The Jets' coaching staff will have a unique opportunity to get an early, up-close-and-personal look at more than 100 top college players when it oversees the National team during next week's runup to the Reese's Senior Bowl, which will be played in Mobile, AL, on Saturday, Feb. 5. The Senior Bowl was first played in 1950 and this year's game is the second time coaches from the Jets have participated -- the first was in 1979 under HC Walt Michaels.
"We love this time of year," Jim Nagy, who has been the game's executive director since 2018, told team reporter Eric Allen on a new edition of "The Official Jets Podcast."
The Jets' staff, along with coaches from the Detroit Lions, will work with the players on the field while also observing their interactions in meetings and with their teammates. The teams' coaches were named by the league based on the order for April's 2022 NFL draft. Jacksonville, which is searching for a new coach, opted out; the Lions accepted; the Texans declined; and the Jets jumped at the opportunity to participate. At present, New York has two picks in the top 10 of the draft, four among the top 38 and nine selections overall.
But the approach is a bit different with the head coaches -- Robert Saleh of the Jets and Dan Campbell of the Lions -- taking on more of an observer role with their assistants getting more responsibility as they eye and evaluate potential NFL players.
Nagy is no stranger to evaluating top college players. He has been a West Coast area scout for Washington, a Midwest area scout for New England and national scout for Kansas City before joining the Seahawks organization in 2013, where he met and worked with Saleh.
"He was a great fit in the building," Nagy said about Saleh's time with the Seahawks. "Just the culture we had in Seattle and I'm guessing he's trying to implement the same thing in New York. It was a high-energy building with Coach [Pete] Carroll and general manager Josh Schneider, and it filtered down.
"I remember Robert working with the linebackers. He was a young, energetic, smart coach who you knew was a guy, from a personnel standpoint, who was going to end up in a higher chair. I always felt Robert would be that guy. He goes on to San Francisco, does a great job as a coordinator and now with the Jets. Here he'll be in a more of an advisory role here, he'll take a step back."
Saleh, the defensive coordinator, was part of the 49ers' staff that worked at the Senior Bowl in 2019. The next season San Francisco went to the Super Bowl.
"He was behind the T-shirts in the [Niners'] locker room the next year that said 'Mobile to Miami,' " Nagy said, referring to Super Bowl LIV when the Chiefs defeated San Francisco, 31-20. "So you can flip it quickly. It's a really smart thing the league does by sending staffs that are picking at the top of the draft order. I worked with Robert in Seattle, our lockers were next to each other for a couple of years. Great coach, great energy, he brings a lot of juice to our practices so we're fired up to get the Jets down here."
The American team, led by the Lions staff, is populated predominantly by players from the SEC because, as Nagy said, Mobile is SEC country. He added that players from the same school are kept together for continuity.
Finally of note, the Jets former quarterback Richard Todd, a Mobile native who was the MVP of the South team in the 1976 Senior Bowl and later led the Jets to the 1982 AFC championship game, will serve as a game captain.
Taking Note of Carter and Nasirildeen
Last year's Senior Bowl, which showcased 106 players who were drafted, gave scouts an extended look at North Carolina running back Michael Carter and Florida State safety/linebacker Hamsah Nasirildeen. They were drafted by the Jets in later rounds and are considered to be two young and versatile foundational players for the Green & White.
"I thought after leaving Mobile last year, that Michael would go in the second round," Nagy said. "I was surprised he lasted to the fourth, [the second] was where the most buzz was. On draft day that was an upset for us. I heard that there was something medical, so the Jets got a little draft day discount. He had a great week and a great game [60 yards on 8 carries, 1 TD]. Running back is usually an incomplete evaluation because they don't get tackled to the ground until the game. The game is when the linebackers and running backs can really show."
Carter was the Jets' top running back during the 2021 NFL season. He gained 629 yards on 147 carries (4.3 yards/carry average), with a long run of 55 yards, and 4 TDs. He also was the team's fourth-leading receiver with 36 catches for 325 yards (9 yards/per catch). He missed three late-season games with a quad injury, but impressed throughout the season with his ability to blast through initial tackles.
Nasirildeen, after leading FSU in tackles as a sophomore and junior, tore his ACL after playing only two games in 2020. He went to Mobile as a safety and left as a linebacker in the eyes of Jets' GM Joe Douglas, Saleh, and DC Jeff Ulbrich. He was selected as one of three of the Jets' picks in the sixth round (CB Brandin Echols and DT Jonathan Marshall were the others). As a rookie this past season, Nasirildeen played in 12 games, taking 58 snaps, but missed a handful of games because of injuries.
"Hamsah had a high grade based on talent, we thought he'd be a third-round pick," Nagy said. "He was also dealing with some injury stuff, had an incomplete year, missed some time and that probably held him back.
"They both had good weeks, and I think the Jets got both those players at a discount."
Inaugural HBCU Combine
The NFL and the Reese's Senior Bowl have added a new wrinkle to the program this year -- the inaugural combine for players from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU).
The HBCU Combine will be held Friday, Jan. 28 and Saturday Jan. 29 at the University of South Alabama Jaguar Training Center in Mobile. Forty players have been invited to take part in the two-day showcase. No players from HBCU schools were selected in the 2021 NFL draft and fewer than 10 signed as undrafted free agents. Scouts from all 32 NFL teams are expected to attend as the league attempts to bring attention to often-overlooked talent.
A HBCU combine scheduled for Miami in 2020 was canceled because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which opened the door for the involvement of the Senior Bowl.
"That's when I called the NFL league office and gave our pitch for the City of Mobile," Nagy said. "You know us being in the heart of HBCU country and here we are two years later."