Pre-season is a nerve wracking time for NFL fans, especially for us Jets Fans. Your team has been killing it in free agency, and your GM got the steal of the draft. All in all things are going well. The task then is to just get to week one of the season without any injuries, and if you can pull that off the Super Bowl trip in February is a sure thing. Then some idiot decides that practicing against another team is a good idea. What could possibly go wrong?
With the final joint practice in the books for this off-season it’s fair to say that things have gone quite smoothly for the Jets. Sure we’ve lost Mekhi Becton for the year, and Zach Wilson decided to play hero-ball in the pre-season and nearly joined him on IR; but Joe Doulgas signed Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown, and Zach will be back on the field in week two. Things are good in Jets land with just one pre-season game left this Sunday.
But it could have been different. Joint practices have a habit of causing more problems than they’re worth as frustrations that have been building through training camp boil over, and players finally have a chance to hit someone who isn’t on their own team.
Sometimes this takes the form of some lively pushing and shoving like we saw in the Jets-Falcons joint practices last week, and other times it gets completely out of hand; the award for that this off-season goes to the LA Rams.
This week the Jets had their last joint practice of 2022 with the New York Giants, and things went smoother than anyone could have hoped. For those who remember 2005 you can understand why it’s taken 17 years for these teams to practice together again. The most memorable dust up in a Jets off-season came that year, and has been given the name “The Shockey Brawl” after the Giant TE who was central to a lot of what went on that day.
Former NY Giants TE Jeremy Shockey was not a man you’d choose to mess with – Image courtesy of USA Today
I’m not going to cover the events of the day in any great detail. That’s already been done this off-season in good fashion over at The Athletic. It all started innocuously enough with Shockey being given a shove in the back by one of the Jets’ DBs, Oliver Celestin, that deteriorated rapidly into a free for all brawl between the Jets defence and the Giants offence. After that the practice was marred by late hits and the kind of tackles you expect to see in post season games.
The main culprit through it all though was the Jets Defence (although Giants players gave as good as they got for the most part.) Looking back on it now and thinking about what went on makes you cringe as a Jets fan. From the hit on the Giants WR Willie Ponder, the fighting between coaches, and the brawl with Shockey itself, the Jets were undisciplined and put a lot of their own season and the Giants’ season at risk for the sake of acting like tough guys in a practice.
Most of that falls on the coaches. For me that’s where this difference is between practices that go well and those that descend into chaos. This week’s practice with the Giants, the coaching staff on both sides talked to their teams before the game to make sure they stayed level. Against the Falcons, when things started getting heated, Saleh pulled the team aside to get them to calm things down. Intensity is all well and good, but it has to be controlled. That type of thing translates over in the games, where undisciplined players get flagged for late hits and roughing calls that keep opposing team drives alive.
The Jets special teams co-ordinator at the time, Mike Westhoff, probably summed the events of that 2005 joint practice up best:
“I was embarrassed to be watching it and to know this was happening on a team I was on. That’s not the way I did it. … Herman Edwards (Jets Head Coach at the time) should be embarrassed that he didn’t get down there and stop it. I walked away and I said (to DC Donnie Henderson): ‘This is ridiculous what you’re doing.’”
Henderson comes under a lot of criticism for the events of that day, as he should. A lot of games and practices can get heated; it’s going to happen when you send players out there to get in each others faces and compete at the level the NFL demands. But the thing that stops it becoming what the 2005 Giants-Jets practice turned into is having good coaches who know how to balance violence with discipline.
Jets Head Coach Robert Saleh consistently preaches disciplined aggression to his players – Image Courtesy of USA Today
That message needs to come from coaches at all levels on the team, but it needs to be practiced and reinforced constantly by the Head Coach. That’s one of the reasons I like Robert Saleh so much. We all remember the guy who had to be held back on the sideline as the DC of the San Fransisco 49ers, and for those who are watching closely enough during games that guy is still there. The difference is that as the HC he’s demonstrating the same level of composure he expects from the players on the field.
If we’d have seen a repeat of 2005 this week I’d have been worried about the upcoming season, not just because of the injuries that would probably have come with it, but I’d be worried that this coaching staff aren’t the right people for the job. Jets fans should be encouraged that we’re not seeing team wide brawls in the pre-season, and that the team are saving their aggression for when it matters.