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New York Jets training camp storylines: Injury watch, culture high, Cougar Zach

New York Jets Training Camp
New York Jets Training Camp Storylines, Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

New York Jets training camp storylines are aplenty

The summer of football-player freedom featured lakeside fun, summer breeze hangouts and even a unique bonding moment at the zoo. (Sorry, ladies and gents, but Sauce Gardner decided to showcase his monkey-bonding moment in Instagram Story style, leading to no link via video evidence.)

Those who lock themselves into their favorite New York Jets players’ summer happenings understand which non-football summer activities were chosen in June and the better part of July. After all, this is the last dead period before another National Football League season officially gets underway—when training camp commences.

Jets rookies report to work on Tuesday, July 19, 2022, the date representing the first day of a potential professional football career. The veterans are asked to report a week later, on July 26.

This means New York Jets training camp is right around the corner, coming at a time that features a unique blend of intriguing possibilities and prior ills that require conquering. Plenty of storylines accompany the brand-spanking new football season.

Overcoming the injury bug

No, injuries can never be a football team’s excuse. Each squad usually deals with its fair share of injuries over the course of an entire season.

At the same time, that does not mean reality should be ignored.

The Jets’ injury bug is one that needs professional extermination. For a few years running, New York’s injuries have either led the NFL in man-games lost or have finished near the top.

What gives? Wouldn’t Joe Douglas and company love to know.

A year ago, the likes of Carl Lawson, Vinny Curry, Lamarcus Joyner and, of course, Mekhi Becton were all (ultimately) lost for the season prior to the completion of Week 1. Whether it’s something in the Florham Park, NJ water or the stiffness of the Atlantic Health Training Center grass … nobody really knows.

The only thing Douglas knows for sure is this: He had to start thinking more about “availability” via his roster. And that’s what he did, especially when it came to targeting new left guard Laken Tomlinson, a Pro Bowl big-heavy who’s missed just one game over the course of his seven-season professional career.

Douglas also established an injury-prevention program prior to the 2021 season. Dubbed the Athletic Care and Performance department, it’s led by the renowned Dr. Brad Deweese.

A successful New York Jets 2022 season begins with availability.

Cougar Zach

Move over, Paul Finch … there’s a new mom hunter in town.

New York Jets sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson has kept the dead part of the summer football season alive in a way Joe Namath cannot help but smirk over. While Wilson’s former buddy and BYU teammate, Dax Milne, has definitely taken a hit to his in-locker-room perception, the former collegiate Cougars quarterback is welcoming nothing but skyrocketing stocks.

Yeah, it’s silly—there’s no question about it. But for those who understand the environment in which these players (independent contractors) dwell, Wilson, a starry-eyed 22-year-old kid who’s entering his second big-boy season, is suddenly viewed in a much different, more positive and relatable light (especially as it relates to his teammates).

Although Wilson’s off-the-field escapades do nothing for his on-field play, the entire narrative surrounding his exploits does make an impact as a whole. No longer can the average clown troller claim that Wilson isn’t “one of the boys,” as was frequently seen upon his entrance into the NFL (remember the NFL draft night video or a seemingly uncomfortable Wilson posing for the camera)?

Obviously, whatever may be true or untrue, regarding his recent relationship drama, can’t officially move the “one of the boys” needle for the kid (by way of public perception). Then again, it cannot hurt.

Sprinkle that on top of the much more critical piece that is Wilson bonding with teammates—especially wide receiver Braxton Berrios—during off-work hours, and suddenly, Cougar Zach Wilson is getting it done off the field in more ways than one.

A culture high

Joe Douglas unapologetically announced his intention to create the right culture upon his arrival in Northern New Jersey. And in spite of the many eye-rolls from the Jets faithful, he continues that stance today.

New York’s improved culture—and yes, it is undeniably improved upon the 2020 version—is a storyline to monitor throughout the entirety of training camp. The usual training camp fight (or five) has very little to do with this notion. (In fact, a few training camp fights could be deemed as a positive for the competitive part of the football-program culture.)

