Jets’ Robert Saleh sees Sauce Gardner in multiple roles

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Prior to the NFL draft, there was some concern that the Jets might not draft a No. 4 overall cornerback because head coach Robert Saleh’s system didn’t value cornerbacks enough to make such a big draft.

The Jets showed the thought was foolish as they picked Sauce Gardner with the No. 4 overall pick. On Friday, Saleh explained why Gardner was an easy pick and why those who think he doesn’t care about cornerbacks are wrong.

“I’m not sure about that narrative,” Saleh said. “When I was in Jacksonville, we drafted Jalen Ramsey with a top-five pick. We had Richard Sherman, obviously he got drafted late in Seattle, but we went out and got him as a free agent in San Francisco. Corner is very important because it’s all we talk about at third down and crunch time when the whole world knows you’re passing the ball and the whole other side of the world knows you’re in man coverage and it’s a one-on-one football game. That makes the difference.

“Sauce has the ability to do that in man coverage but he has his zone coverage ability, he has tenacity in tackling what teams are doing to us. They shorten formations if you will to be able to attack corners and all that stuff, especially when they play AFC North this year, that’s all they do for a living attacking your corners. In the corners, around football, games are won when you talk about your edge rushers, your tackles, your quarterbacks, receivers and corners. ‘Cause like I said, it’s the game, everyone knows you come around and you’re in men’s marking. Corner is very important.”

Ahmed Gardner

The Jets got their first look at Gardner and their other draft picks on Friday during the first practice session of the three-day rookie minicamp. It was a brief glimpse, however, because the Jets don’t let draft picks do much in this camp. They work primarily with the coaching staff and perform light drills while the tryouts and undrafted free agents do more work.

Gardner said his first day was a thrill simply donning a Jets uniform.

“It’s like a dream come true,” Gardner said. “At the same time, for me it is still one. I still feel like I have a lot to prove. It felt like it did when I first came to Cincinnati my freshman year. I still have the same attitude, the same mentality. I don’t think I’m too good for anyone. I’m still the great teammate I’ve always been. … It hasn’t even crossed my mind that I’m in the NFL.”

Gardner made no lofty predictions on Friday. He said his goal is to be the best teammate he can be right now.

“I think I can be a good influence,” Gardner said. “I just walk in knowing I have vets. I like being a sponge. I just want to soak up as much information as possible from these guys and be the best teammate I can be.”

It will be interesting to see how Gardner fits into Saleh’s defense. Gardner was primarily a man-marked cornerback in Cincinnati. The Jets’ system plays a lot of zone on early downs and man on third downs. Saleh said he can tell Gardner will be a good Zone corner just from watching and talking to him, although there isn’t much film of Gardner playing Zone.

Robert Saleh
Robert Saleh
Bill Kostroun/New York Post

“I’m not comparing, I’m just there [Richard Sherman], I mean, the guy knew the play as soon as they broke through the scrum,” Saleh said, “he said, ‘Oh, I know the play.’ So he hardly had to play football. If his GPS ever got over 16mph, it was a rough day for him. He’s playing a different game. So Sauce has a tremendous frame of mind that allows him to see the game differently than most players can.”

Gardner is hoping to connect with one of his Jets predecessors: Darrelle Revis. The newcomer said he spoke to people from the organization about meeting Revis.

“He was a great player,” Gardner said. “I enjoyed watching him. I haven’t been able to meet him, but that’s on my bucket list.” Jets’ Robert Saleh sees Sauce Gardner in multiple roles

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