Jets assistant general manager Rex Hogan has been with the organization through the difficult times, and now he's ready for the excitement surrounding the team as the calendar inches toward Monday night's 2023 regular-season opener against division rival Buffalo.
"We hear the outside noise," Hogan told Eric Allen on an edition of "The Official Jets Podcast." "But I think we've continued to be focused on weekly expectations. Who's the next opponent? We don't look down the line, we deal in the weekly expectations and everything else will take care of itself.
"First and foremost, it's going to be an electric environment. Our fanbase is incredible, the fact that it's 9/11 will amp it up. We're opening with Buffalo, and we've had good battles with them the last couple of years. It's going to be a wild scene. The fans and the team are hyped. It will be a fun game to watch."
Hogan is in his second go-round with the Jets. He rejoined the Green & White after two seasons with Indianapolis when Joe Douglas came on as the team's general manager in 2019 (he had previously been with the team as the senior director of college scouting). Since then, Hogan has helped preside over the transformation of the roster, via the NFL Draft, free agency and myriad savvy moves to a point where the Jets now have a quality 53-man roster composed of veterans (like QB Aaron Rodgers, LB C.J. Mosley, CB DJ Reed, RB Dalvin Cook) and exciting young players (like DL Quinnen Williams, WR Garrett Wilson, RB Breece Hall and CBs Sauce Gardner and Michael Carter II).
"It's exciting how we built the 53 [man roster]," Hogan said. "I mean, the turnover alone, I don't know exact numbers, it's unreal how we've gone from handful of guys on the 2019 roster [only Mosley and long snapper Thomas Hennessy remain from that 2019 team; John Franklin-Myers was signed that year off waivers, but was injured and did not play] to what we have now. It's a work in progress and we're still going to build."
That "build" received an enormous, potentially game-changing boost when the Jets acquired four-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers from the Green Bay Packers only days before the 2023 NFL Draft. Rodgers' impact was immediate and has permeated the team, the locker room, indeed every nook and cranny of the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center.
"It was wild because you think about having the opportunity to get one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game and to see it unfold," Hogan said. "With each step there was a little more clarity and then it became realistic, and we had a chance. There was a build until he went on the '[Pat] McAfee Show,' word spread, and once he decided to come play with us, then having to work things out with the Packers. That was a real cool moment for the organization and the fans.
"Getting a glimpse of who Aaron is and who he is day-to-day, his impact not only on the team in the locker room and in the building has been cool. He has a certain level and standard, with him entering the building there was instant credibility."
It's been well-documented, whether via the HBO documentary series "Hard Knocks" or through "One Jets Drive", that the Rodgers Effect has washed over the team, but the impact has been felt especially on the practice field during OTAs and training camp. Even before the start of the regular season.
"He's done it not only with the offense, but with the defense," Hogan said. "You saw it through the spring and OTAs. He would take Sauce out to dinner, to basketball and hockey games. Take C.J. (Uzomah) out to dinner and it had an impact on them both. His relatability is incredible. In subtle conversations, he will pull guys to the side and talk about details of a route or a formation and the impact they have on a play. And in the building, he will come upstairs, make his way down the hallway to introduce himself. Instant relatability.
"The little things he does, the small things and bringing along the other quarterbacks and being able to communicate. His ability and understanding are impressive."
Hogan mentioned the effect Rodgers has had on third-year QB Zach Wilson, mentioning an improvement in Wilson's body language, command of the huddle, an increase in confidence and how his feet have been "quieted" in the pocket while he's also been playing with a better understanding of the offense.
But what really gets Hogan's juices flowing is the depth on the defensive line (which he said reminded him of the d-line when he was with the Bears during their run to the Super Bowl), the skill and commitment in the defensive backfield (with Gardner, Reed and Carter II leading the way at the corner, and Tony Adams and Jordan Whitehead at safety), an evolving offensive line (benefitting from a healthy Duane Brown and Alijah Vera-Tucker, and a determined Mekhi Becton). He didn't fail to mention a loaded backfield with the return from injury of Hall, the acquisition of veteran Cook and a rejuvenated Michael Carter.
Through all that, however, Hogan, a died in the wool personnel junkie, takes special pride in the influx of players from recent drafts -- certainly Gardner and Hall, versatile offensive lineman Joe Tippmann, but also D-linemen Quinnen Williams, Jermaine Johnson and Micheal Clemons; WR Garrett Wilson, for example. But particularly this season the presence on the 53-man roster of undrafted free agents like Xavier Gipson, Jason Brownlee and Irv Charles.
"We went with seven at receiver," Hogan said, a group that also includes veterans Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb. "All those guys earned and each is different. X [Gipson] in the slot has great speed, quickness and ability after the catch, and is being helped by Cobb. … Brownlee, from that one-handed catch in OTA, has that body control and great hands. He's a different athlete and different size then X. Irv has a combination of height, weight, speed, and made a serious jump in on special teams to being one of the best on specials on the roster. [HC Robert] Saleh calls him the special teams wolf."
He added: "In every room, there's a veteran leader who has taken over and is helping the other guys. We've got young guys who lead, too. The blend across the roster has been cool."