Back on the field at MetLife Stadium for the Green & White Practice on Saturday night for the first time in nearly two years, Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley was easy to pick out. Not because his green No. 57 jersey could be seen flashing prominently, but also because of the flowing, red-streaked hair that cascaded out of his helmet.
Mosley, 20 pounds lighter (at 231) than when we last saw him in action, is back. The Jets are happy. Mosley, ever under control, told reporters after the practice that "it felt good" to return after injuries upended his 2019 season and the coronavirus pandemic prompted him to opt out of the 2020 NFL season.
"It's all about what you put on tape," Mosley said. "I haven't put anything on tape in two years. I just have to remind everybody. Today was a great start. It felt good to be out there after a long time. It was great to have fans, the fireworks [set off after practice] were fun. There's always more to improve on. I missed two tackles out there, two big tackles, in my opinion. That's something I've just got to get back to working on in practice. I thought the defense had a pretty good day, the special teams are looking good. The offense made some big plays when it had to. Offense and defense playing off each other."
He can be forgiven for missing those tackles during an exercise that is only the first building block ahead of next week's preseason opener against the Giants. The practice seemed to fit the well-worn cliché that the defense is usually ahead of the offense early in training camp. That certainly seemed to be the case, at least where rookie quarterback Zach Wilson was concerned, on Saturday night.
"He's got to understand that it's a long season, there's going to be ups and downs," Mosley said. "You have to do your best -- when having a great time stay humble, when you're down stay humble. He has 21 brothers that have his back. I told him the first time I saw him in the building that the defense has your back. We always have his back. Everyone has to know that. Everyone in that building has to know that."
Head coach Robert Saleh was generally pleased, at least in his comments right after the game, but knows things can always be improved.
"I thought the defense came out and they were playing very fast, especially up front," Saleh said. "Everything starts up front, and still does in football, offensively and defensively. Thought the defense did a really nice job coming out hot. It was good, got a lot of snaps in, got a lot of learning opportunities, a lot of guys that are gonna find a lot of tape to get better off of. It was a good productive day for sure."
Speaking of that highlight tape, Mosley put an exclamation point on the night with an interception of a Wilson pass, which only brought to mind his breathtaking Pick 6 on opening day against Buffalo back in 2019. To "open" the 2021 season, Mosley's interception on a fourth-down pass from Wilson, was headed for Jamison Crowder before safety Lamarcus Joyner hit Crowder as the ball arrived. The deflection was snagged by a diving Mosley who cradled the ball with both hands as he turned over onto his back.
Teamed with Jarrad Davis, signed in free agency from Detroit, in the Jets new 4-3 defense, Mosley had nothing but praise for his partner.
"It's been awesome, he's a very smart linebacker, humble, hungry," Mosley said. "Most importantly, he matches my intensity everyday at work and I try to match his. We always talk pre-snap about what we're seeing, about what the offense is doing, working together with pressures.
"It's gonna be fun as we get to know each other better and figure out what makes both of us go, and how we can complement each other. I think our whole linebacker group is pretty good, especially with a solid defense with the length that we have and the speed, it's going to be a sight to see."
With a day off on Sunday, the Jets, Mosley and the defense will be back at work Monday.
"I feel like they're getting better every day," Mosley said. "The first week in pads it was just a little slow in the run game. Compared from Tuesday's practice to now there has been a big difference. That's going to come with more time and us spending more time together as a defense. I think today everybody was feeding off each other. Everybody got a feel for how the linebackers were playing behind certain D-linemen, who likes to do what in certain situations."