Jets’ ‘New Jack City’ DBs look to ‘control the airways’
“New Jack City” is etched in sharp black letters and framed by a whited-out Manhattan-like skyline, closely resembling the artwork from the soundtrack to the 1991 hit action gangster movie.
It’s the nickname defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson gave his group before last season — and it’s the identity by which the likes of Claiborne, Trumaine Johnson, Buster Skrine, Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye want to be known.
“We want people to fear us when we walk out,” Claiborne said after practice Tuesday. “We’re going to walk out, we’re going to talk noise and we’re going to play on the edge, but not hurt the team. We’re just going to go out there and leave it out there, from me to Tru to every guy in that room, Buster, everybody — we have the same mindset, and that’s to go out and perform at a high level.”
The Jets have struggled the past few seasons in the secondary, finishing 21st in pass defense last year.
Those days, this group of DBs is convinced, are over.
“We’ve just got to go make a statement,” Claiborne said. “Each and every game, we’ve got to go out and make a statement. Control the airways. That’s the best way I can put it.”
Seattle had its “Legion of Boom” secondary with Richard Sherman leading the way, and there have been lots of other colorful and intimidating defensive nicknames in the NFL over the years.
Steel Curtain. Doomsday Defense. Monsters of the Midway. