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S Jaiquawn Jarrett taking aim at starting spot

Jaiquawn Jarrett looks on during OTAs at the

Jaiquawn Jarrett looks on during OTAs at the Atlantic Health Training Center. (May 22, 2013) Credit: James Escher

CORTLAND – The Jets had their eye on Jaiquawn Jarrett two years ago, back when he and Muhammad Wilkerson were cornerstones of Temple’s defense.

The Jets took Wilkerson with the 30th overall pick in the 2011 draft, but the Eagles swooped in and selected Jarrett – a projected third-to-fifth-rounder – 54th overall.

But in the end, Rex Ryan got the guy he wanted.

Jarrett, who was released by the Eagles in September 2012, signed a reserve/future contract with the Jets three months later.

“I just remember we really liked this young man when he came out of Temple,” Ryan said Sunday. “In fact we thought we were going to be in great shape had we gotten Muhammad Wilkerson and him, and Jaiquawn. So now we have those two. Might not have been the exact path but we ended up with both players.”

Jarrett, a four-year starter at Temple, played in the Jets secondary as a backup in Friday night’s preseason loss to Detroit. But he was on the field far longer than the other starting safeties – and he impressed the coaching staff on just about every snap.

Though Ryan admitted he hadn’t seen Mark Sanchez’s opening-drive INT or some of Geno Smith’s reps in the game, the Jets coach raved about Jarrett’s performance in his post-game press conference, adding that the young safety would get a chance to start in their second preseason game against Jacksonville.

“What he showed Friday night was what we thought he would bring to the table,” Ryan said. “A guy that is extremely physical, and a great tackler, and that’s exactly what he did. He had some big hits in that game. But he’s doing a tremendous job and I think he’s improving as a deeper defender as well.”

The Brooklyn-born Jarrett called his release from the Eagles “surreal,” but added: “God has a plan.”

“It’s always difficult,” Jarrett, who went to Fort Hamilton High School, said after Sunday’s practice. “…It made me understand and realize how the business is, so I was just thankful for the opportunity that the Jets organization has given me.”

As expected, Jarrett took first-team reps Sunday – joining veteran Dawan Landry, Antonio Cromartie and rookie cornerback Dee Milliner in the Jets secondary.

“The one thing I know ever since OTAs and minicamp is, the kid’s got character,” secondary coach Tim McDonald said of Jarrett. “And when you get a guy with character, who’s coachable, and who has some talent, you’ve got the makings of a pretty good football player. And I’m not surprised by where he’s at.”

So why was Jarrett cut by the Eagles in the first place?

“That’s why we picked him up, cause we were wondering the same thing,” McDonald said with a laugh. “Our guys did a good job in the scouting department to find him. We got him here and he’s responded. This guy’s gotten better and better. You can just see the growth every day. Every day you can see the growth in him. He’s come a long way in a short amount of time. I’m excited.”

But McDonald cautioned that the competition for the starting safety opposite Landry is fierce and still on-going.

“Don’t count Antonio Allen out. He played well (Friday night),” McDonald said. “Josh Bush played well. Seriously, we’re going to go down to the end of the preseason. (Jarrett) will get more run this week, but those other guys will get a lot of reps too. I think Jaiquawn played probably twice the number of plays the ones did last week, so we’ll get a long look at all those guys. And they’re going to have their opportunity. We’ve got a lot of good guys there.” 

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