For the Jets and safety Elijah Riley, it's been a match made in camouflage heaven.
The Jets, having lost veterans Marcus Maye and Lamarcus Joyner to season-ending injuries, were combing their pro personnel files and the waiver wire looking for bodies that played the position. In the first nine games, the Green & White fielded six different starting tandems in the deep middle.
Riley, meanwhile, was in the up-and-down roster cycle for a year-plus with Philadelphia. The 6'0", 205-pound undrafted free agent from Army played in six games in that span, with no starts and no stats. Then less than a month ago, the Jets signed him off the Eagles' practice squad.
"I was fortunate that Philly's only an hour and a half away. The transition was pretty seamless," Riley said following Wednesday's practice. "Then it was right into the playbook, figuring out the ins and outs and what I need to accomplish in my job."
His job wasn't just to take his time to learn the Jets' defense and secondary calls, or just to play special teams in the interim. Riley jumped into the starting lineup alongside second-year man Ashtyn Davis for the Miami and Texas games. And the position has stabilized.
"I go into any job fighting for the starting position. I come to compete," Riley said of his sudden job upgrade. "Once I get the opportunity, it's full speed ahead, head down and get to work."
"Elijah's a very intelligent young man," head coach Robert Saleh said, adding that he's been a "ball magnet" in practice. "He sees the game very well. He's a student of the game, constantly studying. He's a phenomenal communicator, presnap and postsnap. He's got tremendous eye discipline. And when he triggers, it is like a bat out of hell."
Just the play counts tell us something: Riley had four defensive snaps in 1½ seasons with the Eagles and 109 D-snaps in two games with the Jets. He's totaled 11 tackles in those two games along with a tackle for loss at Houston. And while this isn't a perfect picture of safety play, the Jets allowed 27 pass plays of 25-plus yards in the first nine games and three 25-plus passes in the last two.
Riley said some of his quick study traits come from his college days, four seasons and 44 games for the Black Knights of the Hudson.
"The institution prepares you to be the best version of yourself in all capacities — academically, militarily, as a leader, and athletically. Everybody is expected to be some semblance of an athlete. They throw all types of challenges at you from day zero. You've got to be able to react to situations you don't expect. It was a long four years, but I'd do it all over again."
Now he's getting to do it for the league that pays, and he's also getting to do it for one of his childhood teams. He was born in Port Jefferson on Long Island and attended Newfield HS in Selden, NY.
"It's a dream come true, a hometown kid playing for his hometown team. Yeah, it's amazing," he said. "I loved the Jets, I loved the Giants. I was a lot more interactive with the Jets. I went to games, to training camps and practices at Hofstra. It's cool being in this position. I used to watch Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, all those guys. It's a lot of fun."
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What could add more fun to the fun equation is beating up on those Birds, the team that barely saw him as a special teamer let alone a contributing safety as they sent him from practice squad to the active roster and back to the P-squad five times.
But that's not the way Riley's approaching Sunday's MetLife matchup between his new team and his first team. He says so and so does Saleh.
"It's going to be cool competing against guys I shared the locker room and stuff," he said. "But I'm not changing my approach to the game whatsoever. It's my third week here. I'm not treating it any different."
"My encouragement to him is just keep the main thing the main thing," Saleh said. "I get that you're playing your old team but that doesn't change the fact that you still have to operate and do your best and and take it moment to moment and trust that the results will take care of themselves."
"He's doing a heck of a job," the coach concluded, "and I'm really excited to see him develop over the course of these next six games to see how good he can get."