New York Jets OTA, Zach Wilson, Sauce Gardner
New York Jets OTA, Zach Wilson, Sauce Gardner, Jet X Graphic, Robby Sabo, Getty Images

NY Jets OTAs bring the promise of relevance via Sauce and “thicc-ness”

FLORHAM PARK, NJ—Prego, Ragu or your grandmother’s homemade stuff that requires a good stir every 20 minutes or so? Whatever the New York Jets fan’s answer is on the matter, just understand one thing: A specific yet precious type of “special Sauce” has officially back-pedaled into the building—only to crisply T-step his way down the hallway.

Tuesday, May 24 marked the first Jets OTA session open to the media in 2022, and it offered up signs of the full promise only the Joe Douglas regime can generate.

Gardner comes equipped with Special Sauce

Similar to Elijah Moore one year ago, Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner owns a good portion of the substantial talk in Florham Park, NJ.

The No. 4 overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft, 21, was thrown into the immediate fire and came out on the other side looking clean. Mixed in with the first and second-team—during seven-on-seven drills—Gardner showcased his raw abilities on a number of occasions.

Projected to start at left cornerback—opposite veteran D.J. Reed—Gardner locked up several players on a number of instances. Once, near the sideline, on a quick-developing play, he got his inside arm in on the catch points against Moore. Although it could have been recorded as a drop, the rookie corner has the traits to never find himself out of the play.

While it’s impossible to measure a kid’s internal drive, in-between-the-ears smarts and everything else that goes into succeeding at this level, everything else Gardner brings to the table is a surefire recipe for superstardom.

Standing 6-foot-3, Sauce perfectly fits what Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich want to accomplish defensively.

Gardner’s frame and traits allow him to look extremely comfortable in the Saleh scheme. The Cincinnati product looks the part while playing the outer-third (Cover 3) and outer-quarter (Cover 4), while also having the ability to man-up in nut-crunching time—something the Jets would love to do much more. (Consider New York’s heavy zone usage of 2021 as a result of personnel over desire.)

Although he’s quick out of breaks—especially at his lanky size—the kid also looked smooth in bail-tech. (For those unaware, bail-tech is when a cornerback immediately turns the hips and runs to a deeper zone, while shading outside of the wide receiver with eyes in an appropriate place.)

When thinking of Gardner and how he could fit into this defense, think of Richard Sherman in the Seattle Seahawks Legion of Boom defense: a much taller cornerback who can play physically and act nearly as free safety down the field in outer-deeper zones.

Whether or not D.J. Reed is willing to play some slot cornerback—something that would allow Bryce Hall back into the starting mix on the outside—is simply a convenient question of this moment. Whether it’s Michael Carter II in the middle or Hall outside, the Jets have to feel so much more comfortable with Sauce Gardner in this ever-changing league that’s valuing the outer-edge positions of the depth chart more than ever.

Meet ‘thicc’ Zach Wilson

Credit Saleh for using the appropriate language when addressing his quarterback’s new and improved look.

“You guys will see him; he’s thick,” Saleh told the media prior to Tuesday’s OTAs.”

Although the Jets communications team decided to transcribe Saleh’s usage as “thick,” one would like to think Saleh thought of it in another manner …

“Thicc.”

I mean, hey, why not? Saleh, father to six children and coach to many young men, would most likely find himself up to date on the latest Gen Z wordplay—no matter how it’s commonly spelled these days.

Zach Wilson later labeled his current weight as 221 pounds—up from 208 pounds, the number he estimated he ended the 2021 season at. And, on the field, the Jets quarterback looked as “thicc” or “beefy” as he had in any one of the many social media videos capturing his offseason activities:

“I really don’t want to be over 220,” Wilson told the media Tuesday afternoon. “My goal is to kind of try and push a little bit over 220 (now), and then once we hit the summer, try and cut back. I want to play around 218.”

In terms of his play at OTAs, there was not much substance to shout out to the world.

Wilson looked confident and quick in his decision-making in seven on sevens. More than his routine yet somewhat impressive processing, his placement also deserves responsible praise.

