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Where Are They Now

Where Are They Now: Ronald Blair

Catch Up with the Jets Legend from Appalachian State


After four seasons as San Francisco's defensive coordinator, Robert Saleh moved to New York and became the head coach of the Jets in 2021 with a plan to turn things around, enthusiasm, the habit of running the stadium steps on game day, and Ronald Blair.

A free agent defensive end who was drafted by the 49ers out of Appalachian State in 2016, Blair played in 47 games with two starts, totaling 13.5 sacks and 88 tackles in all but his rookie season under Saleh before tearing his right ACL during the 2019 season. It required a second surgery which led him to spend the 2020 campaign on the physically unable to perform list.

And even though he had basically been rehabbing for a year and a half, the coach knew what he was getting from the player.

"If you like winning, you like Ronnie Blair," Saleh said in 2019. "If you don't like winning, you don't like him. I love him to death. He can do no wrong in my book."

Blair felt the same way about Saleh, which was the chief factor in why he chose to sign with the Jets.

"When he first became the defensive coordinator, I was right there alongside of him," Blair said. "I just watched him grow as a defensive coordinator and grew a very strong relationship with him. I could pick up the phone right now and call him, and he'll pick up and we can have a conversation. That's how close we are. I've got nothing but love and respect for Saleh and will always have. So he played a big role in the 2021 free agent signing, for sure.

"He wanted me to come in and be a vet leader. I've always been kind of guy that can play any position, so I just had to step up where needed. So it was kind of vague, but just from my past time with him, I knew how the defense ran. I knew pretty much what everybody did, and so I was prepared. It was kind of like a mutual understanding. But the main things were to be veteran leadership in the locker room, being versatile, and stepping up when needed."

Blair also stepped up when his new teammates had questions about their new head coach.

"They knew I played under him in San Francisco, so they asked, and sure, I was willing to give them everything they needed," Blair said. "And they kind of found out early on because he picked up right where he left off in San Francisco with his stories tying together with real life events. He was just a very great storyteller that tied in football, real life, family life experiences and everything. He's just amazing at the storytelling and tying all of this stuff together."

Blair's knee was back to being fine when he joined the Jets, but then he suffered a setback during New York's second OTA practice when he thought he had pulled a hamstring.

"I rehabbed it and started off having a great training camp, and my hamstring jumped on me again. It kept me out for the rest of the time because we thought it was just a strain. And then I got like a second opinion and found out it was a hematoma. It's like a blood clot that was in my hamstring," Blair said.

"So it didn't matter how much rehab I did, that pool of blood that kind of knotted up in my hamstring, anytime my hamstring would contract, it would cause friction. It made it feel like I was straining it, but it wasn't.

"That's what stopped me from starting the beginning of the season healthy. Had we known that back in OTAs, we could have caught it then. I would have been good all through training camp."

Assigned to the practice squad for the first half of the season while his hamstring issues were being dealt with, Blair was activated for the 2021 Week 10 game against Buffalo. He hadn't played since San Francisco's Week 10 game in 2019 against Seattle. Two years and three days!

"I was just thankful to be back, all the trials and tribulations I had to go through to get back on the field," Blair said. "Going from that initial ACL tear back in 2019, and then come to find out that some stuff was still going on in my knee from the initial injury, to finally get that fixed, and then come to the Jets and have the hamstring, it just seemed like something was fighting against me.

"And so when I finally got to take that field against Buffalo, it really was kind of overwhelming. I could barely talk to anybody. Because you know in the back of your head when you're just so excited for something to happen, and you don't want anything to jinx it… So I'm excited, but at the same time I don't want to get too excited because you never know what could happen."

What happened two weeks later in Houston, was that Blair recorded a sack and had four solo tackles in the Jets' 21-14 win over the Texans.  

"It was just a great feeling," Blair said. "It kind of sends chills through my body even thinking back to all the stuff I had to go through mentally and physically. And all the work I put in to get back there. I was just thankful to get back on the field after all the stuff that happened.

"That's when I really felt like I picked right back up where I left off in San Francisco. It was just fun. I can't lie, that first game in Buffalo was a little different during those (pregame) drills over on the side. And then coming to play the game was something completely different. I really felt like I caught my legs that game (against the Texans). I just felt really good flying around. I felt like myself."

Blair, who only spent the 2021 campaign with the Jets, nevertheless, saw similarities between what the 49ers did and are continuing to do, and what the Jets are hoping to do.

"I had to sit there and just kind of like realize that this is really pretty much déjà vu, because that's exactly what happened in San Francisco," he said. "It was just a good feeling to see the good that Saleh was doing and continues to do. I really think he's going to have a really good season this year. Everybody's bought in. I think they'll fix the holes they have from the previous season and be even better. And everybody will come back healthy."

Now retired from the game, Blair, who has become an entrepreneur, will keep an eye on what the Green & White's doing from Charlotte, NC, where he owns a lounge which opened last August called EDEN of Plaza.  

"It kind of just fell into my lap," Blair said. "I started talking with some of my friends and this building opened up. They looked at it and sent me some pictures and videos and we started discussing it, and it came all together.

"When you first open, you want everything to be perfect. And it's never like that. It's just like football. No team ever starts out the season perfect. The first game, you've got all these mistakes and all that. That's kind of where I come to resemble the lounge. From day to day, I see things that we initially were doing bad and we're just improving each day. And it's really a good feeling because it's like the sky is the limit. It's just such a beautiful place and there's so much space.

"I'm very happy about who I am and the work I put in to be where I'm at today. I'm honestly just thankful to be who I am because I'm just very happy in my skin, very blessed to have the friends and family and circle that I have. I'm thankful for that."

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