Robert Saleh, Jets head coach and the overseer of the National team for Saturday's Senior Bowl, made headlines Tuesday not about the seniors who will be playing in the game but with his responses to the Jets' left tackle position.
"As I've told George Fant, he has a chance to maintain that position," Saleh told Jets reporters after practice in Mobile, AL. "It's the same thing for Mekhi Becton. He has to come in and reassert himself into the starting lineup.
"It'd be a disservice to George and the work that he's put in and the things he was able to do this year to just tell him that he can't compete for that job."
Becton drew initial raves as the LT starter for 14 of his first 17 games after the Jets selected him out of Louisville 11th overall in the 2020 draft. But his knee injury in this past season's opener at Carolina prevented him from returning to action. Meanwhile, veteran RT George Fant moved to the left side and had a very good campaign protecting QB Zach Wilson's blindside while opening holes for the Jets' ground game.
Saleh was asked if Becton has the skillset to compete for the right tackle job.
"I think Mekhi has the skill set to do whatever he wants," Saleh said. "He just has to put his mind to it."
But the coach was by no means down on the situation with Becton and Fant.
"With Mekhi, it happens, right? You have a really nice first year, then the second year, he's not the first nor will he be the last that has a second year that doesn't go the way you wanted it to, whether it's injury or for one reason or another.
"So like I said, great problem. We're kind of spoiled in that regard that we've got two really, really good tackles and it's going to be great to watch those guys compete."
Moving on to other topics, Saleh was also asked by NFL Network if, despite selecting Wilson out of BYU second overall in last year's draft, he and the Jets would still be looking at the quarterback class in this 72nd annual edition of the Senior Bowl. He agreed that they would but wound up with a strong endorsement of Wilson as he heads into his second Jets season behind whichever left tackle is protecting his left flank.
"You're always evaluating every single position, whether you need it or not, just so you can keep in touch with what the standard is and maintain a fresh look at everything," Saleh said. "But we're really excited about our quarterback. He improved as the year went on and we're really excited about attacking this offseason and coming into OTAs ready to roll and continue building on what he finished off with this season."
See head coach Robert Saleh and the Jets staff on the practice field with the National Team leading up to the Senior Bowl in Mobile.
The third time was the charm for Robert Saleh as a Senior Bowl coach, so perhaps the fourth time is the talisman the Jets are seeking in 2022. Saleh coached in two Senior Bowls as a member of Gus Bradley's Jaguars staff, then moved to the 49ers, where he coached on Kyle Shanahan's staff in the 2019 game, then coordinated the Niners' defense that was a big part of their next season that carried all the way to Super Bowl LIV.
"You never know, right?" the Jets HC said. "What I do know is that there's so much information you can gather from this game, both positive and negative. ... It's a great opportunity because we get a behind-the-scenes look with these guys and get some information that won't necessarily be out there for everybody. So it's a really great opportunity not only for us but for the Lions and for any team team that gets to do this."
Interesting that Saleh really hasn't been a Senior Bowl head coach. He would have been this year but the game's organizers changed the focus so that National coach Saleh and American coach Dan Campbell of the Lions in more of an advisory capacity for this game, while some of their assistant coaches get temporary "promotions."
That means that Jets TEs coach Ron Middleton, the Alabama native and former Auburn tight end who filled in for the week when Saleh had to sit out the Jaguars game with COVID, gets the title of the American team's head coach. And Saleh has also promoted LBs coach Mike Rutenberg to defensive coordinator and QBs coach Rob Calabrese to offensive coordinator.
"It's the same thing these young men can get," Saleh said, comparing his coaches' new platforms with the seniors they'll be coaching up for the starts of their NFL careers. "There are 31 teams watching, we're watching, and it's a great opportunity for these young coaches to step up and to showcase that they're capable of having a little bit more job responsibility. So it's an exciting time for everybody, and it's a really cool thing what the Senior Bowl has done this year."