FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Robert Saleh gathered the Jets at the end of another physical and chippy practice on Monday and had a very strong message for the players: protect the team.
When Saleh was done speaking, defensive end Carl Lawson addressed his teammates on the same subject.
Being feisty is good, Saleh said. He wants a team filled with agitators. There are limits, though, especially in practice.
There were some hard hits on Monday and one dust-up led to players being on the ground. Saleh doesn’t want to see that and risk any of his players getting hurt.
“It’s just protect-the-team stuff,” he said. “It’s getting very, very competitive. It’s not just from the fighting standpoint. We try not torquing one another. We try not slinging each [other] to the ground. We try to keep everybody up. Too many bodies on the ground today, which is not healthy for people standing around the pile.
“It was just a quick little reminder. We’ll do it again in the team meeting tomorrow and have a good day tomorrow.”
The Jets really had no incidents during the first two weeks of training camp, but things got more heated last week. There were multiple tussles that resulted in punches thrown. That continued on Sunday with Lawson and offensive lineman Grant Hermanns squaring off.
On Monday, Hermanns was in a scuffle for the second straight day. He ended up on the ground and a pile formed.
Saleh has no hard-and-fast rule that if players fight, they get thrown out of practice. He appreciates the competitive spirit that his players are showing.
Known for his passion and fire when he was a defensive coordinator with the 49ers, Saleh wants passion and fire from his players. He just doesn’t want them to step over the line, particularly in games that count in which they could hurt the team with unnecessary penalties or an ejection if they throw punches.
“I want a team full of agitators,” Saleh said. “So you’re either being agitated or you’re agitating on a football field.
“I want them getting competitive. I want them talking smack. I want them to get into each other’s faces. I want them to push the envelope with what they can get away with. I just want them to have composure when they get the person across from them agitated enough to do something.”
Saleh said this is natural and compared it to siblings fighting.
“Shoot,” he said, “you just get annoyed with your brother once in a while.”
Saleh said it’s important for the Jets to be agitators yet show restraint, and he used defensive tackle Nathan Shepherd as an example.
In Sunday’s practice, rookie receiver Garrett Wilson got in Shepherd’s face after he slapped the ball away from him. Sauce Gardner ended up stepping in, but Shepherd showed restraint. Saleh said he wanted “to celebrate Shep because old Shep would have been punching and swinging.”
Saleh also referenced the Jets’ Week 17 game last season when Shepherd “was able to agitate” the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offensive line into two personal-foul penalties.
“You just want a team full of agitators,” Saleh said.
It’s not often that Lawson speaks up. He’s known as a quiet leader, but when he has something to say, his teammates listen. Saleh got their attention, too.
“Pretty much you don’t want to hurt your own teammates, that was the main message,” linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “We’re in practice. We’re in camp. We’ve been going at it for three weeks now. We had our first taste of playing somebody else. Guys just really want to show what they have. There was a lot of piles. That’s how injuries happen. That was the main thing: just protect each other.”