Another opening, another show. But just how will the Jets defense perform when the curtain goes up Sunday?
The unit has some top veteran performers, at all three levels — Quinnen Williams, C.J. Mosley and Marcus Maye. They also have much youth and inexperience, especially in the back seven, at linebacker besides Mosley and at cornerback surrounding Maye at safety. The 4-3 defense is a new scheme for the Green & White and adds an additional layer of uncertainty.
So how does coordinator Jeff Ulbrich think his D will perform against the Panthers in Charlotte, NC?
"We'll see. This will be a great challenge for them," Ulbrich said. "I think they're all up for it, though. Just to see their demeanor, it's not a passive group. Although inexperienced and young, none of them came highly regarded from the standpoint of draft status or whatever the case may be, they all have their own inner confidence and swag to them that makes me feel better. They don't seem overwhelmed by any means."
Yet the D hasn't run into a test yet to match Carolina. A lot of it has to do with No. 22 — Christian McCaffrey's back at full speed after missing 13 of last season's 16 games due to ankle and shoulder injuries. And the Jets are very much aware of the danger he poses to the Jets.
"He knows his craft, he's good outside the pocket, obviously he can catch," Mosley said of the secret to slowing McCaffrey. "We've just got to make sure we get 11 people to the ball once he gets it."
"Getting 11 hats to the ball, knowing where he is when he's on the field," Maye said of the secret to slowing McCaffrey. "They do a great job of getting him the ball a million different ways."
You may detect a pattern. Call it 11-on-1 drills.
"It's a collective thing," Ulbrich underscored. "It's going to take the entire defense. We're going to have to play really sound, fundamental football. We're going to have to set edges at all levels of defense, whether it be the D-line, linebackers, secondary. Then you get population to the ball and tackle really, really well. Assume that the guy that's approaching is going to miss the tackle and assume that it's going to take all 11 to take him down."
Meanwhile, Sam Darnold is now the Panthers quarterback and will benefit from the killer speed of Robby Anderson and fellow wideout D.J. Moore, both returning 1,000-yard pass-catchers. Maye praises Anderson's speed and the offensive design for getting him open. And Mosley said of Darnold:
"It's exciting anytime you go against a quarterback you played with. You're excited because you get to hit him now. But we're going against another NFL quarterback who's proven he can make plays."
"We know what Sam can do," Maye said. "We just have to make him uncomfortable."
Ulbrich described the pass vs. run tension for his group.
"It's extremely tough because you'd like to say we've just got to eliminate the explosives. But then there's space for No. 22. We'll be kind of picking and choosing when we do both, trying to figure out where they're trying to feature certain guys in certain spaces and do our best to defend that."
It may sound like the Jets defense is between a rock and a hard place in this first game, that they'll have to absorb some punishment on the way to becoming the type of unit Ulbrich and HC Robert Saleh envision.
Except Ulbrich knows about the internal world of his players. He knows the young guys have their confidence and subtle swagger, and he knows his veterans have the wisdom to show the way.
"It'll be fun," Maye said about going up against Darnold and Anderson, his former Jets mates. "It'll be exciting to see those guys. But we've got a game to win at the end of the day."
As for what Sunday means to Mosley, set to play in only his third game in his third Jets season, he said, "It's a new chapter for me, a new chapter for this team. I'm just excited to be back on the field. Excited to compete. Excited to get off to the right start."