Take note of how Jets teammates communicate and get along with one another in late July and August. If the culture continues to spike in the right direction, it’ll be more than noticeable.

A zesty Sauce

Quite literally, the only Jets rookie who should be considered an undoubted starter—at this very moment—is cornerback Sauce Gardner. This does not mean the likes of Breece Hall or Garrett Wilson won’t find their names in the starting lineup come Week 1, but rather that, in late July, a coaching staff led by Robert Saleh wants to make the youngsters fully earn their way.

The story surrounding Sauce comes down to superstardom status. The kid simply is that damn talented, and, better yet, rookies can reach elite status in year one.

Unlike wide receiver, tight end and other spots—which feature a steeper learning curve—cornerback allows the rookie a chance to use his athleticism and instincts to lead the way.

Sauce Gardner has a shot to be an impact player from the get-go.

Garrett Wilson’s route-running wherewithal

Based on talent alone, there’s no question that Garrett Wilson fits inside the Jets’ top-three wideouts. But talent is never the only factor in the NFL.

As great as Wilson’s one-on-one route-running is—as the kid attacks the man-to-man cornerback’s blind spots brilliantly—he still has a way to go when the entirety of the defensive coverage is considered.

It’s an area third-year receiver Denzel Mims hasn’t quite yet mastered and one that serves as a wild card for rookie wide receivers. Watching Garrett Wilson’s route-running (as a whole) progress this summer will be interesting.

The Denzel Mims situation

A year ago, Jets fans were outraged that Baylor product Denzel Mims was not receiving the playing time the faithful had envisioned. After all, the kid is a second-round talent that Douglas snagged after slyly trading down in his first NFL draft.

Instead of worrying about why Mims wasn’t on the field, however, fans should have been rejoicing that the team suddenly and finally featured the depth required in order to not have to rely on a kid who couldn’t read coverages. The proper perspective simply was not there.

This year, Mims looks improved—as he did start behind the eight-ball in the Spring of 2021. But the Jets have more than enough depth at the position, save for an unexpected injury.

Braxton Berrios is not going anywhere, as he will be a key cog in Mike LaFleur’s offense—taking on that jet-motion, orbit-motion role that worked so well down the stretch in 2021. With Elijah Moore, Corey Davis and Garrett Wilson rounding out the top four, Mims will have to knock off coaching staff-favorite Jeff Smith to crash the top five.

I don’t see it happening, especially not with other weapons such as D.J. Montgomery showing what they can do in OTAs and minicamp.

I expect Douglas to ultimately unload Mims for a mid-round pick. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting one to watch this summer.

Where’s the beef?

Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of this Jets roster is what’s inside on the defensive side.

Where’s the beef?

With Foley Fatukasi taking his talents to … Jacksonville? (which was the right move on the part of the Jets, to allow the 3-4 nose tackle to walk) … the Jets do not have that traditional 1-tech defensive tackle on their team.

The usual 3-techs (over the guard’s outside shoulder), Quinnen Williams and Sheldon Rankins, should now be viewed as Foley’s replacement in Saleh’s 4-3 base. This means the Jets’ defensive line has intentionally downsized in the attempt to attack gaps in a quicker way.

This 4-3 gap-attacking scheme does rely upon get-offs and sideline-to-sideline speed—in the attempt to counter the outside zones of today’s league—but going this light is something that should be bandied about much more, especially when the league’s worst-rated defense is the team making such a drastic move.

Furthermore, it would be wise to consider John Franklin-Myers and Solomon Thomas as the Quinnen and Rankins replacements at the 3-tech. Considering how many of the Jets’ defensive linemen are edge players, the numbers simply don’t share a story that JFM will be bouncing back and forth between outside and inside.

In 2022, he may just be an exclusive interior defensive player—a place he probably should reside full-time.

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