anything goofy, so you can just play good solid fundamental football in the back end, is the defensive line. Winning one-on-ones and getting in the quarterback’s face and making his life absolute hell.”
Quinnen Williams is making his way back
Lawson has lived up to his reputation of pressure master in the early going, picking up the pace with Williams still rehabbing. Per ESPN’s Rich Cimini, the third-year defender was “running on a side field” during practice and Saleh confirmed that Williams was “two weeks away” from returning.
“We’ve got this week and then Giants week, but he’s getting closer,” Saleh said, referring to the Jets’ exhibition opener on August 14. “He’s excited and we’re all excited to get him out there. The D-line group is already pretty impressive so getting him and Vinny Curry and Kyle Phillips, all those guys coming in, that’s exciting for that group.”
Morgan Moses is impressing
Over on the offensive side, Saleh had positive reviews for his newest primary offensive lineman, Morgan Moses, who is expected to take over the Jets’ top right tackle role, though a competition is set to ensue with the returning George Fant, whom Saleh expects to come back to the fields of Florham Park tomorrow.
“He’s exactly what we thought with regards to being a professional and taking the approach that he does, not only on the field, but off the field with his body and the way he prepares every day,” Saleh said. “He’s been fantastic on the field with regards to his play. 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 and to be able to add somebody like him, however it works out with regards to that right tackle competition, that O-line room is much better because of his presence.”
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Pads coming on Tuesday
The trench battle will likely be the area that’s most affected by the addition of pads to the training camp proceedings. Saleh originally stated that Monday was scheduled to be the first padded practice, but clarified that such an endeavor was always scheduled for Tuesday.
“On the interior where those guys are getting true genuine work, we’ll get some one-on-one’s going in camp for the first time so it’s going to be exciting to see those guys progress,” an excited Saleh remarked. “In the interior, you always want pads really because it helps with pad level, it helps keep good sound fundamentals, it helps all those things.”
Saleh’s increased emphasis on winning the trench battle has, in fact, raised the heat and physicality at camp, even with the proceedings blessed with moderate temperatures. Like many training camps across the country, 1 Jets Drive has played host to several unsanctioned bouts.
Dealing with such showdowns for the first time as a head coach, Saleh hopes his players that the post-whistle endeavors, like many other summer extracurriculars, are best employed in careful moderation.
“I think we all understand that there’s going to be scuffles, especially when it gets hotter. We’ve been lucky with the weather, but they’re going to get sick of going against one another,” Saleh acknowledged.
“The biggest thing is just don’t throw punches at one another. We don’t need guys coming off on the sideline and creating a bigger scuffle. It’s more to protect the team and understanding that it’s a mindset to draw the 15-yard penalty than get the 15-yard penalty. I understand that it’s going to happen, it’s not that we want it to happen, but at the same time, keep your composure. It’s good practice for the game when it happens but we’re trying to keep it in-house.”
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags