Jets HC Robert Saleh Expecting 'Misery' If He Can't Coach vs. Jaguars

Saleh Spoke With Browns HC Kevin Stefanski for Advice; Green & White Likely to Have New Safeties and Guards in Week 16

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Jets head coach Robert Saleh, who tested positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday, spoke with Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski earlier this week seeking advice that has nothing to do with football. Saleh wanted to know how Stefanski dealt with testing positive for the virus earlier this season and watching his team play from his basement.

"He said everything is going to be fine, it's all virtual anyway," Saleh said. "You're going to miss practice, but Sunday is going to be miserable. So I'm looking for misery."

There's a chance Saleh will coach on Sunday against the Jaguars, but the team is operating as if he will not. He needs two negative tests -- one Friday and one Saturday -- to clear protocols and return.

"I feel good," he said. "Just hanging out in my little room."

Saleh and 16 players are dealing with the virus. The Green & White activated CB Justin Hardee and WR Jeff Smith on Friday, but Saleh does not expect anyone else to be cleared in time for the game. The two positions that have felt the impact the most for Sunday are safety and guard. Ashtyn Davis and Sharrod Neasman are on the NFL's Reserve/COVID-19 list, and Elijah Riley was declared out after sustaining a concussion last week against the Dolphins when he was stretchered off the field.

The Green & White added Will Parks and Kai Nacua earlier this week, both of whom have experience in this system. If they play, they'll be the ninth and 10th players to take snaps at safety this season for the Jets. While Saleh wouldn't speak to his plan at the position, he said the team is planning to take a long look at rookie Jason Pinnock.

"We obviously drafted him to be a corner, but a lot of guys were in that area and we look at Pinnock's size, length, speed, athleticism, we were like, 'Man he'd be a really cool free safety, Jimmie-Ward type in our system,' " Saleh said. "We've only been training him there for about a month. I don't know if we expected him to get thrown out there, we've been sprinkling him in throughout games, but he's going to get the full gamut hopefully this week. We'll see."

The Jets' starting guards -- LG Alijah Vera-Tucker and RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif -- are also on the Covid list. Assuming they don't play, Dan Feeney and Greg Van Roten, who started the first nine games this season at right guard, are in line to start.

"GVR will be able to step in, I'm sure he's really champing at the bit to get back into a starting role and with Feeney at the other spot, he's been wanting an opportunity," Saleh said. "It'll be a great opportunity for those two, especially with a game that we're going to have on Sunday. Really good opportunity to show who they are, what their skillset is and dominate."

See the Top Practice Images Leading Up to the Sunday's Game Against Jacksonville

With all the changing parts on both sides of the ball, game management coach Matt Burke, who leads an around-the-league session for the team, compared the situation to the NBA. Joe Johnson, who had been out of the league since 2019, recently signed a 10-day contract with the Celtics, the team that selected him No. 10 overall in 2001. 

"The message in it is that there's a lot of guys getting opportunities that they never would have once had," Saleh said. "Covid is absolutely tragic, I don't want to mitigate that. But through tragedy there's always opportunity and there are a bunch of guys at that safety position that are getting opportunity that they would not have had. We're excited for those guys to get those ops. [Jeff Ulbrich] said it yesterday, it's definitely new territory."

He added: "Everyone has to go through adversity. Watching practice, talking with the guys and going through staff meetings, guys are in a great place. They're practicing hard and I fully expect them to go out there and give everything they got. At the end of the day that's what we're judged on – go on the football field, give our best effort and whatever the result is, it is. Adversity is what shapes everything and obviously this whole season has been filled with adversity. Why not finish it with a little bit more?"

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