Notebook | Schedule Gives Jets a Chance to 'Gain Ground'

After Going Undrafted, Rookie UDFAs Tristen Hoge and Hamilcar Rashed Jr. Are Ready to Prove Themselves 

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The Jets can quickly gain ground -- and wins -- with a schedule that includes at least a half-dozen other rebuilding teams, according to Brian Baldinger of the NFL Network.

"Atlanta is one of those teams, like Carolina and Denver, a firm rebuild; like the Jets," he said on The Official Jets Podcast with Eric Allen and Ethan Greenberg of nyjets.com. "Who will get the rebuild started quicker? Atlanta, the Jets, a lot of these teams on the [Jets'] schedule are in the first or second year of their rebuilds. That's where the Jets can gain ground if they put this thing together quickly and come together as a team. They can gain ground on these teams."

In terms of rebuilds, you could also add Philadelphia, Houston, Jacksonville and Cincinnati to that list -- all of which had losing records last season.

The Jets knew their opponents minutes after the completion of the 2020 season and last week the NFL filled in the blanks of the 2021 schedule with dates, times and locations in the league's first 17-game schedule. This year the Jets are tied for 19th in strength of schedule; last year they had the second-toughest schedule. In addition to the six games against AFC East foes, the Jets have tantalizing matchups against the Jaguars, and the Carolina Panthers and former Jets QB Sam Darnold.

"All opening games need storylines, threads to get people excited," Baldinger said. "Sam's a guy Jets fans know. He'll probably be the starter and he wants to show the Jets they made a mistake when they didn't keep him. That will be the perception -- show those guys they made a mistake. OK?"

And while the focus of game usually falls on the play of the quarterback, the coming NFL season offers a unique look at the old (Tampa Bay's Tom Brady) and the new (Jacksonville's Trevor Lawrence (the No. 1 overall draft pick), Mac Jones (New England) and Joe Burrow (Cincinnati), last year's No. 1 overall pick. And the Jets' Zach Wilson, the No. 2 draft pick.

"In the final quarter there are three teams with double-digit wins," Baldinger said. "There's also Jacksonville, so you have the [rookie] quarterbacks and the [rookie] coaches [the Jets' Robert Saleh and the Jaguars' Urban Meyer]. The final three are against the Super Bowl champion, Jacksonville and then at Buffalo in January. And it's a 17-game schedule and we will see who's limping into Weeks 16, 17, 18. Who's fresh, depth will play a big part. In the 53-man roster you'll have a chance to use all of it. Who's left standing?"

Undrafted, Not Unwanted
During his tenure as general manager, Joe Douglas has been adept at finding value and quality in players whose stock has declined for myriad reasons.

In last year's draft, that list included two defensive backs -- Ashytn Davis and Bryce Hall. This year, after selecting 10 players in the 2021 NFL Draft, Douglas dipped into the market for undrafted free agents and may have come up with a couple of keepers among the eight the team has signed. Among that group are guard Tristen Hoge of BYU and edge Hamilcar Rashed Jr. of Oregon State.

Hoge (6-4, 306), a right guard, was one of Zach Wilson's protectors after transferring from Notre Dame. A leg injury caused him to miss eight games in 2019 and then a bout of Covid-19 and pneumonia forced him to miss four games last season.

Asked why he thinks he's a good fit with the Jets, Hoge said: "It's the athleticism and power. They're going to run the ball, put it on the O-line's back. That's great for me. Put the run game on our back, let's go. The O-line is going to lead the team.

Rashed (6-2, 251) has the potential to get a long look, provided he can reclaim the play that brought him to the attention of scouts in 2019. In that season, he led the nation with 22.5 TFLs and 14 sacks. But in the 2020 season Rashed logged only 2 TFLs and no sacks in seven games. He's versatile, having played at outside linebacker and on the defensive line.

"For every team I literally had to say the same thing to the same question," Rashed said. "It was a tough situation, I told them the truth about what happened. It's not an excuse, obviously it wasn't a great year, but I'm ready to prove myself.

"I just say I was injured the whole time, Covid, so much uncertainty. I could have opted out and I played injured the whole year. Now I'm here and I'm here to stay. I want to be a franchise player. No matter where you put me I'm here to play."

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