When Tony Oden makes a statement about something that incorporates his entire coaching career, it pays to listen. After all, since 1996 he has held 18 different titles for 13 different organizations — five them in college programs, the last eight with NFL teams.
And Oden is seeing something unique at this Jets training camp.
"The whole room, I can't say enough about all those guys, in regards to accepting new people in the room, communicating and sharing their experiences with them," Oden said this week about the meeting room he presides over as the Jets' second-year senior defensive assistant/cornerbacks coach. "And the level of everyone in that room has risen and is rising because of the brotherhood that these guys have.
"I haven't been a part of a room that jelled that quickly. It's been great."
This year's jelling, however, was a different chemical process that last year's. Oden was in a mother hen type role in '21 with a roomful of first- and second-year corners who were going to learn the Jets' new defensive scheme, devised by head coach Robert Saleh and coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, on the fly, mix in big plays with mistakes, and grow in fits and starts toward the future.
This year, the future has arrived and the room has a different feel with the additions of veteran D.J. Reed and fourth-pick-of-the-draft rookie Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner. Those two players drew the most questions when Oden spoke with reporters for the first time this camp.
First up was the youngest up, Gardner, who doesn't turn 22 until later this month.
"He's coming along well," Oden said. "Obviously, he's still a young guy, but he's working and learning. He's hunger to learn. We can't stress and say that enough. He is as advertised in that regard."
See the Green & White on the practice field on Thursday during week four at training camp.
The CBs coach added that Gardner has all the physical traits — size, length, athletic ability — that we've all heard about. But wait, there's more.
"There are a lot of big corners, but not all of them have speed. There are a lot of big corners that have speed but don't have transitional skills," Oden said. "So Ahmad's a rare combination of having the height and the length and the speed but yet still having small-corner characteristics in terms of transition skills. That makes it a little more problematic for receivers getting open, and if they do get open, he has the ability from the speed and length standpoint to close that gap pretty quickly."
Reed has similar tools in terms of intensity, toughness and grit plus some veteran skills he acquired in his first four years in the NFL with the 49ers and Seahawks.
"D.J.'s a true pro. He studies the game and he wants to get better," Oden said, adding that Reed "is a forward thinker. You can be presenting something, to use a building standpoint, that's at floor one or floor two but he's already on the balcony, so he can see down, see around the corners, see what could happen. And that's because of his intellect and his experience. He's able to communicate that in the classroom, and the questions he asks really raise the level of everyone else in the room — and helps me become a better coach as well."
Oden had similar insights about a few other members at his area of expertise.
Bryce Hall — "Bryce has been phenomenal. He's another guy who it doesn't matter who's in the room, he doesn't care who's next to him, who's beside him, who's behind him. He's going to prepare a certain way all the time. He's always working his craft. Certain techniques, he wants to get it not close to, not almost, but exactly right all the time.'
Brandin Echols — "He's lightyears above where he was. He has a better grasp of the game, he's doing everything we ask him to do. He's working his tail off in the classroom, in the weight room, in the training room, as far as studying — he's on it. I'm excited to see him get back out there and run around. He's been awesome."
Oden didn't give a scouting report on every other player at his position, such as Michael Carter II, Javelin Guidry, Isaiah Dunn and Rachad Wildgoose. But the quotes that resonate have to do with his feelings for this year's corners as a group and where that stands compared to other groups of defenders in general and DBs specifically that's he's been associated with over his last quarter century as a coach.
"It's been great. They're a joy to coach, to be honest, all of 'em," he said. "They make my job easy. I look forward to going to that meeting room every day with those guys."