Skip to main content

Notebook | Jets' DC Jeff Ulbrich: 'We're Going to Do What We Do'

Elite Defense Grounded in ‘Great Technique, Great Strain, Great Finish, Great Toughness, Great Bonds’


When the Jets open their 2024 NFL season at San Francisco on Monday night Sept. 9, defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich will be in recognizable territory.

And while his may be a familiar story — hometown kid and dedicated 49ers fan ends up playing in the scarlet and gold as a linebacker for 10 seasons — returning home in his third season as the team's defensive guru never, ever gets old.

"I love it, you know," he told Eric Allen during an in-depth chat on "The Official Jets Podcast." "What a great opportunity to play one of the best, if not the best, team in football right now, one of the historic franchises. And then, obviously, for 10 years, and I was raised in that area, so I was a lifelong 49ers fan as well. Could not be more excited. To be the best, you want to play the best. What a great task."

The 49ers drafted Ulbrich out of the University of Hawaii in the third round (No. 86 overall) in the 2000 NFL Draft, and he described himself as a "250-pound first- and second-down linebacker" with "decent physicality decent instinct, was willing to play hard and prepare harder than most, I think."

After playing in 160 games, Ulbrich began his coaching career as Seattle's special teams assistant in 2010. That led to stints with UCLA (linebackers coach and special teams coordinator) and Atlanta (2012-20 coaching LBs, assistant head coach and ultimately as the DC). He moved north and became the Jets DC when Robert Saleh was named head coach early in 2021.

Asked if he could play in the NFL today, Ulbrich answered with his usual candor. "Oh, absolutely not. No way."

As Ulbrich has presided over the Jets' defense for the past three seasons, the unit has gradually carved out a place among the best in the league. Last season, the group was ranked second in passing yards and third in total yards allowed per game. Pro Football Focus graded it as the best overall defense in the league last year, while ahead of the coming season PFF rated the Jets' defensive line and secondary No. 1 in the league (see subsequent item).

"I would say the foundation of who we are is we're going to do what we do," Ulbrich said. "We take great pride in the fact that we have a great coaching staff that really is about skills, technique and based fundamentals and principles that we can really rely on to play the brand of defense we want to play. The beauty of that is, when I get to address the group, I'm not sitting there talking about 17,000 different schematic programs. I'm talking about finish, I'm talking about toughness, I'm talking about technique.

"You're talking about, to me, the real essence of football, I think that that's what makes us a little different than most. But at the same time, I'd say that we're not so stubborn as coaches, that we don't provide a few wrinkles here and there to keep the offense off balance, pushing ourselves this offseason to grow from a schematic standpoint, so we'll never lose our essence, and that's being based in great technique, great strain, great finish, great toughness, great bonds, but we never lose that. But at the same time, I think our guys have really gotten to the point, because there is a level of mastery that's going to end at this point in the system that we can challenge a little bit more from the schematic standpoint, without compromising the other stuff."

As strong as the defensive line is with Quinnen Williams in the middle, and newly acquired Haason Reddick and Jermaine Johnson on the outside, steady linebackers in C.J. Mosley and Quincy Williams and evolution at safety, the Jets' defense has been driven the past few seasons by consistent play among the team's cornerbacks. All three -- Sauce Gardner, D.J. Reed and Michael Carter II -- return for another season together.

"We have great confidence in all of them," he said. "Sauce has some unique qualities. He's a guy that's obviously, he's super long, he's big, and he's bigger than most corners, but his transitions, his foot quickness, his speed, is just so unique for a guy so high cut and long legged. It doesn't make physical sense to me most of the time when I really watch him, especially long, streaming stuff and matching guys in the outer brakes, the matching stuff. It's a powerful tool."

From PFF, Top Ratings for D-Line, Secondary
Pro Football Focus loves the Jets' defense.

Sam Monson (defensive line) and John Koskco (secondary) rate Jeff Ulbrich's crew at those positions tops in the 32-team NFL.

Monson puts the Jets' DL at No. 1, followed by San Francisco and Philadelphia.

He writes: "Youth and Haason Reddick's addition propel the Jets to No. 1. New York lost John Franklin-Myers [traded to Denver] and Bryce Huff [signed in free agency by the Eagles] this offseason but still boasts tons of talent, including star interior defender Quinnen Williams."

He adds: "The Jets have a fearsome defensive line, even with a couple of offseason departures. Those were offset at least in part by acquiring Reddick, and could be entirely eclipsed if Jermaine Johnson and Will McDonald take steps forward. Williams is one of the best and most disruptive defensive linemen in the game, making the Jets as good as it gets on the defensive line."

John Kosko has the Jets' secondary No. 1, followed by the 49ers and Buffalo.

He writes: "The Jets return four starters [add S Tony Adams] from 2023. They also get [safety] Chuck Clark back from injury and have the best cornerback [Sauce Gardner] in the league, so it's no surprise they top the list.

"Gardner followed up an impressive rookie campaign with an equally remarkable sophomore season, and Michael Carter II and D.J. Reed are excellent cornerbacks in their own rights. This is a unit that is difficult for opposing offenses to pass on."

Take a look at photos of the Jets CB group during the 2024 offseason.

Related Content