FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1a. No days off: The team’s mantra, courtesy of coach Robert Saleh, is “all gas, no brake.” For Mekhi Becton, it’s “all gas, no break.”
The 6-foot-7 right tackle, whose fluctuating weight was the storyline of the post-draft offseason, showed up to training camp in much better shape than minicamp and has participated in virtually every team rep with the starting offense. There were a couple of wobbly moments on an oppressively hot day in the first week, but Becton powered through the first eight practices.
For a man with his size (about 370 pounds) and history, that’s no small accomplishment. Teammates have said he appears more determined than ever, with Becton himself saying his goal is to make skeptics “eat their words.” There’s a lot of football to be played, but this is an early win for the Jets.
“I just appreciate the fact that he is absolutely grinding through, making it uncomfortable for himself,” Saleh said. “He’s getting better every day. He’s getting more confident every day. [I’m] really pleased with the direction he’s going in.”
Finishing is important. The 2020 first-round pick has started 14 of a possible 33 games, unable to complete six of them because of various injuries. When he’s on the field, he has the ability to move people in the running game. The key is keeping him healthy and in shape, because the Jets are riding with him after passing up the top tackles in the draft.
Becton is learning a new position and a new scheme, one designed for smaller linemen because of the premium on movement skills, but the Jets don’t seem worried about him playing the right side in a zone-blocking system. But realistically, you have to expect some growing pains.
“He is special,” Saleh said. “Really, the only thing that could ever stand in the way of Mekhi is Mekhi.”
1b. Help on the way? The Jets hosted free agent tackle Duane Brown Saturday night at the Green & White scrimmage at MetLife Stadium. He has started 203 games at left tackle in his career, but the Jets see him as a backup swing tackle. He will be 37 on Aug. 30, but he was a solid performer in 17 starts last season for the Seattle Seahawks. He’d be this year’s Morgan Moses, so to speak. The current backups, Chuma Edoga and Conor McDermott, aren’t ideal insurance policies.
2. Young buck(eye): Rookie wide receiver Garrett Wilson has all sorts of talent, but he hit a lull when the pads went on. That often happens to young receivers because the cornerbacks get more physical at the line of scrimmage.
Another observation: The former Ohio State star is very hard on himself. If he doesn’t come down with a ball, even a contested ball, he’s visibly frustrated. He acknowledged as much, saying, “I hold myself to a really high standard.” That can be a double-edged sword. You want a player who demands greatness of himself, but you don’t want him to start pressing. He said some of his fellow receivers are helping him navigate the rough patches.
3. Trade? The Jets have solid depth at wide receiver — at least six deep — which could make them a popular team later in the preseason when trading starts to heat up. The Denver Broncos and Dallas Cowboys already have lost key receivers to significant camp injuries — Tim Patrick and James Washington, respectively — so they could be looking. The obvious trade candidate would be Denzel Mims. He’s having a solid camp, but it could be a numbers game. Right now, he’s no better than fifth or sixth in the pecking order.
Mims said he’s worthy of a starting role, claiming, “I show it every day. It’s up to them if they play me or not.” Sounds like someone who might not be happy in a backup role.
4. Painting Canton green? There could be a big Jets presence in Canton, Ohio, next summer if Joe Klecko and Darrelle Revis, arguably the two best defensive players in franchise history, are selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Klecko is one of 12 finalists in the senior category and Revis is on the modern-era ballot for the first time, which triggers a question: Could the Jets be chosen to play in the 2023 Hall of Fame Game? It’s definitely something to watch for, considering they haven’t played in the game since 1992.
As for Klecko’s candidacy, the 12-person senior committee meets via Zoom on Aug. 16 to cut the 12 to the final three. Those three must be approved by the full committee in January, but that is considered a formality. It’s hard to predict these things, but there’s a sense that Klecko has a lot of positive momentum among senior voters.
5. D-line surplus: Opposing teams will be scouting the Jets’ defensive line throughout the preseason because they know two or three NFL-caliber players are bound to shake free. They figure to carry at least nine into the season, last year’s count. If they go with 10, it means stealing a spot from another position, and that’s tough to do when you’re carrying three quarterbacks.
In my opinion, they have 12 roster-worthy linemen. One of them is Vinny Curry, 34, a well-respected leader with a great story, but he could have a tough time making the team because of the numbers game.
6. Seeing red: The Jets want to see a lot of improvement from quarterback Zach Wilson in the red zone. It was “a sticking point” in the first few practices, according to Saleh, but Wilson responded with a strong performance on Wednesday. Why is this an area of emphasis? Consider:
Wilson had only six touchdown passes in 48 dropbacks in the red zone last season, 29th among 31 qualified passers. Mike White nearly matched that touchdown total (five) in only 13 dropbacks. The league average for qualified passers was 16.5, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The action is faster and the windows are smaller inside the 20, but the good ones find a way.
7. Leak or no leak? The Jets allowed the fourth-most rushing yards last season (2,343) and lost their best run-stopping defensive lineman (Folorunso Fatukasi, team-leading 42.9% run stop win rate in 2021) in free agency, so it’s fair to question the state of the run defense. Saleh said he’s not worried, claiming the numbers got skewed by long runs. He said they actually finished in the “top half of the league” from an efficiency standpoint, based on analytics.
So we checked … and he’s right. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, they Jets ranked 13th in run-stopping success rate (61.2%) — a stat that measures success based on the down-and-distance. Now the trick is reducing the number of explosive runs, because they can be game-changers.
8. Ambassador of Kwon: One of the early surprises in camp is newly signed linebacker Kwon Alexander, who reported in excellent shape for someone who hadn’t been with a team since last season. He has been active on defense and the sideline, coaching up some of his new teammates. He had barely broken a sweat before offering scheme tips to Quincy Williams, who appreciated the intel.
Barring injury, Alexander is a safe bet to win the third linebacker job, joining Williams and C.J. Mosley. The Jets used three ‘backers only 30% of the time last season, so you wonder if they’ll find a way to give Alexander some run in the nickel package (two linebackers). As Saleh said, “He’s definitely making it hard to keep him off the field.”
9. The Buc stopped here: The Jets are still trying to figure out why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers let safety Jordan Whitehead hit the open market. So far, they’re thrilled with him, especially his ability to make pre-snap adjustments. One of those plays was highlighted in a film session with the entire team.
10. The last word: “The expectations, to a man, have to be the best defense in the league. … What’s the point of showing up to the race if you’re going to say, ‘Third is cool’?” — defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins