The 2020 season wasn't what the Jets players wanted. But there were a number of success stories that will have an impact on the future under new Head Coach Robert Saleh, and one of those stories is the rise of defensive lineman Folorunso Fatukasi.
"I feel like I did some good things this year," Fatukasi told newyorkjets.com's Ethan Greenberg. "I feel like there are a lot of areas I need to grow in. I felt like I continued to show that I could do some good things. What I loved most about my play this year is that everyone else around me was flying so we were all feeding off each other. I was feeding off them and I'm pretty sure they were feeding off me."
The numbers back up Foley's contributions to the Jets' front line and to their defense. From getting onto the field for one game and three defensive snaps as a rookie in 2018, he increased his exposure to 14 games (no starts), 33 tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss/no gain, one sack and one pass defensed. Then this past season, he played 15 games (eight starts) and all the metrics rose, to 42 tackles, 11.0 TFLNGs, two sacks and two PDs, plus his first forced fumble, against New England, and his first fumble recovery, off of Frankie Luvu's strip sack of Baker Mayfield vs. Cleveland.
But there was another important dimension to Fatukasi's game, which was the fire he brought to the D-line room and the defense in the wake of veteran leader Steve McLendon's October trade to Tampa Bay.
"What I like about our group, and really just the entire defense, the work doesn't stop for them. It's always figuring out what to do, how to do it, where to go, how to get it done," Fatukasi said. "And we just take that mindset into work, and more times than not despite our adversities, it showed up in games, that all right, we're going to keep fighting. And this is what I respected the most about this group, that we held each other accountable, we helped each other, we competed with one another. And it was also a foundation that Steve left for us. It kind of just continued on."
See the Top Photos of Quinnen Williams, Folorunso Fatukasi and the Jets D-Line in 2020
All of these traits play into Saleh's view of defense, which is not only, as we all know now, "All Gas No Break," but also good, fast and violent, and details, details, details. In addition, D-line was important for all four years of Saleh's reign as San Francisco's coordinator. In three of his four drafts with the 49ers, they took three Round 1 D-linemen — Javon Kinlaw 14th overall last April, Nick Bosa second in 2019, and Solomon Thomas third in '17. And that doesn't include DeForest Buckner, selected seventh overall the year before Saleh arrived.
in each of Saleh's seasons with the Niners, their 4-3 scheme was led in sacks by a defensive lineman — Kerry Hyder last year, Arik Armstead in '19, Buckner in '18 and Elvis Dumervil in '17. Saleh inhertied the NFL's 32nd-ranked run defense and by the time he departed the city by the Bay, it was ranked seventh.
This bodes well for Quinnen Williams, about whom Saleh said, "Absolutely love Quinnen. I'm really excited to get the seatbelt off his harness and let him go in this scheme, to get him going vertical, to get all that mass moving in the direction that it needs to go."
But that applies to all the Jets linemen, all the defenders, as the Jets embark into the future under Saleh and coordinator Jeff Ulbrich. The recipe for improvement, Fatukasi said, is relatively simple.
"We all came back to work and continued to fight," he said. "That's one of the things I admire the most about these guys is they didnt flinch, they didn't cringe, there wasn't any woe-is-me attitude. It was about all right, look, this is what it is. How do we get better? How do we grow?"