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At the Senior Bowl, a Familiar Role for Jets TEs Coach Ron Middleton

HC Again, 'Riverboat Ron' Sees All-Star Game as 'Ideal' Situation for Green & White Coaches & Scouts


Some NFL coaches might consider an invitation to work the Senior Bowl sidelines as just a little too much. You know, long season just concluded, pressure-packed new season ahead, some time off would be nice ...

That's not how Ron Middleton is looking at this week in Mobile, AL, and not just because he's one of the game's head coaches.

"With all the draft capital that we have, I thought it was ideal," Middleton, the Jets' tight ends coach, told's Eric Allen earlier this week about the seniors he and his staffmates are coaching up on the game's National team. "I was hoping we got to do this, to get hands-on with these guys, to really learn some stuff that you can't see on tape, know what I'm saying? See how these guys respond to a little adversity, how do they learn.

"We're not going to try to teach 'em a whole bunch of stuff this week ... but maybe plug in one or two things and see how they progress with it throughout the week."

Middleton is an old hand now at this head-coaching deal, having taken the Jets reins from Robert Saleh for the Jacksonville victory in December while Saleh was dealing with COVID. He has expressed his thanks to Saleh for giving him another opportunity to run a team as well as for giving other Jets assistants the chance to "step up" to coordinator roles for this game while Saleh acts as an overseer and adviser.

"Rob Calabrese is our offensive coordinator, and Mike Rutenberg — 'Rooty' — is our defensive coordinator. And Leon Washington and Mike Ghobrial are the special teams coordinators," Middleton said. "I thought that was outstanding. I've known Robert Saleh for a long time, and he was ready to be a head coach, just his spin on things, his uniqueness. And putting these guys in position to elevate their stature is outstanding. He made some great decisions.

"I question that head-coaching decision a little bit, but I thought those other guys were right on point."

Middleton was being modest. Even though Saleh still got credit for the 26-21 win over the Jaguars and had Zoom-ed in on all the meetings during the week, the touch applied by "Riverboat Ron" through gameday was much appreciated by the players.

And the offensive players especially enjoyed Middleton's application of the go-for-it philosophy the Jets took into the game. They attempted to convert five fourth downs, their most in a game since Rex Ryan went for it five times at Kansas City in 2014 and their most in a win since Joe Walton, in his first game as Jets HC, converted four of five in the 1983 season opener at San Diego. And the three conversions vs. the Jaguars, all involving QB Zach Wilson (one rush, two completions, including the 1-yard TD pass to Conor McDermott), were the most by the Jets since a 3-for-3 day against Arizona in 2008.

"My son texted me the other night and said the memes are out there saying the punters and field goal kickers should get all their work in practice because we're not going to use them in the game," Middleton said with a chuckle. "But that's not the case. Different deal, different mindset. We want to see these guys perform in game-type situations.

"You know, the idea of the dumb jock, that's no more. You've got to be able to take it from the meeting room to the practice field to the game field. And this is a great opportunity to see how they digest that information, how they process it, and can they work with it."

After all, 31 other NFL teams want to see what the Jets and Lions coaches are seeing this week leading up to Saturday's Senior Bowl. And Middleton is particularly interested in the process. He may be an assistant coach or a head coach to some of these young men once they get to the pros.

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