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Sauce Gardner Eager to Spend More Time Covering No. 1 Receivers in 2024

HC Robert Saleh: 'He’s a Weapon We Can Use From a Defensive Standpoint'


At various points last season, the Jets' All-Pro CB Sauce Gardner traveled around the field shadowing the opponent's best receiver. That group included Chiefs TE Travis Kelce and Cowboys WR CeeDee Lamb. Heading into the 2024 season, Gardner is ready for more.

"I am looking forward to it," Gardner on potentially staying with No. 1 receivers. "I would like to call myself one of the best in the game, if not the best. I'm always open to competing. I always want to challenge myself, challenge other people, but ultimately, I just want to do whatever it takes for the team to win because that's what it's all about, winning games."

Despite historically keeping his best cornerback to one part of field during his time in San Francisco, HC Robert Saleh said on the second day of OTAs last Tuesday that he was more open to the idea of Gardner being on the move this season. Over his first two years in the NFL, Gardner has taken everything the opposition has thrown at him, in stride earning Defensive Rookie of the Year, two Pro Bowl nods and a pair of First-Team All-Pro selections.

"When you have a guy like him, you just got to try to find ways to be creative with him," Saleh said. "You have to evolve in this league. Obviously, every year you're going to try new things. Some things stick, some things don't, but this is the time of year to try all that stuff.

"He's a weapon we can use from a defensive standpoint. To say it'll be exclusive to one player, I'm not necessarily going to say that, but I think it's going to be more game-to-game."

As a rookie in 2022, Gardner matched up with Ja'Marr Chase (Cincinnati), Tyreek Hill (Miami), Jaylen Waddle (Miami), Justin Jefferson (Minnesota), D.K. Metcalf (Seattle) and Stefon Diggs (Buffalo). When he was the primary defender Gardner was targeted 11 times and allowed 5 receptions for 77 yards and no touchdowns in seven games, according to Pro Football Focus.

Last season, Gardner went up against Hill, Waddle, Diggs, Lamb (Dallas) and Davante Adams (Las Vegas) and was targeted 15 times. He allowed 9 receptions for 110 yards and no touchdowns in six games.

"I'm just trying to find ways to keep getting better," Gardner said. "Anything that's my strengths, I just keep going over it, easy everyday fundamentals, stuff like that. Everyday drills, stuff like that. Stuff that's my weaknesses, I pride myself at getting better at that as well. I'm just trying not to get complacent."

Gardner will face another batch of elite wideouts in 2024. In addition to facing Hill and Waddle twice a year as usual, he will get the opportunity to battle San Francisco's Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, Diggs. now as a member of the Texans, Jefferson in London and Tennessee's DeAndre Hopkins.

"I don't really think about the schedule," Gardner said. "…My first two years, I had to go against elite receivers. That's just what the game is. Pretty much every time has those elite receivers. It's just, we have to go against them, or they have to see us. That's what this sport is. Competition. Everyone is competitors."

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