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The Jets were who we thought they were

And the story of Hacksaw Reynolds

San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

I waited to write an article about the Jets after the Sunday debacle so cooler heads could prevail. I know myself. I have not yet thoroughly decompressed from the meltdown. Yet while I was watching the game I realized where we were at in terms of development. The Jets were up 16 - 0 but only because they had a tipped pass that turned into a pick 6, a safety, and a two point conversion that (on a 30 yard pass) barely got over the outstretched hands of a defender. They had one 60 yard drive for a TD but could add no more.

I also said a famous sports cliche during the game.

I was watching the game with my wife and after the Jets missed the extra point I told my wife, “That will come back to haunt them. It always does.” Now the Jets got a safety. They also went and made a two point conversion so they did make up for the miss; sort of. Yet still my wife says to me after the game (while my head is in my hands in total frustration), “Hey you were right that missed extra point did come back to haunt them.” I knew I should have never said it when it came out of my mouth; I tried to shove the words back in. It just always seems to come true, even when it really doesn’t it does; like it did last Sunday.

“They were who we thought they were.”

Was a famous quote by coach Dennis Green. The heavily favored Bears had just beaten Coach Green’s Arizona Cardinals after being down by 20 points on Monday Night Football.

That game was similar in a way to the Jets game because the Bills (like the Bears that night) were doing absolutely nothing yet staged a miraculous comeback to win when they were dead in the water. Losing like that is so painful, especially against a division rival. Worst of all, the loss was to a rival who is not even very good. You can only imagine how we would do (right now) against the defending champions who look stacked. It would not be pretty.

Individual players

So let’s look at some key players and see what is going on with them for this season in particular. Where they are at and where they are possibly going.

Sam Darnold

We will start with Sam because he is the horse we have to ride to eventually win a championship. The and I stress THE most important thing about this season is Sam’s development; everything else is secondary. Of course with Sam’s viral infection that is sort of on hold right now. He needs rest, take in fluids so as not to worsen his condition or suffer additional infections in his weakened state.

Jamal Adams

Adams once again is the leader of the secondary coming off a nice All Pro season. If he wants to be considered a generational player at his position he still has a long way to go. Adams had a quiet week one with 6 total tackles and a pass defended. He will need to be much better this week to make up for Sam’s and Mosley’s absence. He needs to make more splash plays (INTs, FF, sacks) to counteract the team’s shortcomings. He is given a lot of latitude. Plus he is put in some advantageous positions (by Gregg Williams) to make big plays so he has to produce.

Marcus Maye

The running mate of Adams could have had a great game but a dropped INT (that led to points) and had an INT that was called back due to a penalty It was nice to see Maye back on the field, but he needs to make plays, not miss opportunities It would be nice to have a top five set of young safeties as part of our building blocks. With Maye being away from the team for so long he has a lot to prove, especially to a GM who did not draft him. Matthias Farley was brought in here to compete for a job so Maye has very little wiggle room if he continues to miss opportunities to impress.

C. J. Mosley

Mosley played like a man who is making over $17 million a year, until he got injured. Without Mosley or Williamson (out for the year) on the field, the leadership void was obvious. I know Adams was there, but it is just different when you have a great player in the exact middle of the defense. He has a substantive effect on nearly every play. Mosley is a major force, but even though he can’t play this week the absence will not be so acute. Others who have worked all week in Mosley’s stead will be able to better make up for the leadership void.

The meltdown against the Bills (when Mosley went out) only solidifies the idea that the addition of Mosley was a great signing. Yes, he got overpaid, but he is in the prime of his career for the duration of his contract and he is the future (or currently) undisputed leader of this defense.

Let me quantify the reason for that last statement.

Simply put it is about human nature. Yes, Adams is a great leader and possibly more so than Mosley. Yet when players look at a teammate if he is bigger and stronger, plays among the big boys on every play and makes big plays, they give him more kudos than a player who plays on the back end.

Ray Lewis (not Ed Reed), Mike Singletary (not Gary Fencik who the 46 defense was named after), Jack Lambert (not Mel Blount) are simple examples of leaders in the middle of the defense when other (as great) players behind them were also leaders but not the top guy.

The NFL is littered with great players in the middle of a defense, Ray Nitschke, Dick Butkus, Patrick Willis, Lee Roy Jordan, Brian Urlacher, Chuck Bednarik, Luke Kuechly, Sam Huff, and Willie Lanier (one of my all time favorites). The intensity, violence, and sheer determination they showed on every play against bigger linemen (while still making the play) was amazing. Of course players (or most people in general) are going to look up to a more impressive physical specimen as a leader. When they speak everyone on the defense listens.

