Defensive Coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, 6.14

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Connor Hughes, The Athletic: With how much passing is taking place in this camp, and not too much 11-on-11 drills, is there anything that you and Aaron (Whitecotton) can gain from the defensive linemen from OTAs and minicamp?

Yeah, you can assess their movement, their grit, their toughness, their effort, their strain. I don’t know if you guys have been paying attention, but he’s put them through it. They push every single day, so you get to see a lot. Would we like to see more? Absolutely. I was just talking to a couple coaches about it when we came in here. It would be nice to have more runs, more 11 on 11, but I get it. From a safety standpoint, we’ll be healthier because of this in camp. And we’ll make up for it in camp with the 11 on 11 and stuff. But I think the format’s been good.

 

Rich Cimini, ESPN: Following on that with Jermaine Johnson, what have you been able to see? What are your impressions? Is there anything maybe you didn’t see during the scouting process?

No, I’m just getting to know him now as a person. You see a big, long athlete that can move – he’s got explosion, he’s got speed, he’s got bend – all the stuff that rushers need to have from a physical standpoint. Now it’s just learning his game. Learning the intricacies of the position, learning how to strain on a daily basis. Learning the grit that’s necessary to be successful on the line.

 

Brian Costello, New York Post: I feel like the Jets now a guy in each room that has been through these past few years, and I guess sort of impart some wisdom that maybe you guys didn’t have that last year in every room?

Yeah, we do, whether it’s Jordan Whitehead, Lamarcus Joyner, from the safety standpoint, they just standout because they are so vocal and they are guys that love to bring people along with them, they have some natural leadership to them. C.J. (Mosley) is obviously that guy every single day. Quincy (Williams) is a guy that’s emerged in that way, whereas last year I wouldn’t have told you that. He didn’t have a voice, but now he’s finding a voice, he’s finding his own authentic leadership style. From a D-line perspective it feels like every day a guy takes that place and that role. We have a lot of really good human beings. In my time in the NFL, I have never been around a locker room with the character of this group. It is hard to be an a______e on this team. It really is. You have a lot of really good guys that love this game. Not only an a_____e, it’s hard to survive here if you’re not a self-starter, if you don’t love this game. There are so many guys that love it and push it and are self-motivated.

 

Brian Costello, New York Post: What has stood out to you about Sauce (Gardner)?

That he doesn’t repeat errors. He’s a guy that is so hungry to learn. If he gets beat, most of the time he just figure it out on his own because he has such a good football brain, and a thirst for the game and a thirst to get better and learn and grow. But if he doesn’t figure it out, he’ll go immediately to TO (Tony Oden), to Marquand (Manuel), myself, whoever and figure it out. And it doesn’t show up again. He’s going to have his lumps and his rookie moments which they all do, but at the same time there’s not going be a lot of them. Probably less than most.

 

Connor Hughes, The Athletic: I know you guys are rotating a number of players, but one of the guys that seems to be out there more than maybe anticipated going in, is (Jason) Pinnock at safety. What do you guys see for him? What’s changed from where he left off as a rookie to now, to be one of those guys that’s consistently out there rotating in?

From a physical standpoint there’s really nothing different. I mean here’s this long, big, physical safety that’s just got range. He checks off all the physical boxes. Now for him, it’s about learning the position, he’s a long-time corner. Corners aren’t typically the greatest communicators. They haven’t had to learn the whole game, they’ve learned their side of the field, they’ve learned their techniques. So, a lot of the time when you get him back there it’s not only the technique, it’s the vision, it’s the communication. He’s a guy that’s getting better, and he’s getting more comfortable with the position. Still got a ways to go though.

 

(follow up) When you guys drafted him did you have a thought in your head that he might be able to be a safety one day or was it the injuries last year and things that happened, and his skill set. What made you make the conversion?

I think, going back to Coach Saleh’s time with San Francisco when they had Jimmy Ward, and in this defense, especially when you get into certain formations, we have safeties that have to cover in a man-to-man against a wide receiver. Jimmy Ward was that guy in San Francisco, a converted corner that went to safety and was able to assume that role at a high level. We are searching for that same guy. That’s why Lamarcus has so much value to us. Here’s a guy that’s played nickel, he’s played corner in some capacity, so he knows how to play man. We feel comfortable and he feels comfortable covering wide receivers in a man capacity. Now we’re trying to find another guy that can assume that same role. Pinnock is getting better. We are very excited about what he will be, but he’s still a young player and has a long way to go.

 

Dan Leberfeld, Jets Confidential: With the defensive tackles, you guys tend to go with the smaller, quicker guys. Does that put more pressure on them to win right off the snaps?

It can, that’s where its conducive to the style we play. We jump out of our shoes, and we explode. We are not the read, block-type d-tackles. We are going to put this on our terms, we’re going to be on your side of the line of scrimmage. We are going to go forward. It’s conducive to the smaller guy, the more explosive guy. But at the same time there’s great value for the bigger guys in our system too. I think you can find a place for both.

