7 takeaways from Robert Saleh’s rookie minicamp press conference

Friday marked the beginning of a new chapter of Jets football, as the 2022 NFL draft class took the field in Florham Park for the first time for the beginning of rookie minicamp.

New York’s prized rookies — as well as undrafted free agents and tryout players — got to work for Robert Saleh and his coaching staff. Friday wasn’t exactly a day of action at One Jets Drive, but Gang Green’s second-year head coach still learned plenty about his neophytes and also those vying for a spot on the 90-man roster.

Here are the highlights from Saleh’s rookie minicamp press conference.

Rookies limited to start

AP Photo/John Minchillo

New York’s seven-man draft class didn’t do much on the first day of rookie minicamp. Saleh is easing the group into action to start after a strenuous pre-draft process and slowly ramping things up to get them acclimated. Doing so also allows the Jets the chance to get a better look at the undrafted free agents they invited to minicamp.

“Their schedules over the last month have been rigorous with regards to travel, the lack of working out they’ve been able to fit in. Very spotted,” Saleh said. “Wasn’t worth bringing them in here and injuring them or risking injury. Let them go off to the side and let’s get a great weekend of work in for them.

“It also gives us a better chance to get eyes on the tryout guys, rather than the entire organization being fixated on the new draft picks.”

Protecting the bigs with more 7 on 7s and walkthroughs

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The Jets will employ more of a 7-on-7 format throughout rookie minicamp than they have in the past. Saleh has his eyes on keeping his young offensive and defensive linemen healthy and also getting the quarterbacks, wide receivers and secondary more work.

“We’re going to be more cognizant with our bigs, so it’s going to be a lot more 7-on-7 this year,” Saleh said. “Making sure the quarterback, receivers and the back end of the defense are getting in all their work. But the bigs, instead of the banging, they’re going to be a lot more individual-based.

“We’re going to have a lot more walkthroughs to get the bigs incorporated. Again, trying to save their bodies.”

Jeremy Ruckert's bulldog mentality

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Saleh had nothing but good things to say about Ruckert after the first day of rookie minicamp. New York’s head coach offered some lofty praise for the former Ohio State tight end’s versatile skill set. He also likened his lack of pass-catching opportunities in college and underlying potential as a receiver to two former Iowa tight ends who have gone on to become elite players at the position in the NFL.

“He is one of those all-around tight ends,” Saleh said. “He has ability in the pass game, which wasn’t featured as much at Ohio State. Obviously, they have superstars all over the place. To me, what makes a bulldog in the run game, when you get close to the line of scrimmage, your ability to strain to the highest level. You don’t have to be the most talented person. You don’t have to be the most physically imposing person. You just have to be the guy who’s willing to go to the echo of the whistle. That’s what makes him good in the run game. It’s a mentality when you get down in there and I think he’s got that.

“George Kittle had zero…no pass game back in Iowa, you know? Same thing with, I think, T.J. Hockenson. It’s a style of offense. You try to look at the athleticism and how it fits within how you do things. From there, you try to maximize what he has and you develop what he has.”

Ahmad Gardner, Richard Sherman, and the cornerback narrative surrounding Saleh's defense

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Some thought the Jets might not select Gardner in the top five because of Saleh’s history of turning middle and late-round cornerback picks into serviceable starters. Saleh saw the value in a cornerback with Gardner’s length and skill set, though.

“I’m not sure on that narrative. We drafted Jalen Ramsey when I was in Jacksonville with a top five pick,” Saleh said. “We had Richard Sherman and obviously he was drafted late in Seattle, but we went out and got him as a free agent in San Francisco. Corner is very important, because it’s everything we talk about on third down and in crunch time when the whole world knows you’re passing the ball and the whole other side of the world knows you’re in man coverage and it’s a 1-on-1 football game. That’s difference-making.

“Sauce has the ability to do that in man coverage, but has zone coverage ability. He has tenacity and tackling, which teams do to us. They create short nub formations to get the corners tackling and all that stuff. Especially playing the AFC North this year. That’s all they do for a living — make your corners tackle. Corners are the perimeter of football. It’s where games are won.”

What he's looking for out of tryout players

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The odds are stacked against the undrafted free agents the Jets invited to rookie minicamp, but their chances of sticking with New York are not obsolete. Saleh has seen rookie minicamp success stories before and will be on the lookout for tryouts who have the “it” factor.

“They’ll stand out. It’s a lot of rookie minicamps and they’ll stand out. You’d be surprised,” Saleh said. “The ones who are able to go to that next step, I’ve been fortunate. It seems like there’s always one or two guys every year at a rookie minicamp that stands out and they find their way to the 90-man roster. Some of them make the team.

“It’s a matter of putting in your work and having fun while you’re doing it. That’s why we structure it the way we do. To give them a chance to stand out. It’s difficult, but not impossible. At all.”

Carl Lawson's potential impact on Jermaine Johnson II

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Johnson II has no shortage of mentors on the Jets’ defensive line, but it is Lawson who has the potential to be the most impactful on the rookie. Lawson knows a thing or two about consistently getting after opposing quarterbacks in the NFL. He’s been around long enough to take Johnson II under his wing and show him what it takes to get the job done at a high level.

“Carl Lawson, if you talk to him, he’s already watched tape on all these guys,” Saleh said. “And he’s already got a game plan for [Johnson II] to maximize who he is as a pass rusher. Just to have that veteran presence for him will make it easier.”

What he likes out of Max Mitchell

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The Jets picked Mitchell, who was quietly one of the best tackles in college football last season, out of Louisiana in the fourth round. Saleh was a big fan of the pick, as Mitchell adds versatility and a wealth of experience to New York’s offensive line.

“Max has tremendous versatility with regards to being able to play left and right,” Saleh said. “He’s got great athleticism, foot speed, plays with great balance. His area of focus is going to be adding strength and power to his game. Once he’s able to do that where he can hunker down and anchor versus those bullrushes, he’s got a chance to be a pretty darn good football player.”

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Story originally appeared on Jets Wire