FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The Jets’ cornerbacks have needed short memories of late. With or without their best corner, Morris Claiborne, this unit has struggled.
And in the next six weeks, the Jets will face some elite quarterbacks as they battle for a playoff berth.
“I think it’s just different for certain players,” cornerback Darryl Roberts said of getting over bad plays. “Certain players handle failure and success different ways. If you have a person who plays our position, you got to have thick skin, amnesia, forget about the failures. Just compete. That’s what I do.”
On Sunday, it will be Carolina and Cam Newton, and in the next game, it will be Kansas City and Alex Smith. Games against elite quarterbacks Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and Drew Brees also are on the upcoming schedule.
But even facing an ordinary quarterback doesn’t necessarily mean success for the Jets’ secondary. In the Week 10 loss to the Buccaneers, former Jet Ryan Fitzpatrick beat them down the stretch.
This is the world of cornerbacks — players who make plays one minute and are left exposed the next.
“Cornerback is a confidence position,” Buster Skrine said. “You got to be able, if you mess up, you got to move on to the next play because they’re going to throw the ball out there regardless. I would say we always talk about mentally.”
Penalties have hampered this group, starting with Skrine, who has nine this season. His biggest problem has been trying to contain taller receivers with his hands.
The Jets are fourth in the NFL with 81 penalties, and outside of Skrine’s penalties, Claiborne has been flagged with six, third-most at his position.
The Jets traded a fifth-round pick to the 49ers for a cornerback with a high number of penalties in Rashard Robinson. He had eight penalties when he played for the 49ers and has yet to play on defense for the Jets.
To diminish the penalties, coach Todd Bowles had his cornerbacks holding tennis balls in practice. The thinking is if you hold a tennis ball in your hand, you won’t use your hands when trying to battle with receivers.
Given the type of quarterbacks the Jets will face in the next few weeks, whether that will work is uncertain.
Claiborne has played the best among the cornerbacks but is nursing a sore foot that forced him to leave the game against the Bucs after 16 snaps.
“I know playing my position, it’s pretty tough,” Roberts said. “I know I probably won’t win every battle, but I just try to win more than I lose and win my matchup. If somebody catches a pass on me, I like to compete. I’m going to really get focused to get the next play.”
The Jets juggled their cornerbacks because of injuries and ineffective play. The starters are Claiborne and Skrine, but at the start of the season, Juston Burris was the third corner and played 61 snaps the first two weeks. In Week 3, Burris was in for only nine defensive plays as Roberts gained more playing time.
He’s even started two games, Oct. 29 against Atlanta for Skrine, who missed the game with a concussion, and Nov. 2 against Buffalo, as Claiborne was sidelined with a sore foot.
In the last three games, Roberts has been in for more than 60 plays on defense. Like the rest of the cornerbacks, he doesn’t lack confidence.
“It’s easy to get criticized at that position from the outside looking in,” he said. “We might be in different coverages or we might be in zone and people think we’re in man . . . People don’t really know. I don’t let that bother me.”