Robert Saleh Welcomes Jets' Rookies to Their First Minicamp

QB Zach Wilson, Fellow 1st-Year Players Get Out on the Grass & Practice: 'That's the Fun Part of It, Right?'

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It didn't take Robert Saleh long — just four questions into his first news conference of rookie minicamp — to share an unsolicited "embarrassing" moment in the role he recently assumed with the Jets.

"We had our 'bigs' out there, the horn blew for practice to be over, and I started to take my normal spot behind the huddle to listen to the head coach speak," Saleh told reporters via Zoom. "Then I was like, 'Oh, shoot, that's me.' "

He then moved from the coordinator's back-row spot to the HC's more prominent position, gave his rookie draft choices and undrafted free agents their first post-practice message, and sent them in to lifting and lunch. And so the Saleh Jets, at least the youngest among them, are off and flying.

Or at least half of the youngest among them. Of the 10 draft picks, 12 undrafted free agents and a handful of other invited first-year players at this camp, due to COVID protocols only about half were on the grass in the morning — the bigs or linemen — before the skill players took the fields in the afternoon.

That second group of course includes Zach Wilson, the second pick of last week's draft. While reporters are allowed at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center this week, they were not invited to watch the first session of the minicamp but were slated to get an hour in the afternoon to see Wilson's first steps and initial throws as the Green & White's QB of the present and the future.

But they did have several questions for the head coach at the break between sessions about his new signal-caller.

"He's a young man that loves football," Saleh said, stressing one of his themes when asked about Wilson already reaching out to his new teammates multiple times this week. "I'm not just talking about Zach but the entire free agent class, the entire draft class. ... When you have a love for football, you're going to do everything you can to help yourself not only get better at it but you're going to do everything you can to protect it, which means your off-the-field stuff is going to be right.

"So to have Zach, your quarterback, have that mindset where he's just always trying to find a way to get better, it's awesome. But it's something we want to see out of every single one of our guys."

Saleh knows he deflects questions about his QB to his team frequently but that's part of his "all-53" approach. That came through nicely as he discussed his philosophy about bringing along a rookie quarterback, even one as highly regarded as Wilson, likening the process to a structure all the rookies are still familiar with: the naming of college courses.

"I know I keep bringing everybody else into the mix," he said. "But bringing along a quarterback, it's no different than how you would want to bring along your Mike linebacker or offensive lineman. There's a process we'll go through. There's Football 101 Coaching, Football 301 Coaching and Football 501 Coaching. We have to be able to introduce our scheme, show them the techniques and fundamentals, and get them to a point where they understand the overall scope of football.

"So as far as Zach, I get it, the magnitude of the quarterback position. But the development of all these rookies is really the same with regards to trying to reach them from the 101 level and get them to their graduate degree on the 501 level."

See the 2021 Jets Rookies on the Field for the First Time at 1 Jets Drive

There's no telling yet how well the Jets' offseason will be attended. After the rookie coach's rookie minicamp comes the continuation of Phase 1 and the start of Phase 2 of the offseason program for veterans. But Saleh knows the score, that players are allowed to opt out of the workouts.

"We've had a really strong showing. More and more guys show up every single week. We're really excited to see what the turnout's going to be next week and the following week in Phase 2," he said. "I'm always going to lean towards face-to-face interaction where we actually have a chance to get better. So yeah, I'm biased in that regard. But it's voluntary and they're adults and they're going to make the best decisions for themselves."

But the decisions made this week have Saleh pumped as he and his coaching and performance staffs finally take their instruction out of the building along with many of the Jets' new players to start to build their 2021 foundation on the field.

"That's the fun part of it, right?" he said. "To be able to go out there and get on the grass with the guys and start teaching your techniques and fundamentals and scheme, and seeing the coaches coach and the players play. That's always the best part about this whole job."

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