Robert Saleh has been playing it safe and cautious with many of his veterans during the preseason, but he’s going to cut the Bubble Wrap and let them get some snaps on Sunday.
Carl Lawson, C.J. Mosley and Joe Flacco will be among the vets who will get game reps for the first time in Sunday’s preseason finale at MetLife Stadium against the Giants. Saleh said he would treat this somewhat like a dress rehearsal for Week 1 against the Ravens and play his starters the first quarter, quarter-and-a-half.
Saleh’s approach has been smart. He wants the Jets as fresh and healthy as possible when they kick off the regular season at home on Sept. 11. Left tackle Duane Brown, right tackle George Fant and defensive lineman John Franklin-Myers also will make their preseason debuts.
The Jets ended training camp on Friday. Aside from losing right tackle Mekhi Becton (knee surgery) for the season and Zach Wilson (knee) for several weeks, the Jets came out of camp relatively healthy. Saleh was encouraged by what the Jets accomplished.
“We feel really good about our football team, feel really good about the guys that we have,” Saleh said. “Felt like a lot of guys got a lot better this offseason. I don’t want to jinx it, so I’m going to knock [on wood] — you guys feel free to knock, too — we’ve been very healthy, with the exception of a couple things here and there. Really like what we’ve gotten out of it.”
The Jets made a number of changes on both sides of the ball since last season, but the familiarity in the system in Year 2 allowed them to get more done this camp.
Saleh noted that “the language barrier was down” and the communication and efficiency was better overall and during joint practices with the Falcons and Giants.
“I think our guys were a lot louder in practice,” Saleh said. “The ownership, the veteran leadership, you could feel that. It’s a lot of intangible things. You kind of get a feel. I felt really good about the way we practiced with Atlanta and the Giants, so I feel good about it. But until we kick off in Week 1, we won’t know for sure.”
The Jets are nowhere near a finished product so continual improvement is the first objective. They’re coming off a four-win season and could have as many as 10 new starters in Week 1, including quarterback Flacco. He is expected to start against the Ravens, but the Jets won’t announce anything until the week of the game. The Jets are not putting a timetable on Wilson, who was hurt in the first preseason game against Philadelphia.
Wilson has a bone bruise in his right knee and had his meniscus trimmed during a scope less than two weeks ago. On Thursday, Saleh said Wilson can’t stand on his leg for hours at a time.
Flacco, the former Super Bowl MVP, has stepped in, performed well and has been a steadying presence for this team.
“He’s just a calming figure back there,” Saleh said. “He’s very confident, runs the huddle, everyone’s on the same page, very decisive. He’s a veteran. Been there, done that. Seen all of it.”
Lawson is a veteran that the Jets are expecting big things from after he missed last season with a ruptured Achilles that he suffered during a joint practice with the Packers. It especially deflated the defense.
The Jets signed Lawson to a three-year, $45 million contract, believing he would be a game wrecker in Saleh’s 4-3 front. Lawson was dominating camp last year.
Initially, Saleh planned to play Lawson in the first preseason game. He changed his mind the morning of the game. The Jets also held Lawson out of a few practices just to give him a rest.
Lawson’s drive and work ethic allowed him to come all the way back from a devastating injury. He doesn’t allow himself to reflect on getting here, though.
“It’s great. It’s humbling,” Lawson said. “A lot of people ask me. I just haven’t had much time to sit there and look back because I’m constantly trying to go forward. Maybe that might help me if I took a step back and was like, ‘Hey, I’ve done a good job so far.’ I just really haven’t sat back and thought about it. I’m thinking about the next steps.”
This is another important one for Lawson and the Jets.