 

Brian Costello, New York Post: What are your expectations for Quinnen (Williams) going into the season?

I got very high expectations. He’s a guy that last year at this time, as we all know, he was injured. He broke his foot and he delt with that for quite a bit. And, although he didn’t say anything to anyone, like if you were to ask him man to man. There’s something to be said about a guy that misses camp, misses the offseason. Not only was the scheme new and all that was new, but you’re still getting your feet underneath you, your legs underneath you. I feel like last year he was in a little bit of catch-up mode the entire season. So, for this year to have a full offseason of absolutely rolling I think he’s finding new levels of strain. I think he’s going places that he hasn’t gone to in the past, regarding the way he works on a daily basis. The sky is the absolute limit for this man. I can’t wait to see what he can do on Sundays.

 

Dan Leberfeld, Jets Confidential: You were with Solomon Thomas, obviously, in San Francisco, so you go way back with him?

I wasn’t with him in San Francisco.

 

(follow up) Oh, you were in Atlanta? Robert (Saleh) was with him. But what does he bring to this group now? What are your thoughts on him?

Actually, I got experience from Solomon though when I was at UCLA a long time ago, just recruiting him and his family and got to know him as a young man. He brings, like a lot of people say they strain and are in a maniacal effort and all this and that, he lives that every day. There is not a guy that runs past him ever, like he’s running by safeties, he’s running by corners. His work effort, his strain every day, his consistency is unmatched. For whatever he may lack, and he doesn’t lack very much, whatever he may lack, he overcomes with effort and strain and toughness. So, he brings that element and although he’s not a big talker, he is an absolute lead-by-example-type guy.

 

Andy Vasquez, NJ Advance Media: Jordan Whitehead, he obviously has experience playing for a school winner, he’s obviously still pretty young too so how rare is it to get a guy like that who’s growing as a player and also has this credibility and experience? What do you think the next step is for him in this defense?

We are so fortunate to have gotten him. He is an amazing human being. Every day he does something that just lights me up again. Like damn, he can do that, he can do that, he can do that. I don’t know what his role was in Tampa regarding was he a leader or not, but he has absolutely assumed that role here with the fellas. They absolutely gravitate towards him, and they follow his lead and he does a great job of that. It’s just rare that you get a guy in free agency like that because typically when you check all the boxes physically, you check all the boxes from a character standpoint, teams don’t let you go. The fact that we were able to get him is huge.

 

(follow up) He said that he is motivated to be on the field to prove that he can be an every down player. Do you see a little bit of an edge from him? It’s obviously very early, but like, in trying to prove that?

For sure, he’s got a little chip on his shoulder. I think he was, everybody in this league, like they get labeled something, coaches, players alike. For whatever reason, he got labeled early on as a box-safety, as a down safety. When you get that label, you’re tough, you’re physical, you’re a run supporter. Maybe with that same label, they think you’re a liability in the pass game or not an asset in the pass game. He has proved otherwise in this entire camp. He’s a guy that not only can do it but can do it at a high level from the standpoint of get the ball, and run the defense, and get us on the same page. He’s a rare communicator and problem solver. Like when the picture doesn’t look like the playbook, he can fix it and get us on the right page, so he’d done a great job for us. So excited about his future here.

 

Brian Costello, New York Post: You potentially have five or six new pieces on the defensive group, guys are coming back from injury last year, sometimes that takes a while to gel during the season, especially with preseason reps now. Is there a way to accelerate that in training camp? Is that something you’re thinking about as you guys enter camp?

Yeah, I think the high volume of plays has helped us. The fact that we’ve gone out here and we do the standard three or four competitive periods that are full speed, but then we do these walkthroughs that are 40-50 plays long, I think the turns together, it accelerates that process. So just the more turns that we can get, the more time these guys can spend together, the more time they can spend behind the scenes together, the better. They’re all doing that collectively and we’ll keep pushing to get there.

 

You mentioned the change in character in the locker room, what do you think has been the biggest influencer to that in this group of characters? 

Regarding an individual?

 

You just mentioned how the character, there’s no a-holes in the room. Is that something you saw last year? Do you think there’s a lot of players being injured, in rehab, what have you seen being the biggest difference of how they’re interacting with each other now compared to before?

I’m not even comparing it, necessarily, to last year. I’m just saying in general in my time in the NFL, the 20+ years coaching and playing, you always have a guy sometimes a couple guys, sometimes a lot of guys that are not aligned with the rest. We don’t have that. I think Joe Douglas and his staff, and Coach Saleh have done an amazing job of really identifying players that love the game and have high football character and not compromising that at any turn. Not chasing talent over that and because of that, they’ve created a culture in that locker room that’s unique. It’s different nowadays. Unfortunately, this league has a level of selfishness to it nowadays where guys are trying to get theirs. And I recognize and acknowledge that, it’s a business. We want them to get paid, we want them to get rewarded for what they do but at the same time the essence of this game is playing for each other, with each other, playing with guys that I love and respect and regard. And we’re establishing that now so it’s pretty cool to be a part of.

