The NFL offseason is history. The Jets have powered through voluntary OTAs and mandatory minicamp at 1 Jets Drive. And while the players, technically, are on sabbatical until the start of training camp in late July, many will take off a few days then return to the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center to continue preparation for the Week 1 opener against Baltimore.
Last week, the players and coaches talked about their hopes and expectations with a focus on some of the usual high-profile players: QB Zach Wilson, LB C.J. Mosley, CB Sauce Gardner, RB Michael Carter among them. That said, three of Robert Saleh's assistant coaches flipped the focus to a couple of guys who could have an impact on the 2022 season and beyond.
Breece Hall 'Sneaks Up on Defenders'Mike LaFleur's offense in Year 2 is going to look significantly different than the offense the Jets put on the field last season. The first pieces came with the signing in free agency of guard Laken Tomlinson, and tight ends C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin. The 2022 NFL Draft gifted LaFleur WR Garrett Wilson in the first round and later TE Jeremy Ruckert and OL Max Mitchell.
And no, we did not forget the Green & White's sole selection in the second round -- the quick and bruising Iowa State running back Breece Hall.
After voluntary OTAs and last week's mandatory minicamp, Hall put on display his prodigious talents and LaFleur is champing at the bit to see his rookie team with second-year RB Michael Carter in the backfield with QB Zach Wilson.
"He's a talented football player," LaFleur said of Hall. "That's what excited me about him. It stood out right when you watched him. Again, I think I've said that I don't know much about the draft guys until we dive into the draft. I don't get to watch a lot of college football or anything like that. So, I didn't know much about any of the guys, but when you popped him on you saw that he was a special talent.
"He's a fluid mover. He sneaks up on defenders more than I guess you could say watching on tape. When you're there in person, it's just a different movement style that guys aren't as used to, I guess you could say. He's done a great job since he's been here. He's on top of it. I know [running back coach] Taylor Embree is doing a great job with him, just pushing him on what being a running back in this league is like."
Hall was a consensus first-team All-America and Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year in 2020 and 2021. He rushed for 3,044 yards and 41 TDs and also had 59 receptions, for 482 yards and 5 TDs. He owns 11 school records and set an FBS record with a rushing TD in 24 consecutive games. Hall (5-11, 217) posted a 4.39 time in the 40-yard dash and 40-inch vertical jump at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
"He's 220 pounds, and he's covering a lot of yardage when he doesn't look like he's covering a lot of yardage," LaFleur said. "He's fast, so he gets up on people pretty quick. And then he's such a fluid, big-body target that when he makes his move it's not like a smaller running back when you feel like you have to put it on them. He's got a big catch radius and I know the quarterback is going to feel that."
Jason Pinnock Has a Future at Safety
As the Jets discovered last season, a team can never have enough safeties. Lamarcus Joyner, signed in free agency, missed the bulk of the season with a torn triceps. Marcus Maye ruptured his Achilles tendon in a Thursday night game at Indianapolis and departed in free agency. Rookie Jason Pinnock, drafted as a cornerback out of Pitt, smelled an opportunity to increase his value by taking valuable in-game snaps at safety.
The move seemed to fit and DC Jeff Ulbrich is overseeing a safeties' room that boasts Jordan Whitehead, signed in free agency, a healthy Joyner, Ashytn Davis, Elijah Riley, Will Parks ... and Pinnock.
"From a physical standpoint, there's really nothing different," Ulbrich said, referring to playing corner or safety. "I mean here's this long [6-0], big  physical safety that's just got range. He checks off all the physical boxes. Now for him, it's about learning the position, he's a long-time corner.
"Corners aren't typically the greatest communicators. They haven't had to learn the whole game, they've learned their side of the field, they've learned their techniques. So, a lot of the time when you get him back there it's not only the technique, it's the vision, it's the communication. He's a guy that's getting better, and he's getting more comfortable with the position. Still got a ways to go though."
Ulbrich added that Pinnock has the potential to match the evolution of Jimmy Ward, who made the switch from corner to safety when Jets HC Robert Saleh was the DC in S.F.
"I think, going back to Coach Saleh's time with San Francisco when they had Jimmy Ward, and in this defense, especially when you get into certain formations, we have safeties that have to cover in a man-to-man against a wide receiver," Ulbrich said. "Jimmy Ward was that guy in San Francisco, a converted corner that went to safety and was able to assume that role at a high level. We are searching for that same guy. Pinnock is getting better. We are very excited about what he will be, but he's still a young player and has a long way to go."
See some of the best images of the 2022 Jets in uniform at the team's annual multimedia day held at 1 Jets Drive.
It Takes a Tight End to Know Tight Ends
After serving as interim head coach for the Jacksonville game last season after HC Robert Saleh tested positive for Covid, Rod Middleton is back where he likes to be -- running a revamped tight ends room. A tight end himself for six teams over 10 NFL seasons, he knows quality when he sees it.
"The guys in the room now are hard workers and the fit is not by accident," Middleton said. "Their character and work ethic went into our decisions."
Those decisions brought C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin to the Jets in free agency in the offseason, before they tabbed Ohio State (and Long Island native) Jeremy Ruckert in the NFL Draft. Ruckert might be a project, but that's just fine with Middleton.
"I had him at the Senior Bowl and visited with him at the Combine," Middleton said. "First of all, he's a good, smart football player and you love being around the kid. He talks football, he understands football. I think he's a physical player with athleticism. He's going to work at it and the first thing that comes to mind about him is his football IQ, which is very high."
Ruckert did not figure greatly in the Buckeyes' aerial attack since Ohio State had WR Garrett Wilson (the Jets No. 10 overall draft pick) and Chris Olave (drafted in the first round by New Orleans). Middleton knows that Ruckert has work to do.
"Not to be arrogant, but I consider myself a developer," Middleton said. "It's my job to have a canvas, not a blank canvas, but to mold the guy in your vision of what a tight end should be. It's refreshing and I'm excited. I'm looking forward to the challenge of bringing that out."