Jets cornerback Bless Austin has a certain on-field attitude that’s caught the eye of rookie head coach Robert Saleh.
Inexperience in a pro-level defensive backfield could mean trouble.
But it’s a risk the Jets may need to take when it comes to the two main outside cornerback roles. Bryce Hall and Bless Austin, the pair of potential starters, have a combined 23 NFL starts to their names.
Austin, the individual with the superior experience (16 career starts), is entering his third season and could indeed take that crucial on-field leap. The physicality is certainly present (63 combined tackles last year) but the coverage may need to improve just a tad. Austin allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 48 of 73 passes (65.8% completion rate) when targeting him last season.
There’s a specific element to Bless’ game that could definitely assist in his improvement though. It’s a certain attitude he portrays, and the new leader of the coaching staff already recognizes it.
“Bless has a dog’s mentality…he is absolutely fearless,” Robert Saleh told the media Monday. “He is very strong at the line of scrimmage. At least from the time I’ve gotten here, it doesn’t look like he’s really bothered by the play before — he can move on. Those attributes — the length, the strength, he’s fast enough — it’s just a matter of working the technique and understanding where you fit in the defense.
“He’s showing everything that we want. Now it’s just a matter of trying to get better and seeing what he looks like once we face other opponents.”
The 2019 sixth-round draft pick out of Rutgers is entering his third NFL campaign and first with Saleh.
A great first impression has been made on the rookie head coach, but Bless understands he must work to retain this positive reputation.
“[Saleh believing I have a dog’s mentality is] a tremendous compliment,” Austin told the media Monday. “When I hear that, the only thing I think is to make sure that doesn’t ever leave his mind. To make sure I stay consistent, that I continue to make that my trademark.”
Austin has the potential to assume the most amount of in-game responsibility he’s been provided since entering the league. There is the possibility he is an every-game starter and moves forward as the team’s top guy in what is currently a young cornerback unit.
The Jets could’ve signed a veteran to take on a starting role while either Austin or Hall worked more as a reserve. Given his prior experience working with Saleh out in San Francisco, Richard Sherman would’ve made sense. But New York is possibly rolling the dice with the novice individuals, and now Austin may have a tremendous opportunity not only to improve but to seriously put his name on the map.
Could Bless become one of the best cornerbacks the NFL has to offer?
“I learn that you get that done by taking it a day at a time,” he said. “Focusing on the best [corners] and understanding what steps they took and the growth they had to go through. With the areas I have to work on and improve, day by day I knock it down…I’m most definitely planning on hearing that at the end of the year.”
This defensive backfield will also include a highly talented safety in Marcus Maye and possibly an experienced veteran safety in Lamarcus Joyner. Second-year man Javelin Guidry additionally figures to earn reps in the nickel corner role.
It’s a group looking to heavily improve from the team’s 2020 performance in terms of defending the pass. The Jets secondary, as a unit, allowed 275.6 passing yards per game last season — good for 28th in the league.