And introducing your new New York Jets ...
New is certainly an apt description for these Jets that open the 2021 season against the Panthers at Carolina's Bank of America Stadium.
Head coach Robert Saleh is new to the Jets' top field position. Mike LaFleur is the new offensive coordinator, introducing the Jets' new offense, the West Coast scheme with wide zone blocking. Ditto Jeff Ulbrich as defensive coordinator, who's installed an attacking 4-3 defense after the Jets went with a 3-4 base for most of the last decade and a half.
The offense has new players young and old in position, from rookie QB Zach Wilson to new veterans in WR Corey Davis, RB Tevin Coleman, LG in rookie Alijah Vera-Tucker, possibly RT as vets Morgan Moses and George Fant battled for the gig through this past week, and second-round rookie WR Elijah Moore. Big LT Mekhi Becton isn't new but he's ready to begin his second year, back from the concussion protocol.
Defensively, veteran inside man Sheldon Rankins and vet on the outside Shaq Lawson join the line rotation alongside Quinnen Williams. LB C.J. Mosley is new in the sense that this will be only his third game in three seasons with the Green & White, and he'll be flanked by rookies Jamien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen. At safety are old hands in Marcus Maye and Lamarcus Joyner, but they'll be surrounded on the corners by second-year man Bryce Hall and a bunch of first- and second-year players, one of whom will start on the outside opposite Hall and the other who'll get the nickel role.
Special teams? Much is new here also, topped by Matt Ammendola, the Jets' sixth different kicker in their last six opening days and their 10th different kicker in the last seven seasons, as well as Justin Hardee, a former Saints teammate of Rankins' and recently voted one of the five game captains for the season.
See the Top Photos from Pregame Before the Jets-Panthers Game at Carolina
And of course there is the newness of a full stadium, even a stadium rooting wearing Carolina blue instead of Gotham Green, for the first time since 2019 after everyone played last season in mostly empty stadiums due to COVID-19.
How is Saleh feeling about all this newness and about getting his NFL head-coaching career off and flying? He made one thing clear in his comments in recent days: It's not about him.
"Right now, it's all about the players and giving them every opportunity and all the focus is on them to help them make plays on Sunday — that's most important," he said. "I really don't think about what it means for me or anything. Everything is about them because at the end of the day, they're the ones that are putting on the uniforms, they're the ones inside the white lines, they're the ones that have to execute at a very high level. It's our job to make sure they're given every opportunity to do that. Not to underscore the question, I'm sure I'll be amped as all heck on Sunday, but right now there's calm and preparation that has to take place."
Part of the amping up comes from the opponents. Sam Darnold, the Jets' starting quarterback the previous three seasons, is Carolina's QB now. He has some dynamic players to turn to in his offense, topped by RB Christian McCaffrey, back from an injury that cost him 13 games last season and ready to pick up where he left off as a 1,000-yard rusher AND receiver in 2019. Former Jet Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore are ready to take the top off the Jets' young secondary if it lets them.
On the Panthers' speedy defense are DE Brian Burns, DT Derrick Brown, a Shaq of their own in Shaq Thompson at OLB, a first-round rookie CB in Jaycee Horn to do battle with Davis, Moore and Denzel Mims, and a former Jet starting at SS in Juston Burris.
Both teams were in very good health during the week, with the Jets listing only four players on their injury report and the Panthers just one. The Jets have a six-player inactive list that includes:
- RB La'Mical Perine
- RB Josh Adams
- CB Jason Pinnock
- LB Quincy Williams
- WR Keelan Cole
- DL Jonathan Marshall
And this is Carolina's six-player inactive list:
- WR Shi Smith
- LB Clay Johnston
- DT Phil Hoskins
- G Michael Jordan
- G Deonte Brown
- DE Darryl Johnson
As for the infrequent renewal of these teams' series, the Jets trail the Panthers in the regular season, 4-3, and at Carolina, 3-1. Their last win came at home by 17-6 in 2009, their only road win in 2001 by 13-12 in "the Shrek Game." In 2021, Saleh, Wilson and all the Jets, new and old, will embrace any victory they can, ugly or beautiful or in between, on opening day today.