As the sun peeked out from the clouds and the temperature neared 90 degrees Friday, Jets head coach Robert Saleh allowed himself a minute to think about his team playing meaningful games in the cold.
Those thoughts turned to using running backs Breece Hall, Michael Carter and Tevin Coleman — and maybe some others — to move the chains and wear down a defense.
“Especially when it gets cold in this area, you’ve got to be able to run the football,” Saleh said. “When you are trying to play playoff football and take those next steps, you’ve got to be able to pound it. You have to be able to run it in the red zone, you have to be able to run it in short-yardage situations, you have to be able to have success running the football even though it’s turned into a passing league.”
The Jets, who averaged 5.2 yards per carry over the final eight games last season, signed free agent Laken Tomlinson and drafted “all-around back” Hall in the second round to further boost their backfield production. They seek out good run-blocking receivers because that is needed within their tight offensive formations.
“I thought we were pretty darn good last year in the run game, especially late,” Saleh said, “and I feel like it’s got a chance to be good again.”
With speedster Ty Johnson on the shelf, even undrafted rookie Zonovan Knight is staking a claim, finishing practice Friday with a long touchdown run for the third-team offense. Saleh views the running back room — including picks in three straight drafts with Hall, 2021 fourth-rounder Carter and 2020 fourth-rounder La’Mical Perine — as complementary.
“Michael has great versatility, Breece is a three-down player, Tevin has such an explosive running style,” Saleh said. “Ty has three-down ability, then you add Zonovan … and Perine’s big body and ability to break through tackles and push piles. It’s a really cool group of players, and one I’m excited to see develop over the next few weeks.”
Saleh balked at the idea that Perine is a forgotten man.
“He understands the playbook a hell of a lot more and he’s doing a better job in it [pass] protection, which was a big part of [a diminished role] last year,” Saleh said. “That group is in a very, very competitive spot in regards to all of them bringing something to the table.”
Watching defensive linemen Carl Lawson and John Franklin-Myers wreak havoc on the offensive line Friday, it was easy to imagine a situation in which the Jets do not need to blitz to pressure the quarterback. Saleh’s mind went back to the Giants’ victory in Super Bowl XLII in February 2008, when he was a young NFL assistant for the Texans still “trying to figure out how to tie his shoes.”
“The best way to play defense is with a four-man pass rush,” Saleh said. “The Giants versus [Tom] Brady tried it. If you can drop seven guys in coverage and have four guys feel like it’s constant pressure, that’s the most consistent way to play defense.
“Every game is independent of itself and depending on how that D-line is playing and the amount of pressure we’re getting, we’ll dictate accordingly.”
NFL Network stopped at Jets practice and interviewed rookie pass-rusher Jermaine Johnson about facing RT Mekhi Becton.
“He’s big — like two refrigerators — so you’ve got to figure out a good way to go about that,” Johnson said. “That’s his superpower and he does a lot of great things with that.”