Sports

Jets’ season rests in the hands of first-year coaches, players

One of the themes of Jets camp has been youth, as in how young their roster is with rookies expected to play large roles all over the field, none bigger than quarterback Zach Wilson.

But the Jets are not just inexperienced on the field, they will be inexperienced on the sideline with a first-time head coach in Robert Saleh, two first-time coordinators and five first-time position coaches. It has led to plenty of teaching moments this training camp for their coaches and surely will lead to some growing pains when the season begins.

“My faith in our staff is unwavering in the sense that there’s going to be learning moments but, I know we’re only going to get better as time goes,” Saleh said Monday.

Saleh has spent time this summer coaching the coaches. He said it mostly happens in private conversations with the coaches when he wants to make sure they are looking down the road and anticipating issues that may arise. Saleh remembers becoming a position coach himself in 2014 with the Jaguars and then a defensive coordinator with the 49ers in 2017.

Robert Saleh embraces Zach Wilson
Getty Images

“I was in their shoes four years ago as a first-time coordinator and then, I was in their shoes as a first-time linebackers coach, so there’s empathy in that regard,” Saleh said. “I just try to go through my experiences and just try to do the best I can and speaking with regards to, ‘Hey, you know what, this happened in 2013 and this is the way we reacted to it and this is what we did. This happened in ’17, ’18,’ whatever it might be. To not overflow them and try to make them me, but to help them stay ahead of the chains with regards to their process and how they do things. That’s really the dialogue that we’re having.”

Mike LaFleur and Jeff Ulbrich will be the offensive and defensive play-callers, respectively. Ulbrich was the interim defensive coordinator in Atlanta last season after head coach Dan Quinn was fired, so he is not completely inexperienced. For LaFleur, this will be his first time calling plays at the NFL level.

At the position coach level, wide receivers coach Miles Austin, quarterbacks coach Rob Calabrese, running backs coach Taylor Embree, linebackers coach Mike Rutenberg and defensive line coach Aaron Whitecotton are all first-time position coaches.

Mike LaFleur
Mike LaFleur
Bill Kostroun/Gist Vile

“There’s going to be great learning experiences, even for me as a first-time head coach, there’s going to be learning experiences and there’s going to be things that like, ‘Oh man,’ ” Saleh said. “You try to stay ahead, you try to stay a step ahead in terms of all the different things that come up with regards to, for me, situations, for the play callers, all the different things that pop up.”

Saleh said he is going through game management scenarios “all the time.” He mentioned that something came up in the preseason game against the Eagles on Friday that looking back on, he wished he handled differently.

“It was in a gray-area spot but, we could have done something. I’m not going to talk about the situation that could’ve saved us a little more time,” Saleh said. “It was something that we jot down. There’s so many different things that can happen and will happen and our ability to learn is what defines the staff.”

Saleh has Matt Burke, the team’s director of game management, in his ear during games to go through situations and decisions. Burke brings Saleh examples of different scenarios that came up in games during the week.

Saleh said he believes his coaching staff will be fine, despite its inexperience.

“You’re right, young staff, there’s some things they haven’t been exposed to,” Saleh said. “But at the same time, it doesn’t mean that they’re crippled. They’re going to be able to find ways to get better. They’re going to be able to find ways to expose themselves, and they’re going to learn because that’s what they do, they get paid a lot of money to do it.”

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