When the NY Jets hired Robert Saleh to be their new head coach, it meant many changes were coming to the organization. This included everything from a new spirit and hope around the building, to a new structure of power.
What Saleh is also bringing is a new scheme to the defense.
For over a decade, the Jets have been running a 3-4 defense. This scheme has at times brought the Jets a superb defensive secondary — if the players are built for it. Thus, more often than not leaving the secondary as the weakest point on their defense.
So, as the Jets switch to a 4-3 defense, what changes will it bring to the secondary? Let’s take a look.
What the NY Jets will want from their secondary
In the back-end of Saleh’s 4-3 defense, there is usually plenty of movement. Primarily utilizing a Cover 3 type zone defense, the two boundary cornerbacks sink back in coverage with the free safety over the middle, and the strong safety closer to the line.
For any defense, having a strong pass rush up front is important. But this scheme forces opposing quarterbacks to make quicker decisions, leading to shorter passes and the prevention of the deep ball.
Gang Green needs cornerbacks who have quick instincts, size, and speed on the boundary. Luckily, the Jets have built a cornerback group with exactly that.
Young cornerback unit on the NY Jets roster
One of the interesting decisions the Jets made this past offseason was not making a major addition at cornerback. There wasn’t a player taken early in the draft, and no starter was added during free agency.
What the Jets do have is a young unit that fits exactly what the Jets want from their cornerbacks.
The two most experienced guys are 2019 sixth-round pick Blessuan Austin and 2020 fifth-round pick Bryce Hall. Both closed last season as the primary starters, and very well could be the starters entering 2021.
Overall, the Jets have a ton of competition at the position entering training camp. Outside of Austin and Hall, rookie draft picks Jason Pinnock and Michael Carter II are probably locks to make the NY Jets roster, as well as special teams ace Justin Hardee.
Thus, leaving only so many spots still available.
The remaining competition
So, that is five players likely set at cornerback. Meaning Corey Ballentine, Brandin Echols, Javelin Guidry, Lamar Jackson, Zane Lewis, Elijah Campbell, Bennett Jackson, Jordyn Peters, and Isaiah Dunn are fighting for the final spots.
Guidry impressed last season in the slot, and with Brian Poole gone, he is one of the many competing with rookie Michael Carter II for the starting nickel job. Additionally, Isaiah Dunn has been impressing Jets coaches so far in offseason workouts.
Without a doubt, cornerback will be the most intense competition during training camp and the preseason. At the same time, the unit will get help from an excellent safety room.
Great talent at safety on the NY Jets roster
Right off the bat, the Jets will be getting Marcus Maye back for at least the 2021 season. Barring a contract extension, he will play the year under the franchise tag. This is huge given Maye is considered one of the best safeties in the NFL.
Joining him will be veteran Lamarcus Joyner. As Maye is expected to play in the strong safety spot, Joyner will line up at free safety. Joyner has struggled in recent years with the Las Vegas Raiders, but on a one-year deal hopes to rebound to his phenomenal days with the Rams.
The wild card at safety for the Jets will be second-year safety Ashtyn Davis. Regarded as one of the top safeties coming out of the draft, Davis battled injuries through his rookie campaign that played a role in his so-so play.
Currently, Davis is likely to be the third safety, making him the ultimate utility player. He is an insane athlete who can line up everywhere from both safety positions to linebacker, to slot corner, to even special teams.
In other words, expect him to have a big impact this season.
What this means for the NY Jets secondary in 2021
At the end of the day, this is a unit that lacks experience. Having Maye and Joyner can only do so much to boost the young unit.
Nevertheless, there is a ton of potential here. Saleh is going to make the most of the talent in the secondary, and hopefully it will be much improved compared to last year’s pass defense.