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Notebook | Why Was 2023 Jets Rookie Minicamp Different?

Robert Saleh Holds Draft Picks Out of Practice; Seventh-Round Pick Shares Mickey Shuler Story


Before the Jets' 13 undrafted free agents and dozens of tryouts took the field for the final workout of rookie minicamp on Saturday, HC Robert Saleh told the hopefuls about the story of Seahawks DE Benson Mayowa. Ten years ago, Saleh, then a quality coach for the Seattle Seahawks, attempted to sign the Idaho product as undrafted free agent. But the Seahawks had no more money in their UDFA pool and Mayowa was forced to take the tryout route.

"I actually called him to be a UDFA and it was like $1,000," Saleh said. "Then Coach (Pete) Carroll and (GM) John (Schneider), we had to take the money away because there was no money left. We basically had to pull the UDFA offer and long story short, he wanted the invite to rookie minicamp, and he was awesome in rookie minicamp, got to the 90-man roster. You guys remember, that was the 2013 Super Bowl team, and he made that 53-man roster with that d-line. Now he's 10 years later in the league. So, you never know where they're going to come from, it's a cool weekend.

What is certain is the Jets have come a long way since GM Joe Douglas hired Saleh in January of 2021. After embracing a youth movement and flipping the roster, the Jets have significantly improved their depth.

"In the first two years, best available was probably the biggest need," Saleh said of the draft. "Whereas this year, best available may not have been a need. But shoot, we're not going to stop from that principle. It's really cool because you don't have to rely on a rookie, you can let him develop. It's also good for the rookies because we have a really cool mixture of veterans and rookies where there are a lot of really good examples on this football team of what it's supposed to look like. Foundation's there, we've got to stack and keep that thing going. But no, it's much different."

Following the same philosophy as last year, Saleh kept his seven-player draft class out of the on-field fray. Many of the draft picks were spotted pulling sleds the past two days as the Jets work to get their conditioning up to speed.

"It's my personal philosophy that on those 30 visits, they get out of shape," Saleh said. "Once their pro day is over and they're on those 30 visits, they just don't get a lot of work in. So, the draft picks are here and they're just kind of working."

As Saleh indicated, the varsity, led by four-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers, will have a multiple week head start on the draft picks when they return to 1JD and join their new teammates for OTAs.

"Overall, the last two years, there was so much youth playing," Saleh said. "All that youth creates depth and that creates competition. The greatest form of motivating as a coach is competition. So, it all helps. To add the veterans, to add all the experience that we've been able to add this offseason, like I said, there's really good balance here."

New York Panthers
The Jets' fourth- and fifth-round picks, Pitt T Carter Warren, who hails from Paterson, NJ, and Pitt RB Israel Abanikanda, a Brooklyn, NY native, have returned home to start their NFL careers.

Abanikanda, who signed his rookie contract Friday, is living out a dream he's had since he was four years old.

"A lot of people doubted I can play football and go to the NFL from Brooklyn, New York," he said. "But I felt like I could show them with Curtis Samuel leading the way from Brooklyn, New York. I felt like I could be the next one."

Warren, who had a 25-minute drive to his first day of work, described this past week as a roller coaster.

"A lot of emotions going through it, but as soon as I got that call, I'll tell you what, tears rolling down my eyes," he said. "All that hard work and dedication I put in through the years, being injured, it's finally paying off, so I'm happy."

Warren said the Green & White called him after he was drafted to tell him they were going to draft Abanikanda, the guy he blocked for the last two-plus seasons -- Warren missed the final nine games of the 2022 season with a knee injury.

"Once I saw he was drafted, I was super excited," he said. "I shot him a text and said let's get ready for work."

Warren will get to pave the way again for his college teammate and have a study buddy in the NFL.

"Even going over the playbook, I have somebody I can work with," he said. "I know how he thinks, he knows how I think. We can work together and figure it out."

See the 2023 Jets rookies on the field for the first time at 1 Jets Drive.

The Freak
Jets seventh-round pick TE Zack Kuntz is an athletic phenomenon. During Saleh's news conference, he said of the Old Dominion product: "Always take the freak that loves ball. And if you do, usually they pan out."

Kuntz registered a 10.0 relative athletic score in the pre-draft process and a 94/100 Next Gen Stats athletic score, which ranks seventh among all tight ends that have entered the NFL since 2003. At the Combine, he ranked No. 1 among tight ends with a 40-inch vertical, 10-8 broad jump, 6.87 three-cone and 23 bench press reps. His 83 1/8 wingspan was larger than 43 of the 51 offensive linemen at the Combine.

"Some people have wild growth spurts. I've always been super tall," he said. "I was in eighth grade and I was like 6-5. Seventh grade, I was dunking on kids in middle school ball. Everybody has that kind of Bambi phase, growing into your body. … Now, I think I'm done growing, hopefully."

Kuntz, who transferred from Penn State to ODU, ran into TE Mickey Shuler at his local car wash in Camp Hill. Shuler is a former Nittany Lion and played for the Green & White from 1978-1989.

"He's from my area, actually," Kuntz said. "The thing about my town is that everybody knows everybody. It's a small town. For the most part, he just said to be yourself and learn from vets. There's a reason these guys are here and here for so long, so if there's information and things I can learn from them, I'm going to take that in."

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