Many Jets fans might think that while many areas of the team are coming together in head coach Robert Saleh's first year at the helm, there is a big area of concern at the experience-challenged cornerback position.
Yet new defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich doesn't sound nearly as worried about the position. He has 11 corners on the roster, all of whom are in their third NFL season or less and none of whom has more than one career interception. And while not singling out any of them in his wide-ranging interview with newyorkjets.com's Eric Allen, he made it clear that he's loving the competition.
"They have been absolutely working their butts off daily, from the top down," Ulbrich said. "A different guy kind of pops up every day. They are buying into the technique, buying into the scheme, buying into doing things right.
"And it's starting to get interesting out there. Where we were young and inexperienced, now you're saying, maybe we've got something. Maybe we've got a couple guys, three guys, four guys. We'll see how that shakes out but I'm really excited about the preseason to see how those guys play and who emerges as those two guys."
"Those two guys" currently on the top of the CB depth chart are Bless Austin and Bryce Hall, followed by an armory of young guns. Lamar Jackson, like Hall, is in his second NFL season, Corey Ballentine is in his third. Brandin Echols and Jason Pinnock are day three drafted rookies, while Isaiah Dunn is an undrafted free agent.
Similarly at nickel, youth is being served. Second-year man Javelin Guidry is listed first and being ushed by fourth-round rookie Michael Carter II and first-year player Elijah Campbell.
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Inexperience is not the concern for Ulbrich and Saleh at safety, where Marcus Maye has been joined by eighth-year veteran Lamarcus Joyner, backed up by an experienced crew that includes Ashtyn Davis, Bennett Jackson, J.T. Hassell and Sharrod Neasman.
"I think they're great counterparts, especially in this defense," Ulbrich said of the Maye/Joyner tandem. "Marcus is going to be more of the Swiss army knife, he's going to do a little bit of everything. He does everything and does everything well and will continue to get better at what we're doing. He wasn't with us in the spring, but he's picking it up and he'll be fine by the time the season starts.
"Lamarcus, we all know he was a nickel the last two years with the Raiders. Is that what he's made to be? I think he can do anything well, he's so versatile. But I think we've found a home for him that's really going to take advantage of his skillset. He'll not only play the safety position but will play a version of that nickel as well and come down and cover receivers. So I'm really excited about utilizing both guys because they have such unique skillsets."
Like all other coordinators every August, Ulbrich has many other questions to answer, but he's got a lot of answers as well. His line looks fine with third-year dynamo Quinnen Williams and fourth-year man Folorunso Fatukasi being joined by Carl Lawson on the outside and Sheldon Rankins in the interior among many others.
Then LB has a great blend in skilled veterans C.J. Mosley and Jarrad Davis teaming up with now healthy Blake Cashman and rookie safeties-turned-'backers Jamien Sherwood — who Ulbrich says "has a different level of communication than maybe I've ever seen in a rookie" — and Hamsah Nasirildeen.
Ulbrich can't wait to set them all in motion. He did that to a certain degree in last Saturday's Green & White Practice and will turn up the heat in the preseason games the next three weeks, at the Giants, at Green Bay and vs. Philadelphia. The Packers and Eagles games will also come after the Jets participate in joint practices against both teams.
"To see a different scheme, a different offense, a different team to practice against is going to be great for our guys. To see it against as many looks as possible is going to help us in the long run," Ulbrich said. "Plus it just helps with the competitive juices. We can go out and hit somebody, compete against somebody else.
"I'm happy the league has pared it down to three games," he added of the preseason schedule. "As long as the season is, it's just the safest way to do things. I think if you can't get a real evaluation of a roster within training camp and on top of the three preseason games, I just don't know if you're doing it right. So I think you can get all the information that you need and instill a culture, instill some schematics, the whole deal."