MOBILE, Ala. — The most valuable aspect in coaching the Senior Bowl isn’t the play on the field.
It’s the hours spent off the field with the players to understand their mental approach to football, according to Robert Saleh and the rest of the Jets coaching staff working the annual college pre-draft showcase.
The Jets already saw the tape on the players prior to coming to Mobile, so they knew what on-field traits each prospect possessed. But in the meeting rooms and the interviews, they have developed a better understanding of how they approach the game. How quickly they can absorb coaching in the film room and then apply it to the field the following day.
“You just want to see these young men and check their football character,” Saleh said. “The great thing about this game and this entire week is that we get the information that you’re not going to see just by watching the tape. We’re in the meetings with them. We got a little bit more of an intimate setting with these young men. And so that’s where I think the valuable information is going to come.”
What’s the prospect’s approach towards studying film? How engaged are they in meetings? What type of questions are they asking? Is it a smart question or are they trying to butter up coaches? How effective are their note-taking skills and how do they interact with teammates?
“Everything you do is being evaluated, everything. From the way you act in the dining hall, to how you treat the housekeeping,” Jets tight ends coach Ron Middleton said. “Are you attentive and engaging in the meetings? Of course, you’re gonna be looking at what you do on the field, but everything. If I got a choice, I rather not deal with a butthole.”
Middleton is serving as the head coach of the National Team for Saturday’s game, while Saleh is acting in an advisory role this week.
Another Jets assistant coach told me “You get more no’s than you get yes,” in regards to who fits after studying players in meetings.
The mental aspect of evaluating players is just as important as on-field skills.
But moving past the cerebral part, here are four players who stood out this week and could help the Jets.
COBY BRYANT, CB, CINCINNATI
The 2021 Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s top defensive back stood out this week. He rarely lost any battles during 1-on-1 drills and he showed good technique at the line of scrimmage. Bryant’s patience with receiver releases allowed him to stay in position to reroute WRs with physicality and stay tight in coverage to produce pass breakups. He also showed long speed down the field on deep passes.
There were a few reps when he opened up too early at the line scrimmage which left him susceptible to quick breaking routes. The fluidity in his hips could improve, but he has Day 2 talent looking ahead to April’s NFL Draft. Overall, Bryant was the best cornerback for the National team. He’s projected to be a second round pick.
The Jets were pleased with the growth the young cornerback room showed throughout the season. But people in the organization know they need to fill the No. 1 corner void.
CHRISTIAN WATSON, WR, NORTH DAKOTA STATE
Watson was impressive. The 6-4, 210-pound receiver’s playing style reminded me of A.J. Green and Martavis Bryant. He’s a slimmer tall receiver who can make tough contested catches and fly. His speed was eye-popping as he can stretch the field on vertical routes with his 4.4 speed. His route running was nifty too as he possessed the ability to quickly move in and out of his breaks to create separation. He was arguably the best receiver at the Senior Bowl.
Watson is projected as a Day 2 pick.
JERMAINE JOHNSON, EDGE, FLORIDA STATE
The Jets didn’t coach Johnson because he was with the American team. But the 6-4 260-pounder was so dominant through the first two days that he didn’t need to practice on the last day. As Fat Joe says “Yesterday’s price is not today’s price,” and the phrase describes the performance Johnson produced throughout Senior Bowl week. He displayed fantastic pass rushing ability with a strong rip-and-run move, a forceful bull rush and an effective spin move (fluid and fast).
He was already projected as a first-round talent and only raised his draft stock here. The Jets want to add pieces at the defensive end position to bolster a pass rush that finished with only 33 sacks (seventh fewest in the NFL).
ZION JOHNSON, OG, BOSTON COLLEGE
Johnson was already on my radar going into the Senior Bowl and he looks like a great fit for Gang Green. Johnson possesses the fundamentals needed to play within the Jets’ wide zone run scheme. He showed nice hand placement with power along with solid sets. He did well against the better interior rushers in the Senior Bowl.
Johnson is a projected second-round pick.
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