Additionally, with his contract Mosley is going to be here to at least 2021 so players know where he is and where he is going to be until then. Put it all together, leadership, imposing size, Pro Bowl level play, and getting paid like the best. Players will follow that type of leader. This is not a knock on Adams. It’s just the way of the world in the NFL.

The difference between leaders and the story of Hacksaw Reynolds

Ronnie Lott was a great leader as a safety, but he never had a great vocal leader on the inside of the defense. When Lott was a rookie with the 49ers he had Jack (Hacksaw) Reynolds. Reynolds was a leader by actions, not a real rah rah guy Reynolds was the consummate football player. His coach Bill Walsh said of him, “There’s nobody like Jack Reynolds, with his total consumption of football.”

Reynolds was a great player but kind of crazy and hard to get along with. As a kid in Ohio Reynolds and friends would “surf trees.” How do you surf a tree? Well basically as Reynolds tells it, “You climb a tree and one of my friends cuts it down; so you surf it down until it crashes,”

Oh yeah, this is how Reynolds got the nickname “Hacksaw” in his own words, “In 1969, when I was a senior at the University of Tennessee, we had already clinched the Southeastern Conference title but still had to play Ole Miss (where Archie Manning was the quarterback). If Tennessee won the game, we would have gone to the Sugar Bowl. The previous year, Tennessee had beaten Ole Miss, 31-0. Things went badly that day and Mississippi beat us, 38-0. I played a good game, but was really upset at the outcome. We had an old car (a ’53 Chevrolet with no motor) on top of a bluff above the school. We used to push it around with a guy’s Jeep and practice driving into things, like demolition derby. When I got back to school, I decided to cut that old Chevy in half to make a trailer for a new Jeep I had just purchased. It was a good outlet for my frustrations. I went to K-Mart and bought the cheapest hacksaw they had, along with 13 replacement blades. I cut through the entire frame and drive shaft, all the way through the car. I started on Sunday and finished Monday afternoon. It took me eight total hours. I broke all 13 blades. When I finished, I got one guy from the dorm, Ray Nettles, to witness it. The next day we took the rest of our friends from the dorm up the hill to see it, and when we got there both halves of the car were gone, with just the 13 broken blades lying on the ground. To this day, I don’t know what happened to that car!”

That was Hacksaw Reynolds, intense at everything he did, more of a demanding coach on the field rather than a leader, so frustrated in losing he cut a car in half to reduce his anxiety. Reynolds played 15 NFL seasons as an inside linebacker.

Riki Ellison was a young LB for the 49ers in the mid 80’s and played with Reynolds. Ellison actually feared Reynolds would retire and become his coach. “One of us would be in a mental hospital in a week,” Ellison said. “He would definitely be demanding. We’d be watching film every night. Jack’s a hard guy to get close to. He’s the Scrooge of all time. We had a hard time getting along that first year, but once you get close to him he’ll help you out tremendously. When I come to the sideline I get this chalkboard in my face.”

The 49ers had a young team in the early 80’s and hadn’t made it to the playoffs in years. In the first round of the playoffs the Niners had the late game on Sunday. Keena Turner, a young OLB on the team, was coming to breakfast in the morning at the team hotel with cornerback Eric Wright. They were talking and joking around but when they turned the corner to enter the dining area they both stopped dead in their tracks. Sitting at a table (alone) was Hacksaw Reynolds in full gear, shoulder pads, eye black, a full dirty uniform and wearing a helmet with a lump of sod still stuck in the facemask. This was at 8 a.m. and the game wasn’t until later that afternoon. Reynolds was sitting there just psyching himself up while eating.

Teams always stay in hotels the day before the game and have meetings at night. They then usually go to the stadium together in a buses along with the coaches. When Reynolds finished his breakfast he got up without saying a word. Then he walked out of the dining area and down the hall. His cleats were clanking as he walked. He walked out of the hotel and into his old, dented 1970 Lincoln Continental and drove to the stadium (helmet still on), his car backfiring as he drove off.

Turner and Wright knew right then that the Playoffs were a different gig and it put them into a totally divergent mindset. They knew they had to start getting mentally ready for the game right then. Reynolds was a leader, just not the kind of leader who inspired by talking. Mosley is not a really talkative guy, but when he does communicate he gets his point across with few words and players follow. Gregg Williams likes to have leaders on all three levels of the defense so Adams is still a leader, but the guy who is the signal caller and top guy is Mosley.

