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Primary Ingredients for Jets' Secondary

D.J. Reed, Jordan Whitehead, Sauce Gardner Add Spice to 'Cooking Competition'


This is one in a series of articles that will also appear in the New York Jets 2022 Yearbook, which will be published later this summer.

The start of free agency in mid-March brought a feeding frenzy, with the Jets initially filling up with offensive linemen (Laken Tomlinson) and tight ends (C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin). Head coach Robert Saleh, who served as the defensive coordinator in San Francisco before coming east, had to bide his time — for a day — until general manager Joe Douglas provided two important pieces with the signings of safety Jordan Whitehead and cornerback D.J. Reed.

And the Jets weren't finished. When the NFL Draft rolled around at the end of April, the Green & White snapped up Cincinnati CB Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner with the No. 4 overall pick. Suddenly, the Jets' defensive backfield was fortified.

"To have two corners [Gardner and Reed], getting Jordan Whitehead and getting Lamarcus Joyner back [from injury], I'm really excited about the secondary," Saleh said. "There's the improvement we'll get out of the safeties that were here a year ago with [Ashtyn] Davis and Elijah Riley. There's a whole group of guys that are really going to help this secondary ascend."

Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich and Marquand Manuel, the defensive backs/safeties coach, now oversee a positional group that is deep, split between "young veterans" and a handful of second- and third-year players.

The 2021 draft brought Michael Carter II, Brandin Echols and Jason Pinnock to the CB room. In the previous draft the Jets landed Davis and Bryce Hall. They have also gotten solid play from two undrafted free agents, from Javelin Guidry in 2020-21 and Isaiah Dunn last season.

"It's always fun and exciting because you're adding to your team and you're adding to the competitiveness of your team," Saleh said. "A lot of guys are busting their tails and we're excited about them, too. We're adding to the group, we've got a really good group already, so there's really no pressure on them. Just come on in, compete, do your best and we'll see how things go.

"Rookies, and all these guys, they cook at their own rate. They evolve and they become impact players at different rates all over the place."

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