New York Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan has taken his fair share of heat for jettisoning respected, yet high-priced, vets over the offseason in favor of letting the kids play. But for the moves he made in the defensive secondary, he may end up getting the last laugh.
Maccagnan selected two safeties with his first two picks in this year’s National Football League draft – Jamal Adams of Louisiana State University with the sixth overall pick, and Marcus Maye of the University of Florida with the 39th overall pick. At that time, Adams was considered a no-brainer because many pundits and draft experts rated him as one of, if not the, best overall defender in the draft. But for Maye, it was a seemingly shocking pick because selecting the same position back-to-back is highly unconventional.
But by all accounts so far during training camp, Maccagnan’s move has played out very nicely, as both rookies have been turning heads – and nearly knocking some off as well during live hitting action.
Maye, in particular, has been putting on a show for the fans gathered at camp. He’s relished the rare times head coach Todd Bowles calls for full-padded contact sessions.
The former Gator’s biggest moment came at a recent full-contact practice when a big hit prompted a raucous reaction from the crowd. It was an ear-splitting, helmet-losing moment when he blasted fellow rookie, tight end Jordan Leggett. The hit on the former Clemson University star was so vicious that it was Maye’s helmet that went flying. But that didn’t matter to the amped-up safety, as he popped up hootin’ and hollering. He said he lives for moments like that, because “as soon as those lights come on, I’m full force.”
“Everything was buckled,” Maye said with a chuckle. “I think it just popped off. I had to pick it up and put it back on.”
New starting cornerback Mo Claiborne has been impressed with Maye’s intensity.
“You can just tell [that] he’s a guy that’s all about his business. He’s aggressive and smart,” said Claiborne. “You wouldn’t expect the football smarts from him at this stage. But he’s picking up the defense well and going out and making plays.”
Both Maye and Adams could be game-changing players on a team in need of some. Gone are stalwarts like cornerback Darrelle Revis and linebacker David Harris, so Bowles will need the rookies to step in and step up immediately.
And by all accounts, the veterans are impressed with the duo.
“They’re very smart. Both can cover the entire field on deep balls,” said cornerback Buster Skrine, who is in his third season with the Jets.
While he was careful not to diss the predecessors at the position, namely former first-round pick Calvin Pryor, who was shipped to the Cleveland Browns this spring, Skrine was effusive with his praise of the rookies who are learning quickly on the job.
“They’re already better than a lot of safeties I’ve already played with in my career. They’re very athletic,” he noted. “Both of them are really good. Both extremely athletic [and] students of the game. I’ve got a lot of respect for them … They’re an upgrade. Not saying our safeties were bad last year. I’m just saying these guys are really good.”
Pryor and Marcus Gilchrist, who has since been cut, were last season’s starting safeties, and along with the deteriorating Revis, the Jets’ secondary was torched on a weekly basis. Covering the deep ball was the bane of Jets’ fans’ existence, last season. Maye thinks he can help shore up that deficiency, both as a ball-hawking safety and enforcer.
“It’s instinctive [playing the ball]. It comes from within [and] something I’ve had since I was young,” noted Maye, who said he patterns himself after all-time great safety Ed Reed. Maye then added that likes to thump, too. “You got to be able to hit somebody coming across the middle or along the sideline. You got to step up in the hole. When you’re back deep, you got to be able to go sideline to sideline and get interceptions – and hit! I feel like with the ability that we have in our secondary, it allows us to both play deep or play in the box.”
Adams, the more heralded of the two and Maye’s roommate, has also marveled in camp so far.
“Jamal is the most athletic strong safety I’ve ever seen,” Skrine said. “He can do it all. He can move and he can guard a receiver. He can guard any tight end.”
In an American Football Conference East Division that features the tight end in New England Patriots Rob Gronkowski, the Jets will need all the talent they can field to have a fighting chance every week.