Robert Saleh has Jets believing he can lead a reversal of fortunes
The Robert Saleh Era is set to begin.
With it comes hope for a franchise that hasn’t played in a Super Bowl in more than 50 years and hasn’t reached the playoffs since the 2010 season. And hope for a tortured fan base that craves a winning team.
There also is hope that Saleh and his staff can do for Zach Wilson what the previous Jets coaches couldn’t do for Sam Darnold.
Wilson, the No. 2 pick in the draft, also provides hope after an impressive spring with the Jets. He showed all the physical skills and mental acumen that made him the person the Jets believe eventually can lead the franchise to playoff success.
It all starts with Saleh, who will kick off his first training camp as an NFL head coach on Wednesday. Veterans report on Tuesday.
"We’re really looking forward to training camp," Saleh said. "I’m excited to see adversity, I’m excited to see how we handle it, so we can see where we’re at from that regard. That’s where character reveals itself, and that’s where you’re really going to get better, is through adversity and tough times.
"We’re going to have some adverse moments right from the get-go. How we’re going to handle it is going to make or break this football team."
The Jets will be starting camp on a somber note, though. They’re grieving the loss of coach Greg Knapp, who died last week after being struck by a car while riding his bike. Knapp was the passing game specialist and worked closely with the quarterbacks.
Last year’s Jets didn’t handle adversity well. They lost their first 13 games before finishing 2-14, and Adam Gase and most of his coaching staff were let go. The Jets traded Darnold to Carolina (their Week 1 opponent) when they decided Wilson would be their present and future.
Wilson has yet to sign his rookie contract, so his availability at the start of camp is on hold. But the returning Jets are turning the page on last year and see brighter days ahead, in large part because of Saleh.
Known for getting the most out of his players, inspiring them and putting them in position to succeed, Saleh helped two teams reach Super Bowls as a defensive coach and coordinator, winning one with Seattle.
Two years ago, Saleh’s defense was a major reason San Francisco made it to the Super Bowl, where the 49ers lost to Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City. Saleh did another masterful job with an injury-riddled defense last year and became one of the more in-demand coaches on the market.
During spring workouts, veteran lineman and Long Beach product Greg Van Roten said after Saleh was hired, it felt "like that weight is lifted and hope has come back into your building."
Other Jets expressed similar feelings about Saleh and his coaching staff energizing and galvanizing the building. Saleh has talked about winning "championships" — plural — with the Jets.
"He’s full of energy, always, all the time, always full of energy," second-year lineman Mekhi Becton said. "He’s never down, always trying to uplift us.’’
Receiver Jamison Crowder said: "I could tell you the atmosphere is different. I can definitely feel it."
The same things have been said about previous regimes, and the Jets have failed miserably. But they appear to be headed in the right direction, with general manager Joe Douglas and Saleh sharing the same vision on the kind of players they want and how to build a team.
The Jets improved the offensive line, defensive line and wide receiver positions through free agency and the draft. They hope the return of former All-Pro linebacker C.J. Mosley, who opted out last season because of COVID-19 concerns, will give the defense a big boost. But an inexperienced secondary remains a glaring weakness.
Douglas also needs to find a veteran backup quarterback to help Wilson and be ready to play if needed. As of now, the Jets have three quarterbacks on the roster, none of whom has taken an NFL snap: Wilson, Mike White and James Morgan.
"We’re going to have a lot of ebbs and flows," Saleh said. "There’s going to be a lot of great moments, there’s going to be a lot of hair-pulling moments. At the end of the day, that’s what’s going to shape this football team."