The Jets’ already young and thin secondary looks to be getting younger and thinner.
Starting cornerback Bless Austin has a neck injury and will undergo an MRI, Adam Gase said Thursday. The second-year corner didn’t practice and his availability for Sunday’s game against the Chargers is in doubt.
This news came two days after the Jets released cornerback Pierre Desir and placed nickel back Brian Poole on injured reserve. He will have season-ending shoulder surgery.
If Austin can’t play, that leaves rookies Bryce Hall, Lamar Jackson, Javelin Guidry, newly acquired Corey Ballentine and Arthur Maulet as the cornerbacks against some big-time playmakers on the Chargers. Rookie Ashtyn Davis and Marcus Maye are the safeties.
"We got real young real fast," Gase said on a Zoom call. "We’ll figure it out. We’ll be testing some guys out. See who can do what."
The Jets (0-9), the NFL’s only winless team, have started their youth movement, giving more playing time to first- and second-year players. So it’s not necessarily a bad thing, given that they are in full-blown evaluation mode.
The Jets could start three rookies in the defensive backfield with Hall and either Jackson or Guidry at cornerback and Davis at safety.
The Chargers start a rookie quarterback, but Justin Herbert has played well, and he’s got talented receivers. Pro Bowl receiver Keenan Allen, big, strong Mike Williams and tight end Hunter Henry will be a handful for this inexperienced group.
"Let’s go, man," Gase said. "We got Keenan Allen and Mike Williams and Hunter Henry to worry about. We’ll be good to go."
The cornerback position was a concern coming into this season, and this situation speaks to general manager Joe Douglas not doing enough to shore up a position of need.
The Jets traded for Quincy Wilson during the draft and signed Desir in free agency. Wilson didn’t work out and was waived two weeks ago. Desir was a disappointment and was benched in his first game. On Tuesday, the Jets cut ties with Desir in part to give Hall more of a chance.
The plan was to play Hall alongside Austin, a sixth-round pick last year who started seven of the eight games he’s played this season. But the Austin injury just popped up.
Austin practiced Wednesday, without pads, and Gase doesn’t know how he got hurt. He said the medical staff told him that Austin couldn’t practice Thursday.
When asked if there is any thought of bringing Desir back now, Gase said it’s up to the personnel department.
"We’re low on numbers," he said. "We’ll have to move some guys around, have to play some safeties out there."
Gase said the Jets have had some discussions about playing Davis at cornerback. The Jets need him at safety, though, with Bradley McDougald having been placed on IR last month.
Davis said it will be a challenge on Sunday and that the secondary needs to talk and make sure everyone is on the same page.
"Communication is going to be our biggest thing," he said, "especially with guys playing more than they have and new guys filling in. Even me, this is only my third time starting."
The Jets just picked up Ballentine, a former Giant. The initial plan was to use the second-year player on special teams and see if they can mix him in on defense, but he may have to pick up Gregg Williams’ schemes quickly.
Jackson started two games earlier this season but hasn’t played on defense in the last three games. Guidry has played only one defensive snap.
The defensive backs on the practice squad — Saquan Hampton, Zane Lewis, Elijah Campbell — have played a combined 34 NFL snaps, all of them by Hampton.
Hall made his NFL debut last week. He was rehabbing from a serious lower-leg injury in college that led to him falling to the fifth round. The Jets believe they drafted a potential starter there and want to see how he develops in this final stretch of the season.
"I’m excited to see him going forward," Gase said. "See how far he can grow over the next seven games."