‘I want a team full of agitators’: Jets developing physical culture under coach Robert Saleh

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An Eagles player runs with the ball between Jets' Justin Hardee and Elijah Riley during the 2nd half of a preseason game on Aug. 12.
An Eagles player runs with the ball between Jets’ Justin Hardee and Elijah Riley during the 2nd half of a preseason game on Aug. 12.
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Second-year Jets coach Robert Saleh is known for promoting physical toughness from his teams, but that has risked inviting disorder and unrest in the Gang Green locker room. 

The Jets have seen an unusual number of intra-team fights and squabbles throughout training camp so far this year, which would worry some coaches — but Saleh said he understands, and even welcomes the aggressiveness. 

“I want a team full of agitators,” the coach said. “I want them getting competitive. I want them talking smack, to get in each other’s faces. I want them pushing the envelope of what they can get away with. I just want them to have composure when they get the person across from them agitated.”

“Obviously, it gets competitive here. It’s like a bunch of siblings fighting. There’s no love lost. It’s not like they don’t like each other — it’s like how you get annoyed with your brother every once in a while.” 

Part of the reason for Saleh’s long-leash given to his players is the relative weakness of the team’s defense last season. 

The Jets gave up a league-most 6,760 yards and 504 points to opposing offenses last season, including ranking in the top-5 most passing and rushing yards allowed in the 2021-22 league year. They also forced just the 2nd-most takeaways at 14.

On offense, Jets passers were sacked the 4th-most of any team in the NFL at 53. 

Adding more physicality, according to Saleh, should remedy some of that weakness — though he did make sure to send a message to his players, telling them to avoid injuring their fellow Jets, and even needed to institute a “no punching” rule during camp. 

“Protect the team,” he said. “It’s getting very, very competitive. And it’s not just from the fighting standpoint. We try not twerking each other, we try not slinging each other to the ground. We try to keep everybody up.”

As for other teams, Saleh has pushed his Gang Green squad to be as imposing as possible. 

That showed during the team’s first preseason game against the Eagles, when defender Quincy Williams laid a vicious hit on Philadelphia quarterback Jalen Hurts as the signal caller was rushing out of bounds. 

Saleh did reprimand Williams for that play — though it can fairly be seen as a byproduct of the culture Saleh has purposely instituted thus far in his tenure at MetLife Stadium. 

“He knows that. He knows better,” the coach said. “Those are the plays Quincy has to get out of his game if he wants to become the linebacker that we all think he can be.” 

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