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.
Jets head coach Robert Saleh and his staff cannonballed into the deep end in their first season at One Jets Drive with a roster that led the NFL in starts by rookies and first-year players (76) and was second in both games played (155) and total snaps (5,675).
"Robert's passion and energy, it's infectious and you can see it throughout the building," general manager Joe Douglas said this spring. "Robert has done a great job. He's a unifier, and his whole staff, they're unifiers and great teachers, great collaborators."
Saleh started rookie QB Zach Wilson, the No. 2 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, 13 times last year and he knows expectations will be different for both the talented passer and the second-year coach in 2022.
"The leash on a rookie quarterback is incredibly long. Even for a rookie coach, it's long," Saleh said. "We expect to see a jump in year two. But we can't let expectations dictate how you operate day to day. You stay within your process."
Saleh will see his process through. After riding with the young guns in '21, he and Douglas got an impressive group of veterans in free agency — headed by Pro Bowl LG Laken Tomlinson, TEs C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin, CB D.J. Reed, and S Jordan Whitehead — who love football and bring postseason experience to the locker room.
"They know what it takes. They know what a winning locker room looks like," Saleh said. "Obviously, you want your success to be homegrown. But when you get guys who are like Whitehead, Reed, Conklin, C.J. and Laken, you're bringing guys who not only know what it takes, but they're good dudes. They're not looking for a paycheck. The paycheck is icing on the cake of their love of football."
Saleh's young squad got scars last year, learning how to win as seven of the club's final eight games were within a score in the fourth quarter. That group grew and it will benefit not only from that impressive group of free agents but from an uber-talented seven-player draft class that included four picks in the top 36 — CB Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner (No. 4), WR Garrett Wilson (10), edge Jermaine Johnson (26) and RB Breece Hall (36) — expected to help immediately.
"There's a clear vision for every single player we've brought in, from free agency to the draft," Saleh said. "Now it's just going on the field and implementing that vision and getting those guys to play to the best of their ability."