Changing of the guard: Why the Jets safety room is expecting big year in 2023

Buffalo Bills tight end Dawson Knox, behind top, jumps into the end zone past New York Jets safety Jordan Whitehead and cornerback Sauce Gardner for a touchdown.
Buffalo Bills tight end Dawson Knox, behind top, jumps into the end zone past New York Jets safety Jordan Whitehead and cornerback Sauce Gardner for a touchdown.
AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes

FLORHAM PARK — It was the unspoken blemish on what was a dominant group last season. The New York Jets had a fatal flaw in their top-five defense last season and it resided solely in their backend. 

New York’s safety position was ranked as one of the worst in 2022 in several key statistical categories like missed tackle rate, yards per target allowed, and snaps per penalty according to Jets X-Factor in February. Despite the poor numbers across the board, the returning group from last season doesn’t always agree with the criticism being pushed upon them.

“I want to say that I don’t believe we were one of the worst safety groups in football,” Tony Adams told AMNY Thursday. “If you go watch the film, the boys played great ball.”

Regardless of the current core of guys disagreeing with the analysis, the Jets turn to 2023 with a revamped safety room thanks to some new faces and improved youngsters looking to make the most out of their opportunity.

One of those youngsters is Adams. Thrust into a starting role due to the offseason injury to Chuck Clark, Adams has been an impressive sight throughout training camp. Top defensive players like Quinnen Williams and C.J. Mosley have named Adams as the most improved defender going into 2023. 

It may be a humbling experience to have All-Pro talented vouch for you, but it certainly isn’t for Adams. 

“It means a lot. Everything you do, you do to earn the respect of the guys in the locker room,” Adams explained. “I think everything that has come out about me is cool, but hearing it from the guys in this locker room means the world to me.”

Tony Adams and Jets defense looks to improve from last year
Buffalo Bills tight end Dawson Knox, left, is unable to make a catch as New York Jets safety Tony Adams (22) defends during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

Adams isn’t the only young safety to get an increase in playing time though. Ashtyn Davis made the 53-man roster after a tough training camp battle. While his role is expected to be primarily on special teams, the 26-year-old is focused more on doing whatever is necessary for the organization.

“I want to help the team win. Anything I’m asked to do I’m going to do it. I plan to contribute as much as I can,” Davis said.

Davis and Adams may be seen as young players in the safety room, but the Jets certainly have their fair share of veterans as well. Adrian Amos was brought in to help add some depth to the team after Clark was lost for the year and is expected to live up to his “Smash” nickname. The former Packer may have gotten the moniker thanks to his hard hits over the years, but the wealth of knowledge that he brings to this group is so important to their improvement.

“He brings a lot of knowledge in how he can play a lot of positions. I’ve been watching him since I’ve been in the league. There’s similarities to our game so I’m just trying to get back information from him on things,” Jordan Whitehead explained of Amos’ impact. “He’s a good person overall.”

Through all the different new names the Jets are throwing out at safety though, the lead dog in the room is Whitehead. The former Tampa Bay Buccaneer came to the Jets with the swagger that is now commonplace among the defense and is one of the best at his overall position. 

Like Adams, Whitehead has been given credit more so by his coaching staff for being a leader on the defense and setting the tone for what is expected to be a big year for the Jets. Probably more important to the group though is the improved play of the entire position. 

Luckily, Whitehead is already prepared to see a much different safety group than last year. 

“This group this year is going to be way different. With Smash, TA, AD, it’s going to be different. You have to wait and see,” Whitehead stated.

If the Jets are going to succeed in improving their already dominant defense, the safety positions will need to be a lot better than last season. Led by Whitehead, it certainly feels like there is a changing of the guard in the room and it might just lead to greater success for the team as a whole. 

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