Jets' Robert Saleh: Sauce Gardner sees the game 'differently' than most players

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Sauce Gardner holds up Jets jersey
Sauce Gardner holds up Jets jersey

Friday was the first day of Jets rookie camp, and this year has a particular buzz around it after the team’s stellar draft last week, especially with their first pick.

Cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, who went No. 4 overall in the draft, is slated to be an important piece of the Jets puzzle this season in coach Robert Saleh’s defense.

“Corner is very important, because it’s everything we talk about on third down and on 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 one-on-one football game. That’s difference making,” Saleh said. “Sauce has the ability to do that in man coverage, but he has his zone coverage ability, he has tenacity in tackling. The corners are, the perimeter of football is where games are won when you talk about your edge rushers, your tackles, your quarterbacks, receivers, corners."

The 21-year-old played mostly man coverage in college, which is a scheme that Saleh’s zone defense rarely used. However, Gardner isn’t fazed by the change and adjustments that he’ll need to make.

“I like playing zone. I feel like it’s easier, but I like it a lot,” Gardner said. “When it comes to zone I like to know what everyone around me do, so I know where to be and when to be there. So I think I’m a great zone player also.”

Interesting enough, Saleh can see a bit of Pro Bowl corner Richard Sherman in the University of Cincinnati standout, but not in his ability but the way they saw the game.

Sherman played three seasons with the San Francisco 49ers when Saleh was their defensive coordinator so he knows a thing or two about seeing the potential from his young rookie.

“You do see it on tape, talking, quizzing, watching film with the guy. You can see that he’s an outside the box thinker, he can see, he’s got great vision of the field, he’s a tremendous communicator, can diagnose a play before it ever snaps,” Saleh said. “Again, I’m not comparing, but just being with Sherm, I mean the guy knew the play as soon as they broke the huddle…So, Sauce has a tremendous mental makeup to him that allows him to see the game differently than what most players can.”

Gardner may have that different mentality from other players, but he has his own unique technique that allowed him to guard some of the best college receivers in the country and not allow a single touchdown this past season.

Just don’t expect him to tell you what it is.

“I can’t give you the little cheat code,” Gardner said when asked about his process when he’s lined up. “Everyone says [look at] the waist so I’ll keep it there, at the waist. I have something different that I look at. I don’t want the other receivers to see that and try to do stuff differently.”

The Jets will need Gardner and his technique this upcoming season as they’ll be taking on some of the best receivers in the league. Names like Stefon Diggs, Tyreek Hill, Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson and more will have to be grounded if the Jets look to win a lot more games than they did last season.

But it's clear Gardner is up for the challenge with the rest of the rookie class.

“We [drafted] a lot of great guys, great people," Gardner said. "I can’t wait to see the impact we have on the team.”