The Jets are halfway through their voluntary OTA sessions and in two weeks the offseason will reach a conclusion with mandatory minicamp. On a roster that has significantly improved since last January, rookie CB Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner (6-3, 200) stands tall.
"I was with Richard Sherman last year, so he has that size and that length like Richard," said S Jordan Whitehead of Gardner. "Sauce is a great kid, a great young adult. He's coming in, he has that confidence. Just know where he's from, he's tough and that's going to go a long way just being his size and he's going to have to be physical. That's going to be one of his, Coach Saleh calls it, superpowers."
Gardner, who was selected No. 4 overall in the 2022 NFL Draft, became the quickest Jets' first-rounder to sign his rookie deal in the last 40 years. After wearing No. 20 during the team's rookie minicamp, Gardner made his first pro transaction with veteran CB D.J. Reed to secure jersey No. 1.
"He's what everybody says he is," said Reed, who has moved to No. 4, of Gardner. "Obviously, he's prototypical, but he moves like a small guy. When he presses, he's just dominant at the line of scrimmage, so I think that's what separates him from your average corner."
In three seasons at Cincinnati, Gardner had 9 INTS and didn't allow a TD. In 2021, Gardner allowed only 13 catches for 117 yards according to PFF College while registering 3 INTS, 3 sacks and 4 PDs. While Gardner thrives in press-man situations, he is a complete cornerback.
"He can play zone too," head coach Robert Saleh while again reiterating the Jets play more man in the back end than is externally perceived. "The kid can do it all. He's very talented, he's very smart, he's hungry for knowledge, he's a great competitor. One thing I will say is we won't put him in position where we know he won't succeed, so that's a promise. But there's not much of that in his game."
As good as he is, Gardner won't be handed the starting job. Bryce Hall, who led the defense with 16 PDs last season, has been running with the first team in spring drills.
"He still has to earn it and Bryce has played and started and he's taken the one reps and it's not for show," Saleh said. "You have to go earn your right to play football. Just because you were drafted in a certain spot doesn't mean anything. Bryce is attacking every moment and he's doing everything he can to keep himself exactly where he's been."
See the Jets on the field during the fifth OTA practice of 2022.
Calabrese Has Coordinator Potential
Last spring, theJets had a first-time NFL signal caller in OC Mike LaFleur and a first-time NFL QB coach in Rob Calabrese. They also had revered longtime NFL assistant Gregg Knapp on staff who had been settling in to help rookie passer Zach Wilson make the transition to the pros. But Knapp tragically died in July after sustaining severe injuries in a bicycling accident in California.
Then last August, the Jets hired Matt Cavanaugh as a senior offensive assistant. In late October, the team hired John Beck, Wilson's personal QB coach, as the first-year player mended a strained PCL in his right knee.
The Jets begin Wilson's second season with the more seasoned pair of LaFleur and Calabrese plus veterans Joe Flacco and Mike White providing insurance behind their talented passer.
"As the room sits now, it's less congested," Saleh said. "It's probably a lot less hot with all the body heat, but I really like how the communication's been because it's been more direct. Where I do think it's more helpful is outside the quarterback room where the ideas are being shoved into a meeting are not necessarily minimized, but they are more direct, more refined, more concrete. So, when we do get in the quarterback room, there's a lot more conviction on what's being coached."
Calabrese, who served as the Jets' offensive coordinator during their week at the Senior Bowl, was a Broncos quality-control coach in Denver in 2019-20.
"He's definitely got coordinator potential," Saleh said of Calabrese, who starred at East Islip (NY) HS before playing collegiately at the University of Central Florida. "I don't want to put his business on blast, but he was courted this offseason in terms of job opportunities and coordinator opportunities, and he elected to stay. Very talented young man, very knowledgeable. He played the position; he's a sponge and he's getting better every single day as a football coach."
Saleh said third-year WR Denzel Mims continues to make strides. "Denzel's better, the second time around, he's in fantastic shape, looks really good. He's working on the things we've asked him to work on with regards to the catch point, contested balls and obviously grasping the offense. He's a lot further along than he was a year ago." … Among the group of players not seen at today's voluntary workout were TE C.J. Uzomah, Ts Mekhi Becton and George Fant and DT Sheldon Rankins. Conor McDermott and Chuma Edoga handled the first-team reps at tackle. With Uzomah out, second-year TE Kenny Yeboah had a busy afternoon. … In one red zone period, QB Zach Wilson hit WR Braxton Berrios, UDFA wideout Irvin Charles and RB Ty Johnson for short scores. … WR Elijah Moore, later called "the real deal" by CB D.J Reed, got the better of the competitive DB on an out that led to a connection from Wilson. But Reed also stopped TE Tyler Conklin short of the goal line during a red zone period. Today's final word goes to Saleh, who was asked about the progress of his starting QB. "He's grinding through it; he's doing a really nice job. He looks a lot better; the timing has been better and it's just a matter of continuing to stack up great days. When we get into competition in training camp with other teams, it will elevate a little bit more and then the regular season happens and a whole new speed."