Damien Woody was in the trenches in the seasons (2009-10 and 2010-11) the Jets made consecutive runs to the AFC championship game. It was a special time for Woody and the Green & White and it remains a high point for the organization.
Now Woody, a former offensive lineman who is an NFL analyst on ESPN, believes that the 2022 edition of the Jets has the potential to evolve and excel with the off-the-field leadership of GM Joe Douglas and HC Robert Saleh, and the on-field development of second-year QB Zach Wilson.
"I absolutely love the vision of Joe D. and the coaching staff," Woody told team reporter Eric Allen in the latest edition of "The Official Jets Podcast." "They made a big improvement down the stretch last year, though they didn't come out with wins. The team kept fighting and the front office supplemented the roster with strong free agents and a strong draft class. It's a recipe for a big step forward for the New York Jets this year."
Saleh, entering his second season as a head coach in the NFL, has set the right tone, Woody said, as a candid and direct leader. At the same time, Woody said that Saleh is flexible enough to have tweaked his approach to this week's OTA, minicamp and this summer's training camp.
Speaking about Saleh, Woody said: "No. 1, you have to be a leader of men, have guys buy into your vision. And he has that vision of what the program will be, a strong locker room and brings in the right guys to help you execute your vision. Saleh is the right guy. He set the foundation last year. There were a lot of first then: first-year head coach, first-year playcallers on offense [Mike LaFleur] and defense [Jeff Ulbrich], and then a lot of first- and second-year players. The foundation was laid last year, it's how you start to build a culture."
It's Woody's view that "championships are won in the offseason," in the weight room, the meeting room and setting yourself up for a hard-fought season.
"Saleh said he's not letting off the gas, but the important thing is to make it to Week 1," Woody said. "That's what's really important, to have your roster intact, the important pieces intact. We saw what happened last year in the offseason, [Carl] Lawson hurts his Achilles. You just want to make sure the roster is able to get through clean and unscathed for Week 1."
The NFL 2022 season stacks up with a challenging schedule that begins with four straight games against AFC North teams, then has three home games against AFC East foes (Miami, Oct. 9; New England, Oct. 30; and Buffalo, Nov. 6) before the bye (Week 10), and then three away to division rivals after the bye (at New England, Nov. 20; at Buffalo, Dec. 11; and at Miami, Jan. 7 or 8). The Jets went winless in the division last season, and although the Dolphins (Tyreek Hill) and Patriots (DeVante Parker) picked up elite and solid wide receivers respectively, both those teams have made changes to their coaching staffs.
"I think about what's going on in the division," Woody said. "Miami has a new coach [Mike McDaniel], Josh McDaniel has moved from the Patriots to the Raiders. With change can come some adversity. What I love about the Jets is that the whole system is in place for the second year in a row. That wasn't commonplace not that long ago in the organization. The same offense, the same defense, the same coaching staff. Just adding players to go with the nucleus that's there is an interesting position for the Jets."
Though Wilson won't be throwing passes to Hill, the Jets did land the former Ohio State in WR Garrett Wilson (drafted No. 10 overall). In free agency, they added tight ends C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin, then drafted TE Jeremy Ruckert, another former Buckeye. They join a group that includes Corey Davis, Elijah Moore and Braxton Berrios, who re-signed in the offseason, and Denzel Mims. The offense was also bolstered by the drafting of RB Breece Hall (No. 36 overall) in the second round. Wilson and the entire offense will also benefit from a fortified offensive line that added Laken Tomlinson in free agency.
"I have a stat that was passed on to me from (ESPN New York's) Rich Cimini that said that among Moore, Davis and [Jamison] Crowder, they only played 60 snaps together last year," Wood said. "That means that Zach played basically one game with all his receivers. Think about that for a rookie quarterback, playing one game with all his top targets on the field. That's crazy. Having all those guys healthy will do wonders for Zach Wilson and this offense. [Crowder signed in free agency with the Bills in the offseason.]
"I'm really excited about the tight end position, it's been like a wasteland for a decade to be honest. They're in a system where the tight end is very important. The offense is uniquely friendly to tight ends. All these guys are good run blockers, but now they add a dimension in the passing game that is paramount for the development of a young quarterback.
"And on the offensive line, I think it has the potential to be really, really good. The line is a mixture of high picks [Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker], a late bloomer in [George] Fant, veterans [C Connor McGovern] and free agents [Tomlinson]. There's a good blend of guys who combined together could be really, really special."
In addition to those five potential starters, the Jets also re-signed Dan Feeney, drafted Max Mitchell, and retained Chuma Edoga and others.
"Zach Wilson is in a situation where the whole team is young," Woody said. "You got a young head coach, young playcallers on both sides of the ball, the foundational pieces are young. The whole operation is growing together, and I hope they grow and mature together."