The Jets are going to get better this week in Green Bay. Minutes before joint practices began with the Packers on Wednesday, head coach Robert Saleh was asked about his young secondary matching up against QB Aaron Rodgers, WR Davante Adams and the plethora of talented skill players the Packers have on their roster.
"I think it's a great challenge because this group is a pretty darn good group," Saleh said. "It's an experienced group. Aaron, obviously, is a Hall of Fame quarterback. Davante is an All-Pro wide receiver. So, it's a really good chance for them to see different players, but we think our receiver group is pretty good too. But to be able to go against different players, different releases, different schemes, is a great challenge for them."
Challenges all over for a Jets team that has a lot of young players and is starting over under Saleh, a new coaching staff and a rookie QB. While the Jets went 2-14 last season, the Packers, who won 13 contests each of the past two regular seasons and are led by the reigning MVP in Rodgers, rightfully have Super Bowl aspirations.
The Jets are going to absorb some shots in these sparring sessions, but they're going to land some blows as well. As team periods began, the Green & White's first-team defensive line, minus DT Quinnen Williams, was firing off the ball and winning matchups along the line. DE Carl Lawson and DT Folorunso Fatukasi applied early pressures and later in practice, DT Nathan Shepherd got in Rodgers' kitchen on what appeared to be three consecutive plays (one where he and DE Bryce Huff would have most likely have shared a sack).
On the other side of the ball, the Jets struggled in pass protection at times in front of Zach Wilson. They also ran it well on a number of occasions, including Ty Johnson for a nice gain in team-run period and Michael Carter with a sideline scoot for a first down. La'Mical Perine, who had the team's only TD against the Giants, had two big runs to the right with the second-team offense.
See the Best Images from Wednesday's Joint Practice in Green Bay
The Packers got to Wilson with a well-designed blitz in an early team period, showing heavy pressure at the line and dropping many off only to have CB Eric Stokes come free for what would have been a big pop on the No. 2 overall selection in April's draft. But this was a controlled camp practice and Wilson was able to hit WR Corey Davis for a short gain over the middle.
Rodgers is a magician on the field. It's easy to see why the Packers have no plans to play him until the regular season. His best pass on Wednesday was a stunner in the red zone as he hit a covered TE Robert Tonyan for a touchdown with C.J. Mosley in good coverage. The ball hung up forever until Tonyan got an inch or two away from Mosley and it was a score.
Wednesday's session ended with some quality two-minute work on both sides. The Jets defense probably should have been credited with a Huff sack on Rodgers, but the Packers were allowed to advance the ball without the negative yardage. With seconds on the game clock, Rodgers lofted a 20-plus yard TD to Marquez Valdes-Scantling after there was a breakdown in coverage.
S Marcus Mayes said of the experience: "It's good. You're going to get the best of the best, obviously, going against him and practicing against him, his weapons, and the wide receiver corps. Their offensive scheme is definitely good so just practicing against it and going against it throughout the week and leading up to the game will be good for us."
The Jets didn't have the same success, but they had near successes with the first team. Wilson had a beautiful vertical toss to veteran wideout Keelan Cole that the receiver couldn't bring in, but he later converted on third down to Davis. The drive ended after some good movement down the field but a pressured Wilson was forced into a throwaway.
Wilson said: "Our protection rules are pretty simple for us, it makes it easy. We're able to adjust on the fly and able to play fast, I think that's what's cool about our offense. I think we'll get another shot at it tomorrow, being able to cleanly pick those guys up front and just be able to keep working through our progressions."
Practicing in Titletown has a different feel, but Saleh likes to call these moments "priceless" for his young squad. They are lining up against an elite team in their backyard for a few August days as the educational process continues.
Wilson said: "It's cool. It's different than I thought out here but I'm enjoying it. The stadium looks awesome, their facilities are great so it definitely feels like football history when your here, it's a cool spot. "
The following Jets did not practice: S Ashtyn Davis, T Chuma Edoga, TE Ryan Griffin, CB Justin Hardee, WR Elijah Moore, S Lamarcus Joyner, DLKyle Phillips, CB Jason Pinnock and DL Jabai Zuniga. Joyner's lower back injury is considered minor; Sharrod Neasman and J.T. Hassell both got first-team reps along with Marcus Maye. …
The Jets are pleased their tackles are not only competing against a deep and talented line in-house, but now they get to see LB Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith. "For Mekhi, you can't draw up a better situation for him in terms of the amount of work that he's getting from three premier edge rushers. Obviously, Carl is premier in his own right. Then you get Za'Darius and Preston who are both double digit sack guys. Even for George [Fant] and [Morgan] Moses, the amount of work that they're getting, the quality work is priceless," Robert Saleh said. …
WR Josh Malone was on the receiving end of a long ball from Mike White while Wilson and TE Chris Herndon hooked up for an outstanding connection that saw a diving Herndon come up with the ball and get a first down. … Our final word goes to Saleh, who is one of Matt LaFleur's best friends, and also the boss of Matt's younger brother, Mike, who serves as Jets OC. "They'll still get into their wrestling matches when they're in the privacy of their own homes. But no, they're good, it's all professional, the whole thing. Everyone knows exactly what we're trying to get done. But it's going to be fun, good intense practice, hopefully it stays clean."