To paraphrase a tried and true cliché: If you want to be the best you have to play against the best. And the Jets' defensive secondary got a crash course during the first day of joint practices against the Packers and one of the premier QBs in the game.
The professor conducting the lesson was Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, the NFL MVP in the 2020 season who led his team to a 13-3 record and then did a star turn as a guest host on the TV game show "Jeopardy."
"You're going to get the best of the best practicing against him and his weapons, his wide receiving corps, the offensive scheme is definitely good," safety Marcus Maye said after practice on Wednesday. "Just practicing against it and going against it leading up to the game will be good for us."
After Wednesday's session, Rodgers took note of the Jets impressive defensive line, called the linebackers a "really good" group and also noted that the secondary could benefit from the matchup with the three-time NFL MVP.
"It was anything but vanilla today," said Rodgers, who was not a fan of the Packers' joint sessions with the Houston Texans in 2019. "They run a bunch of different fronts, they ran the pressures, safety pressures, 'backer pressures, they had some great checks. This is a different feel."
Maye, the longest tenured Jets player, and Sharrod Neasman and J.T. Hassel were in the line of fire as Rodgers participated in the joint practice session ahead of Saturday's second preseason game (veteran safety Lamarcus Joyner sat out Wednesday's practice with lower back spasms while Ashtyn Davis is expected back in Week 2 of the regular season).
The wily veteran QB also faced a group of cornerbacks that is still a work in progress. Although Bless Austin and Bryce Hall have seen most of the work with the ones during training camp, the rest of the group is young and untested at the NFL level. Yet the rookie class of Brandin Echols, Michael Carter II, Jason Pinnock (who did not participate Wednesday) and Isaiah Dunn have flashed during training camp. Also in the room and on the field are Javelin Guidry, who continues to get a long look at nickel with the first team, Elijah Campbell, Corey Ballentine and Lamar Jackson. Zane Lewis is getting some run at safety after transitioning from cornerback while special teams ace Justin Hardee has missed some time with a hip strain.
The Jets had their moments in the defensive backfield with Austin coming up with a couple of PDs and Hall exhibiting great coverage on Davante Adams on one vertical route, but Rodgers did spray the field with his frozen-rope passes. At one point he connected on a 30-yard completion with Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who slipped behind the defense for an easy catch and TD during a two-minute drill.
"He's done this a million times," Maye said. "This is not his first rodeo at all. It's a practice so it's routine to him at this point. Going against it and seeing it throughout the week is definitely good.
"Practice was good. This is the second time I'm doing joint practices and coming out and competing against another team, working on your craft is definitely a good thing. Just going against those guys, seeing how they work throughout the week is good for us as a team."
See the Best Images from Wednesday's Joint Practice in Green Bay