Robert Saleh: Jets have improved, even without Tyreek Hill
PALM BEACH, Fla. — Days after missing out on a chance to add one of the NFL’s most dynamic players to the offense, Jets coach Robert Saleh maintains that even without Tyreek Hill catching passes from Zach Wilson, the team will be in much better shape moving forward.
“Obviously, Tyreek is a special player, got a special skill set, got dynamic speed,” Saleh said Monday morning at the NFL’s annual coaches breakfast at the league’s spring meetings. “Joe [Douglas, the general manager] was aggressive, took a big swing, didn’t work out. It’s football. You win some, you lose some, but happy we tried.”
The Jets had a trade worked out with Kansas City for the speedy receiver, but Hill opted to join the Dolphins, who delivered a blockbuster set of draft picks — including this year’s first-rounder.
Even without Hill, Saleh believes the Jets are well on their way to heading in the right direction. This after a free-agent push brought in cornerback D.J. Reed, safety Jordan Whitehead, tight ends C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin and defensive lineman Jacob Martin.
“We have a lot of needs on our football team, and I thought we did a great job with free agency with the things that we did,” Saleh said. “We’re in good position to take the best players available [in the draft] at every single spot. Just a lot of unbelievable football character, and the bonus to it all is that they’re really good football players. They’re bringing an edge to the locker room, professionalism to the locker room, they’ve all been in championship games, and they’ve been with winning organizations. Really excited to get those guys here.”
And if the opportunity presents itself with another blockbuster trade?
“I know Joe will pull out his baseball bat and take his swings,” Saleh said.
The second-year coach acknowledged that his second-year quarterback needs to make significant strides to improve on last year’s 4-13 season. Wilson threw four touchdown passes and nine interceptions in his first five starts before suffering a knee injury. He showed improvement after returning with five touchdown passes and two interceptions in his last seven starts, including no interceptions in the last five games.
“We’d love to see Zach own the playbook at a faster clip,” Saleh said of Wilson’s ability to process the offense. “We’re really looking for that recall.”
Saleh was impressed by Wilson’s decision to visit with several of his receivers in recent days. “He’s shown that he’s been putting in the work,” he said.
Saleh hopes the blocking in front of Wilson can improve. Toward that end, the Jets signed free-agent guard Laken Tomlinson, who will play on the left side. That means second-year guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, who had a solid rookie season at left guard, will switch to the right side. Saleh also is optimistic about Mekhi Becton’s return from a knee injury suffered last season. The third-year tackle might not be ready for all offseason workouts, but he should be ready to start the season.
“When we do get [Becton] back,” Saleh said, “he’s going to be like a ball of butcher knives.”
The Jets are targeting next month’s draft to provide further help. They have the fourth and 10th overall picks and are expected to focus on edge rusher, offensive line, defensive back and wide receiver early. The fact that they took such a big shot at Hill suggests a fast receiver could be a priority early on.
“I know we’ve done a really nice job rebuilding the foundation and replanting a foundation we can build off of,” Saleh said. “The locker room is in good shape. We’ve got players who want to be here. They’re not here because they’re overpaid. We’ve got guys who are made of the right mindset. Now it’s about developing our young guys, continuing to draft and continuing to close the gap that exists in the division.”