Strength up the middle is a sports cliché because it's so desirable. It surely applies to NFL defenses, and the Jets appear to have strength at each level, with "new" players merging with established veterans.
On the D-line, interior holdovers Leonard Williams and Steve McLendon have welcomed first-round wunderkind Quinnen Williams into the fold. At linebacker, Avery Williamson will team up with impressive unrestricted free agent signee C.J. Mosley.
And in the deep middle, Jamal Adams is back for his next act and is joined/rejoined by Marcus Maye.
"Jamal's been fun to watch," coordinator Gregg Williams said after the June minicamp when asked about his fleet of safeties. "He can't fake who he is, either. And it's not only him but Marcus and there are other guys there that are in pretty good position. We've got to stay healthy and we've got to cut them loose and let them play. But they've had a good spring."
Here are four safety storylines heading into the opening of Adam Gase's first Jets training camp later this week:
What Next for Jamal?
Adams made an impressive pro debut as the Green & White's first-round pick in 2017. Last year he made a sophomore leap — a superb regular season in which he became the first NFL safety since 2000 to rack up at least 100 tackles, 2.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and 10 pass defenses in a season, capped by being named the Jets' Curtis Martin Team MVP and the Defensive MVP as an AFC safety starter in the January Pro Bowl.
Then in the offseason, Jamal even helped recruit Le'Veon Bell to join the fun for 2019. How'd he do it?
"Hey, man, it's just being me," he said. "I can't give you everything. Little tips, you know?"
Is there anything Adams can't do? We may find out as he takes on the coming year. Or we may not. As he says, "Just getting better at everything, that's how I look at it."
Reunited and It Feels So Good
As great as Adams developed in year two, the team of Adams and Maye never got out of the gate. After they gave great promise as 16-game rookie starters together, Maye missed the first three games of last season (foot), Game 7 vs. Minnesota (thumb), and Games 11-12 (shoulder/thumb) before going on IR. He was on the injured list all 36 regular-season practices (18 DNP, 13 limited, five full-go).
At 6'0" and 207, Maye has to answer in the affirmative that he can take the banging of splitting time with Adams in the box. But it's something the two have shown Gase they can do and do well when healthy, as they were this spring with Maye returning slowly to the full form he wants to be in for the start of camp.
"They want to be interchangeable — I love that about those guys," Gase said. "I know Marcus does have the ability to both play in the post, down, he could go and play nickel if you asked him to. His flexibility is great, and that's what you're looking for in a position like that."
The Role Players
With Terrence Brooks off to New England to see if he can find defensive and special teams roles with the Patriots, the same spots need to be filled on the Jets. Doug Middleton, in his fourth year on the roster, showed why he was kept around when he took over for Maye to start those first three games last season and played seven games before going on IR with a torn pectoral.
And Jets fans are familiar with the gritty, game Rontez Miles, who will start his seventh camp with the Jets and in the past four seasons has logged 730 plays on defense and 1,024 on teams.
The other safeties jockeying for jobs include first-year man Brandon Bryant and undrafted rookie Santos Ramirez.
See the Best Images of the Jets Safeties
The Gregg Williams Churn
We would be remiss if we didn't mention one more player for the deep middle in Darryl Roberts. DR is listed as a CB again, but as we've mentioned, last season he put in double duty and became the first Jet since Johnny Lynn in 1985 to start at least five games at corner and five at safety in the same season. Just as Adams and Maye want to be interchangeable, Gregg Williams wants his entire secondary to be the same.
"One of the things we do is you have to learn more than one position," the DC said. "You can't just be a one-position-dominant person. When you do that, that's the next man up philosophy. So how you get through an injury-plagued game, an injury-plagued season? Who's the next best athlete, not the next guy on the depth chart at that position.
"So our guys have already started doing that. We've already put the playbook in 3½ times, and we'll put it in another three times at training camp. Guys are already starting to multitask at other positions. When you're a concept learner and when you're a cognitive learner, you should be able to do those type of things. It's not that hard. In the secondary, we're moving guys around a lot to make sure that we're doing the best we can with the guys we've got right now."