Trumaine Johnson

What can you say? This is a situation that is not going to change dramatically in the near future. There is little Joe Douglas can do in his position with all the guaranteed money involved. Johnson is an albatross around the Douglas’ neck this year. After that I don’t see how Johnson lasts past the final game of 2019. He is not worth 1% of what he is being paid but has no guaranteed money past this year. Johnson with still cost the Jets $12 million in dead money from his $20 million signing bonus that the Jets prorated. He already received that money, but the Jets certainly will not pay him the $11 million he is scheduled to make in 2020. The last three years on his contract have $28.5 million of non-guaranteed money. The Jets can save all that cap space by dumping Johnson after 2019. This contract was monstrous, the Maccagnan gift that keeps on giving.

Quincy Enunwa

Enunwa had his second serious neck injury of his career, and it probably spells the end of his time in the NFL. Enunwa was the best player from the Idzik 12 as a 6th round pick (which tell you all you need to know about that class) who made himself into a viable receiver. A middling talent, Enunwa always played hard and gave his best effort on the field. Mike Maccagnan laughably gave Enunwa a huge contract. Enunwa received $20.25 million in guarantees, $9.17 million of which is fully guaranteed at signing. Enunwa’s signing bonus was $9 million. Enunwa’s 2019 and 2020 salaries are guaranteed for injury and his 2021 salary has a partial salary guarantee. It’s just another complete mind boggling boondoggle by our former GM. The hits just keep coming.

Leonard Williams

Even after free agency and the insane contracts handed out by Mike Maccagnan, Leonard Williams still has the highest cap number, $14.2 million, on the Jets. A decision needs to be made on the course of action on Williams. Still only 25 years old Williams is an ascending talent who has been near a Pro Bowl level every year he played (with 1 Pro Bowl invitation). but how much more growth does he have? Williams led the defensive linemen with 5 tackles and a QB hit against the Bills although he did play the highest percentage of snaps 88%. No player on the Jets is more of a conundrum to Jet fans than Williams. We will have to see how Joe Douglas views Williams value to the Jets. With Sam Darnold sidelined and the possibility of a prolonged losing streak to start the year, Joe may start his 2020 Draft planning early. Few players on the Jets have as much trade value than Williams.

The Jets Offense

It was only one game, but the prospect of a poor offensive year was increased with the Sam Darnold illness. As we all know the offensive line is a trouble spot that was inflated by the fact the actual starting line had no real game action before the first game. Cohesiveness is a need that is more acute on the offensive line than anywhere else on the team. Now with the switch in QBs for the foreseeable future a true depiction of the offense will not be readily apparent if at all for the remainder of the year.

Greg Nejmeh (Director, Pro Personnel) and Kevin Murphy (Assistant Director, Pro Personnel) will need to do a thorough job scouting their players to find the spots in most need of assistance. Of course there could be many positions with that designation. They also will have to scout other teams to find possible trade targets or possible free agent acquisitions after the season who could further the Jets football acuity.

Joe Douglas’ job of increasing the talent base on the Jets was a monumental task that became much more difficult because of the Darnold illness. Who knows which players could be injured or playing at a reduced level because of nagging afflictions by the time Sam gets back in action? Even once Sam returns he will need time to get back into the flow of playing NFL football. This ain’t like riding a bike.

The Jets have a nice assortment of young talent which I’m sure they will look to add to as time goes on. It will be up to the coaches to do the best job they can to increase their football foundation but it is up to each player to make himself into a great player. Some will become vital components to the team, but most will not. That is why you continue to bring in talent then weed out the ones who don’t belong.

I intentionally didn’t include any coaches in this article. It will take time for a team to adjust to an entire new offensive and defensive schemes before they can become effective in those systems. Rome wasn’t built in a day or in OTAs and a single training camp.

Bottom line, the Jets are who we knew they were, a team that is beginning a new chapter in their history. The story is just starting to be written. They are not ready to compete with the top teams in the NFL. This isn’t the same as the Rams situation where they had a boatload of talent and just needed a new direction from the Neanderthal approach of Jeff Fisher.

Joe Douglas just got here. He will need to find out what he has before he can get new guys to come in. Obviously he will be on the lookout for offensive linemen and defensive backs, but the search cannot stop there. Decisions will need to be made about Robby Anderson, Kelvin Beachum, Kelechi Osemele and others. It’s a daunting task.

This has been a rough week for many Jet fans with the loss on Sunday, the Enunwa news and of course the illness of Sam Darnold. When you have been a Jets fan for over 50 years we call that just another week in the NFL.

What do you think?

And as always GO JETS