Jordan Whitehead likes where the Jets' secondary, defense and team are headed next season, and he bases that in part on where Tampa Bay was headed in recent seasons.
"This was kind of similar to the year before I won the Super Bowl," said Whitehead, the Jets' 17-game starting safety who began his NFL career with the Buccaneers in 2018 and earned his ring after the Bucs won it all following the '20 season. "We had a young secondary, and this year, it reminds me of that. We've got a lot of talent, we've got a lot more guys that could play every position, a lot of depth.
"We didn't make it to the playoffs, and then the next year, we did well. It was different. So that's what's going to happen next year."
From Whitehead's lips to God's ears, but if the Jets continue with their top-five defense and the team's play rises to playoff-caliber in December and January, the sixth-year veteran will be one of the reasons.
Statistically, he had a solid campaign after coming over from the Bucs as an unrestricted free agent last March. His 89 tackles were third on the team and tops in the defensive backfield, a contribution that was much appreciated by MLB C.J. Mosley, who credited Whitehead for "coming in, doing a great job at safety and playing good run defense."
He had two interceptions, but they came in two first-half victories, at Pittsburgh and vs. Buffalo. Like the entire secondary, he suffered through an INT-less second half.
"There's a lot of room for improvement. I left a lot of interceptions out there," he said. "So a goal this offseason is working on those hands and coming down with more picks, because those are the game-changers."
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As coordinator Jeff Ulbrich had noted earlier, the numbers are only part of the story.
"Amazing human being, teammate, constantly bringing people along, bringing the young guys along, great communicator," Ulbrich said in the offseason. "As far as the man, he was everything that was advertised coming from Tampa. I've got some people over there that I really respect from a coaching standpoint, and he was stamped by everybody as far as character. He increases, obviously, what we do on the grass, but he improves the locker room as well."
That leadership was mentioned by both Mosley and Ulbrich as being key to helping bring first-round rookie Sauce Gardner and veteran D.J. Reed get up to speed at the corners. Whitehead takes no credit for Gardner's all-star season but likes the secondary's prospects.
"With Sauce being a Pro Bowler and D.J. being an alternate, that's a good sign for us," he said. "As a defense, I don't know where we finished but I think it was top five. That's a great accomplishment. There's a lot to look forward to next year."
But looking forward won't be enough. Whitehead stressed the importance of chemistry class for him and his DB brethren.
"The off-the-field stuff, that's going to make us tighter," he said. "Visiting each other's homes, we're going to do that this offseason. Rookie dinners and things like that are coming up.
"It's all about chemistry. We're young, so that's the great thing. After a second year in this defense, guys are ready. When they get back, we have something to look forward to. ... We're all going to get closer. It's going to be a fun time."