Trumaine Johnson, Nate Hairston
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

The glaring difference between Trumaine Johnson and Nate Hairston is obvious when breaking it down on New York Jets Film Room.

Robby Sabo

FLORHAM PARK, NJ—The guts required to step into a head coaching role in New York is self-evident. Unlike other cities that deploy two, maybe three beat reporters, the Big Apple ensures a solid, rabid group is always barking up some sort of tree.

Of course, the New York Jets are included in this mix, meaning Adam Gase’s guts can’t be questioned.

On Monday night, in the team’s 23-3 loss to the Cleveland Browns, while Gase continues to be hammered from all angles via a 0-2 start, one move shined brightly through the negativity.

Gase’s benching of Trumaine Johnson in favor of Nate Hairston proved wonders.

Man-to-Man Coverage

The thing that smacks any defensive mind in the face is the idea that, suddenly, man-to-man coverage turned into a Jets defensive strength in Week 2.

Against the Buffalo Bills, Williams had no shot when dialing up man. Trumaine Johnson simply could not handle John Brown, and what’s worse is the idea he wasn’t putting forth his usually sound fundamental play in action.

The first example showcases Johnson in press pre-snap. For some unknown reason, he allows Brown a clean release.


What Johnson must execute are his strengths. This means a physical brand of play needs to show face in order to make up for his lack of speed.

It’s puzzling to see Johnson show press pre-snap yet allow a clean release to a burner like Brown.

On the flip-side, Hairston surrendered the brilliant one-handed grab to Odell Beckham Jr. Interestingly, what’s celebrated offensively during the game is also pointed out defensively.

Hairston’s coverage on Beckham on this play was carried out well.

He immediately opens his hips in the understanding that he cannot get beat over-the-top. While he does so, he maintains contact with his inside hand (right) on OBJ’s hip.

Oftentimes, corners get lost when looking back for the ball. It’s critical to maintain innocent contact when looking back for the ball. “Hand on hip” is always the mantra.

This is a prime example of tremendous coverage and a better catch. Tip your cap, say “good play” and move on.

Zone Coverage

If Trumaine Johnson isn’t getting it done in zone coverage, forget about it; there’s absolutely no reason he should remain on the field.

In this Cover 2 Buc, Johnson, whose responsibility is the flat, doesn’t get enough depth to take away his second read. Zone coverage is about reads over areas.

Once his first read (the wideout) moves vertical, Johnson correctly passes him onto Jamal Adams (deep-half). The problem comes when he reads the tight end, his second read.

Instead of getting depth and taking away the tight end corner, he sniffs the flat where the back is coming out of the backfield. Despite his flat responsibility on paper, the offense placing two vertical routes over-the-top should make Johnson get more depth while allowing the underneath linebacker to clean up the flat.

When Hairston is in zone coverage, his instincts are on full display.

Make no mistake: Hairston isn’t a burner either. His 4.5 speed is comparable to Johnson’s top 40-yard time. But there’s also no question he’s faster, quicker at this point of the game (when dealing with the careers of both).

On this example, Hairston gets depth in his Cover 2 Buc that features Brian Poole replacing the MIKE and eventually cleans up after the catch in the flat.

Notice the technique. Hairston continues to get depth due to the fact none of his secondary reads are a threat to enter his flat. He simultaneously takes away the vertical route (along with the deep-half safety) while remaining stout in the flat to prevent the 1st-down.

Additionally, the instincts in switching and guessing correctly were strong all night. On the following play, Hairston correctly guesses an OBJ deep out.

It’s almost as if he guessed prior to Beckham. Closely watch the backpedal and break; it’s completely on point.

Lastly, even when Hairston finds himself in a pickle, he seems to guess right. The kid’s awareness and instincts added a great deal to the Jets secondary on Monday night.

On this one, although he’s in a Cover 3 (responsible for a deep-third), he breaks it off for the deep out that completely stumps Baker Mayfield.

The move was a tad risky, but should be labeled as the correct action. Passing off the vertical to Marcus Maye (who I would have rather seen shading to the near side, the more dangerous side) and jumping on the out helped shut down the concept.

Final Thoughts

At this point, it’s not even a discussion. Nate Hairston is the new starting cornerback aside Darryl Roberts on the outside and Brian Poole in the slot. With Trumaine Johnson on the field, Gregg Williams is scared to death to dial-up man coverage. There’s just no way to survive defensively in today’s league when that’s the case.

The defense played well against the Browns. The coverage was tight and Williams had his boys playing hard (without C.J. Mosley). The problem, as usual, was the pass rush. When the four-man conventional pass rush isn’t hitting home, it doesn’t matter how tight the coverage looks.

Credit Gregg Williams and Adam Gase. Nate Hairston looks to have something here and this New York Jets secondary looks greatly improved after moving on from Trumaine Johnson.

It’s never easy to bench a man with a $12 million cap hit in 2019, the third richest number on the roster.

Robby Sabo is a co-founder, CEO and credentialed New York Jets content creator for Jets X-Factor - Jet X, which includes Sabo's Sessions (in-depth film breakdowns) and Sabo with the Jets. Host: Underdog Jets Podcast with Wayne Chrebet and Sabo Radio. Member: Pro Football Writers of America. Coach: Port Jervis (NY) High School. Washed up strong safety and 400M runner. SEO: XL Media. Founder: Elite Sports NY - ESNY (Sold in 2020). SEO: XL Media. Email: robby.sabo[at]