FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. Four’s a crowd: Same quarterbacks, different quarterback room.
After last season’s unusual dynamic, best described as too many cooks in the kitchen, the Jets are back to a traditional coaching setup, which should benefit quarterback Zach Wilson. The only voices in his ear are his position coach (Rob Calabrese) and his coordinator (Mike LaFleur). Gone are senior assistant Matt Cavanaugh and John Beck, Wilson’s personal coach who was hired at midseason.
No one will say anything negative about the four-man structure because they don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, but it’s pretty clear the holdovers prefer the current way.
“I really like the way the communication has been because it’s been more direct,” said coach Robert Saleh, adding that “there’s a lot more conviction in what’s being coached.”
LaFleur said, “It’s been good to have just the two voices.”
Calabrese said, “Moving forward, [there will be] one clear, concise message. Everything goes through Mike LaFleur and we make sure we’re all on the same page.”
It got crowded last season, a situation born out of tragedy (the death of assistant Greg Knapp), unusual circumstances (rookie coordinator and rookie QB coach) and sheer desperation. The Jets hired Cavanaugh to replace Knapp, who died from injuries suffered when he was struck by a car while biking last July. Cavanaugh had no background with LaFleur or Saleh, but his vast experience was appealing. The Jets added Beck because they were so concerned by Wilson’s poor start and felt the young quarterback needed a familiar shoulder to lean on.
“It was good to have somebody in the building who was constantly there for him, someone he could talk to,” Beck told ESPN. “He could share his opinion, he could give an unfiltered feeling about how he was feeling going into certain experiences. He didn’t have to feel like it was somebody who would pass judgment or somebody would be critical because they’re comparing him to other quarterbacks in that situation.”
One outside observer, former Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason, wasn’t a fan of the four-headed coach.
“I don’t know Zach Wilson at all, so it’s hard for me to say what would’ve made him comfortable last year, but I do know this: When you have too many people talking to you, it tends to be a little much,” Esiason told ESPN. “I’m glad they dialed this whole thing back. Let his coach handle him and let his offensive coordinator call the plays.”
Wilson showed modest improvement late in the season, so “LaCalcaveck” did some good things. But this is a better setup for all parties, namely Wilson, whose success hinges, in part, on his ability to click with LaFleur and Calabrese.
2. Making his mark: By streamlining, Saleh is placing a lot of faith in Calabrese, who he believes has coordinator potential. Saleh almost lost the 32-year-old coach in February. Calabrese was a finalist for the coordinator job at the University of Kentucky, which hired one of Calabrese’s mentors, Rich Scangarello.
Calabrese said he’s glad the way it worked out because he wants to “leave my footprint” on the Jets, his favorite team as a kid on Long Island. He grew up in East Islip, where Esiason was raised.
“Being from Boomer’s hometown, I had no choice,” Calabrese said with a laugh, explaining his fandom.
Calabrese, a former Central Florida quarterback, also didn’t want abandon Wilson in Year 2, because “I see the potential he has.”
Esiason, who has followed Calabrese’s career closely, believes the fast-rising coach will be good for Wilson, saying, “When Rob was a football player, he was one tough SOB. I just hope Zach Wilson gets that part of him and he becomes that himself, because that’s how Rob was. He was an all-in guy.”
3. Here comes Mekhi: Minicamp runs Tuesday and Wednesday. Unlike OTA practices, minicamp is mandatory. Saleh expects every player to attend, including tackle Mekhi Becton, who didn’t participate in the nine weeks of voluntary work. The Monday pre-camp physical will be the organization’s first in-person look at him since the end of the season. He’s not expected to practice.
4. A harbinger? With the NHL Eastern Conference finals in town, the Jets were treated to a special visitor Thursday at practice — the Stanley Cup. That triggered a thought:
When the New York Rangers last won the Cup in 1994, it ended a 53-season drought. The Jets’ current Super Bowl drought is … 53 seasons.
5. Farewell, Fitz: Newly retired quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has called his last season with the Jets (2016) the lowest point in his career, but his time with them wasn’t all bad. He can walk away knowing he presided over the team’s only top-10 offense (ranked 10th with 5,925 total yards in 2015) in the past 23 years. It was their last winning season (10-6).
6. Battle in the slot: Jamison Crowder‘s departure in free agency didn’t generate any buzz because everyone assumed he was a goner anyway, but let’s not forget he was the leading receiver in each of the past three seasons. He was particularly good out of the slot position. Who takes over that job?
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“Working through it,” Saleh said.
The 2021 leaders in the slot, based on the number of pass routes run, were Crowder (285), Braxton Berrios (176), Elijah Moore (85) and Corey Davis (68), according to ESPN Stats & Information. The leaders, based on receptions: Crowder (41), Berrios (24), Moore (11) and Davis (six).
Berrios, who signed a two-year, $12 million deal this offseason, would seem to be the heir apparent — but it sounds like it will be a committee approach. Saleh said he likes the idea of rotating players because it makes the offense less predictable, which is what you’d expect a coach to say after losing his leading receiver. In fairness, they do have legitimate options with Berrios, Moore and rookie Garrett Wilson, who played the position at Ohio State.
My prediction: Don’t sleep on Berrios, whose reliability as a route runner makes him a strong candidate for a bump in playing time.
“I was called on a lot in the last five or six games of the year,” he said. “My job was to execute and I think I did it at a high level — and a consistently high level. That’s what I pride myself on, being consistent.”
7. Loyal to Jets: It’s hard to believe, but defensive tackle Nathan Shepherd (Class of ’18) is the longest-tenured draft pick on the team. He’s certainly not a star, but he’s well-respected because of his work ethic and loyalty.
Shepherd had a chance to leave as a free agent, but he turned down a better offer to return to the Jets on a one-year, $1.1 million contract. He could’ve made an additional $150,000 elsewhere. We’re not talking Aaron Donald money, but it’s all relative. His decision surprised and delighted folks in the organization.
With Folorunso Fatukasi gone, Shepherd is now the Jets’ biggest defensive lineman (315 pounds) and could land a prominent role as a first- and second-down run defender. He’s getting some first-team reps.
8. Good job, kid: Garrett Wilson has made quite an impression on Davis, who said of the first-round pick, “Dude is special. Dude is very special. He’s got crazy routes, crazy hands and always focused. … His separation is unbelievable. I’m glad we got that dude.”
9. Money matters: The Jets still have $10 million in cap room, according to Over the Cap, which means they’re still open for business as training camp approaches. They still need help at offensive tackle, linebacker and defensive tackle.
10. The last word: “I really think this team is capable of changing the culture for the next 10 years. A lot of guys on this team, and a lot of coaches that are coaching for this team now, since they’ve been alive they haven’t heard a lot of good things about the Jets. Now we have the narrative, we have the chance, the ability, etc., etc., to really change that mindset.” — linebacker C.J. Mosley