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Year 2 has to be better than Year 1.
Never mind the difficult schedule, particularly at the beginning of the season. The 2022 Jets must show progress in head coach Robert Saleh’s second season, and it’ll be a surprise if they don’t, considering the new pieces the team added in the offseason — particularly in what (on paper) looked like a highly productive draft.
Outside of the key returning players, beginning with second-year quarterback Zach Wilson, performing better, their continuity in coordinators may be the team’s best pathway to more success than the four wins it produced last season.
That continuity begins with Saleh and extends to his coordinators, Mike LaFleur on offense and Jeff Ulbrich on defense.
The remaining players from the 2021 team should have a knowledge of the respective systems now and they should know what LaFleur and Ulbrich expect of them, understand the standard.
This will be a linchpin to the Jets’ success this season.
“Continuity is always so darn important,’’ Saleh said Monday after the team’s first training camp practice in full pads. “The longest-tenured staffs, usually the deeper you are in your tenure, the better you are as a football coach because you know all the snakes in the grass of what you are trying to coach.
“Players are familiar with what you are trying to say, so the familiarity is so important because you can coach with so much more precision.’’
Saleh pointed to a play in Monday’s practice as a small example of how the coaching continuity has manifested itself in a tangible, positive way.
“In that first competition period, Mike [LaFleur] being comfortable as a play caller, trying to get the offense going on third down, goes no huddle, and you saw the defense scrambling trying to get back,’’ Saleh said. “It’s really cool to see their personalities take shape on both sides and what they’re trying to get accomplished. Every day that they’re here they are only going to get better.’’
LaFleur and Ulbrich were hand-picked by Saleh. They both have a history with him. They’re both expected to be an extension of the head coach.
Make no mistake: Both men, in NFL coordinator roles for the first time, went through their share of growing pains — just as their young players did — in 2021.
While it, of course, wasn’t all his fault, Ulbrich’s head was spinning when his defense was allowing 54, 31, 45 and 45 points in four consecutive games early in the season.
LaFleur surely wasn’t feeling his best when Wilson was throwing four INTs to the Patriots in Week 2 and following that with two more the next week in Denver and looking like he might never lead the offense to a touchdown.
Those times, in theory, are behind both LaFleur and Ulbrich. At least for the most part.
“Anytime you can get into a Year 2 — because nothing’s guaranteed in this league obviously — you have predominately a lot of the same guys,’’ LaFleur said. “You’re not teaching from ground zero. These guys came in OTA’s and had a good idea of what this offense was supposed to be about. I thought we had a great OTA’s, both in the classroom and on the field. And then when they came back, just how comfortable they are with this offense. We have a long way to go from an execution standpoint, but the knowledge of it is huge.’’
Ulbrich called having a second year with many of these players in the same system “huge.’’
“The more years, consecutive years, you can be in any system, defensively, guys stop thinking about alignment, guys stop thinking about technique,’’ Ulbrich said. “It becomes unconscious competence, and they just play fast. The more years that we can get in a system, the better.’’
One of the returning players on the back end of Ulbrich’s defense is cornerback Michael Carter, who plays a lot as a nickelback. He talked Monday about being a year into Ulbrich’s system, “expectations are set, the standard is set, so it’s our job to uphold those standards.’’
“He can give us all the plays and all the talk in the meeting rooms, but when we go out on the field it’s just us, 11 of us out there, and we’ve got to be able uphold that. It’s a good feeling when you go out there and know that everybody’s on the same page.’’
The players on the Jets’ defense and offense have a much better chance of staying on the same page this season because of their familiarity with Ulbrich and LaFleur.
Because continuity counts.