The Jets won’t hand Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner the starting cornerback spot.
While it’s inevitable the No. 4 overall pick out of Cincinnati will eventually start, Gardner must earn the starting corner spot opposite free agent acquisition DJ Reed, according to Robert Saleh.
So far during OTAs, third-year cornerback Bryce Hall has planted his flag with the starting defense.
“Bryce is awesome. I do want to be clear, and I know, like you just said, fourth overall and I’m not trying to stir up headlines, it probably will, he still has to go earn it. Bryce has started, he’s taking the one reps and it’s not for show. You have to earn your right to play football,” Saleh said. “Just because you were drafted in a certain spot it doesn’t mean anything. Bryce is attacking every moment and he’s doing everything he can to keep himself exactly where he’s been. Brandin, obviously he’s been dealing with his shoulder his, he looks fantastic, he’s bigger than he was last season. Excited to get him back for training camp, so he can come in and compete. But at the same time, both of them have been awesome.”
And to Hall’s credit, he’s produced a few pass breakups and had good coverage against the starting receivers.
But while Garnder is competing against Hall, the word surrounding the highly touted corner from the coaching staff and his teammates has been glowing.
“Ultra-competitive, tons of swag, tons of confidence. Plays with different urgency,” Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said. “He’s a high cut guy, longer guy, which you typically don’t get the change of direction in the foot speed, which it looks as though, and it’s early, it looks as though that he has that. I’m excited about what he could be.”
Throughout OTAs practices available to the media, Gardner’s talent is evident.
The 6-foot-3 corner is a towering presence who can engulf receivers with enough quick twitchiness to move well laterally and get in and out of his back pedal with efficiency.
There have been plays in practices when he hovers in press man coverage at the line of scrimmage. And the ball is snapped he launches his hand into the body of the receiver and he completely disrupts the wideout’s route.
He flashed those traits on a few plays against Corey Davis, the No. 10 overall pick Garrett Wilson and undrafted free agent receiver Irvin Charles.
“He’s what everybody says he is,” Reed said of the rookie cornerback. “Obviously he’s prototypical but he moves like a small guy. When he presses, he’s just dominant at the line of scrimmage. So I think that’s what separates him and your average corner.”
Gardner also broke up a couple passes while guarding Davis and Wilson.
So for now, Saleh will continue to recite clichés about high draft picks having to earn their starting spot while Hall is running with the starters. He’s required to in order to keep the respect of the locker room and uphold the ideology of competitions.
But it’s inevitable that Garnder will snatch the starting role.