FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — The New York Jets are heading into the season with glaring youth and inexperience at cornerback.
That means the secondary could certainly end up being a primary concern, starting Sunday at Carolina. Unless, of course, the kids are all right.
“We've got a bunch of hungry dudes,” second-year cornerback Bryce Hall said. “We've got the right people and we know we can get it done to be successful this year.”
Hey, at least they're confident. Even if fans and media might not be.
And there's good reason to be wary. Hall is the only cornerback on the active roster with more than two regular-season starts, with just seven. Then there's Javelin Guidry with two. Both are in their second NFL season.
The rest are rookies: Michael Carter II (fifth round), Jason Pinnock (fifth), Brandin Echols (sixth) and Isaiah Dunn (undrafted). Fifth-year vet Justin Hardee is also listed as as a cornerback, but his specialty is special teams. Lamar Jackson, who started six games as a rookie last season, is on the practice squad.
“Obviously, we’re very young,” Hall said. “But, I mean, I have complete confidence in this group. I love this group. I’m excited for what our potential is.”
Hall, a fifth-rounder out of Virginia, will be a starter at one of the outside cornerback spots. He spent the first eight games of last season on injured reserve because of an ankle problem suffered in college, but came on strong in the last half of the year. And then he impressed the Jets' new coaching staff during the offseason and training camp.
“Bryce, he’s the most consistent in the room,” coach Robert Saleh said. “He’s very smart, he’s reliable, obviously. ... He’s going to be in position to make plays and he’s not going to get you beat.”
The other side is still uncertain, a void created when the Jets surprisingly cut Bless Austin — their most experienced player at the position — last week.
Guidry and Carter are likely to play at nickel cornerback. That leaves Pinnock, Echols and Dunn in the running to start outside Sunday.
“This will be a great challenge for them,” defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said. "I think they’re all up for it, though. Just to see their demeanor, it’s not a passive group. Although inexperienced and young, none of them came highly regarded from the standpoint of draft status or whatever the case may be. They all have their own inner confidence, swag to them that makes me feel better.
“They don’t seem overwhelmed by any means.”
That in itself is a good sign, given their lack of pro experience. And Saleh knows what to look for during a game to make sure a young player is still able to perform at his highest level.
“It all depends on the look in his eyes," Saleh said. “If it looks like he’s under control and he’s made a couple mistakes and he can recapture the moment, then we’re going to roll as long as we can. I’ve also seen the flip side where they've got that glass look in their eye and they’re like, ‘Holy cow. What the heck’s going on? It’s going too fast.’”
Saleh believes this group won't have any issues with that second part. The first real test will be when they face a Carolina offense that includes wide receivers Robby Anderson, DJ Moore and rookie Terrace Marshall.
“Sunday is going to be a new challenge and we’ll see a new version of them because it’s their first time on a Sunday,” Ulbrich said. “But I’m excited for them, all of them. I think all of them are going to have a place to play Sunday. It’s not going to be just two corners like a lot of teams play, we’re going to do a little bit by committee and let them all have a piece of it.”
One saving grace in the Jets' secondary is the experience at safety, with veterans Lamarcus Joyner and Marcus Maye roaming the defensive backfield and providing a safety net for the cornerbacks.
“I think for young guys, you always think you’re going to get beat deep,” said Joyner, in his first season with the Jets. “But if you've got guys like Marcus or myself that the young guys are confident in, you know, I’m not here by myself on this island, then it’s going to help them perform better.”
With so many new and inexperienced parts in the secondary, Joyner understands the concern from outside the facility and knows the group will be tested.
He's also confident Hall's assessment of the cornerbacks is spot on.
“We definitely have a lot of young, hungry guys and guys that are confident,” Joyner said. “Especially with the guys we have collectively just believing in one another, knowing that you are not never alone out there. So I think that encourages guys like Bryce and other young cornerbacks.”
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