One play saw Wilson scramble to his right, outside of the pocket, to find Michael Carter at least 30 yards downfield for a 40 or 50-yard touchdown. Wilson led his running back in an over-the-shoulder and to-the-right-type fashion after the play broke down.

“He looks good, he looks confident, (his) shoulders are back (and) he’s not caved in,” Saleh added. “He looks good, he’s confident, he’s smiling, he’s vocal. I’ve said it before, that you can always tell (what) the confidence level (is) and their understanding of what they’re being asked to do by the volume of their voice, and he’s getting pretty loud.”

Good football teams usually have leaders that do not just talk the talk but walk the walk. Wilson taking every route that features hard work and professionalism will go a long way for this potentially budding football program.

If the team’s leaders are not getting it done and setting the example, why would anybody else bother?

Other Jets notes

The drill selection and pace deserve praise

As far as the overall feel of Tuesday’s session is concerned, coming away pleased with Saleh’s plan is more than fair.

New York did not go live or get into any full-team reps—which should be expected during OTA time (no less the first OTA session opened to the media). However, the pace of the seven on sevens was quick, and the communication—especially amongst the defensive back group—was evident, even if the players were just in shorts and helmets.

Moreover, while the skill players had some fun in seven-on-seven drills, the big heavies were getting after it on the side. These fellas were even hitting the sled in some drills.

Sure, the Jets could have mixed in a team session and allowed for a better glimpse into the newcomers. But as it pertains to the types of drills and overall pace, consider Tuesday’s session as something more than a lazy (voluntary) OTA.

Label the overall structured plan of the day as light, but think of the drill selection and overall pace as more than impressive for early OTA work.

Garrett’s Wilson feet are impressive

Reminiscent of Santonio Holmes, Jets rookie wide receiver Garrett Wilson is as fluid as can be. The No. 10 overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft possesses tremendous feet that allow him a great shot at a high development ceiling.

His routes were crisp on Tuesday, and his usually impressive 1v1 route-running (attacking cornerback’s blindspots) showed face on occasion. To make it big at this level, however, the former Buckeye will ultimately have to read and feel entire defenses when running routes.

Only a few absences

Saleh and the coaching staff have to be pleased with the attendance, as only a few Jets were missing in action.

Notable absences include Mekhi Becton, who’s currently tending to the birth of his first child, George Fant and Carl Lawson, who’s most likely still rehabbing.

The absences, combined with a solid rotation in seven on sevens, did not allow for any meaningful notes in regards to the Jets’ initial first-team and second-team plan.


Overall, Jets fans should be excited. It’s easy to take the predictable pessimistic approach, but the patient plan, coupled with a max-ceiling development roadmap, is what this Joe Douglas regime has been after since its arrival.

Saleh also told the world that he believes this Jets team will be “better” than last year’s 4-13 club.

“We’re better, and I know we’re going to be better,” Saleh said. “We’re young, we’re a year older, we brought in some really cool pieces, a lot of guys who stand for the right stuff (and) who live and breathe football. Now, it’s just a matter of continuing to gain that continuity and confidence and, again, just take it one game at a time.”

Even without the new additions, this New York Jets team simply remaining healthy will provide it an excellent chance of improving. With a “thicc” sophomore quarterback, tasty special Sauce, and a bit of spice surrounding both key pieces, everything’s on the table in 2022.

The New York Jets’ next OTA session open to the public will be on Wednesday, June 1, 2022. Follow Jets X-Factor for all the latest happenings at 1 Jets Drive.

 

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Robby Sabo is a co-founder, developer and credentialed New York Jets content creator for Jets X-Factor | Jet X, which includes Sabo's Sessions (in-depth film breakdowns) and Sabo with the Jets. Host: Underdog Jets Podcast with Wayne Chrebet and Sabo Radio. Member: Pro Football Writers of America. Coach: Port Jervis (NY) High School. Washed up strong safety and 400M runner. Founder: Elite Sports NY - ESNY (sold in 2020). SEO: XLM Email: robby.sabo[at]jetsxfactor.com

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Richard Hausig
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Richard Hausig

Wilson? Sadly