Dan Leberfeld, Jets Confidential: The linebacker group, obviously we’ve talked to you a lot about (C.J.) Mosley and Quincy Williams. What about the rest of the room? What can you tell us about them? Some of those guys might need to play, depth is obviously important, can you run down the rest of the guys?

Jamien Sherwood is obviously a guy who couldn’t participate because of the Achilles, still coming back. Just knowing him, he is an absolute tireless worker, he is going to be ready when it’s time to go. Excited about him. Him and Hamsah (Nasirildeen) both, they’re converted safeties, so last year was trial by fire. It’s like new position, NFL, speed change, everything, new playbook. So, it was a lot thrown at those guys. So, for them to do as well as they did, it’s still a surprise. The fact that now they have, like I always believe your rookie season you’re drowning. Someone is just pushing their hand on your head, and you’re just trying to breathe and stay afloat and then you have those offseason where things start to slow down, that’s where the information starts to absorb. I think both of those guys are in that place now and they’re starting to get the position, so I’m excited about both of them taking a huge jump. I think Marcell (Harris), he brings an edge, a toughness, he’s got some, I can’t say the word I want to say. He’s got some of that, this is my job, but every once and awhile when I know, I go and I shoot my gun. It’s hard for some guys because guys are so conscientious to do right all the time. He is, too, not to say that he isn’t, but he also has that X-Factor that all playmakers have where he just shoots his gun sometimes. I think he shows the other guys there’s a place for that. Not all the time, but there is a place for that. So, he brings that, which I absolutely appreciate. It’s a really good group. Del’Shawn (Phillips) is a guy that you love because he can absolutely do right. If you put him out there, he will get every single human being on the same page. So, he brings a lot of value in that way. We get quality reps whenever he’s running it because you just know that he’s going to run it and he’s going to do right. So, it’s a young group, it’s an inexperienced group, but it’s a group we’re excited about.

 

Rich Cimini, ESPN: You had that unfortunate situation last year when you had to start Sherwood when C.J. was out and it didn’t turn out too well. If C.J. is out again, who is your MIKE linebacker?

I don’t know that yet, honestly. I don’t know that. I don’t know if that’s a combination of moving Quincy around, I don’t know if that’s Jamien, Hamsah, Del’Shawn, I think it’s way too early to tell. If I were to speculate, you’d think maybe Jamien just from the standpoint of he’s such a high-level communicator. We’re far from that, I think.

 

Brian Costello, New York Post: You get a unique opponent in Week One and you have all this time where you know the opponent. How much time do you spend on Baltimore? You have all these months to study them.

Not a ton, but we do. We don’t do the run game out here, but we do a walkthrough run to simulate, and its really just defense servicing defense. So, we’ve slowly but surely kind of mixed in a few of Baltimore’s runs because they are very unique. Obviously, you have all the quarterback runs, but then you have a wide array of gap scheme and counters, just a million different gap schemes, powers and whatnot. It’s a little unique, not just the quarterback runs. So, it’s something you definitely have to prepare for. We’ve probably given them, I don’t know, 25-30 Baltimore runs in the process of this offseason, just getting familiar with the stuff they do the most. It is a unique challenge though.

 

DJ Bien-Aime, New York Daily News: You mentioned on the defensive line, basically they just shoot up the line of scrimmage, so you need your linebackers to hold up the run defense and things of that nature. So, now that it’s the second year of the scheme, how much better do you expect them to be now learning the system and learning how to shoot those gaps?

It’s going to be a huge jump in my opinion. It’s such a unique deal for a couple reasons. For one, the way we jump out of our shoes as a defensive line, we don’t always stay perfectly in our gaps. So, from that standpoint, the backers have to learn to soften their eyes and really feel we’re needed, not chase color. So, that’s the first component of it. Two, there is a lot of vertical stress on our linebackers because they take a lot of the race routes and the specials and the overs and a lot of times that speed, a wide receiver. So, they learn to play laterally in the run game, which can hurt them in the run game at times, too. So, now it’s time to find that balance of when I can shoot my gun, when I have to play lateral for the issue, when I have to play off a d-lineman, when a d-lineman is right and I’m in my true gap. It’s a combination of a lot of different things which I think takes time. It’s one of the things that you got to break Pop Warner habits because forever linebackers have been taught, “Get downhill, shoot your gap,” all this and that and we don’t play that style of defense and we don’t play that style of linebacker play, so you’re breaking years and years of training and coaching. Year two should be much better.

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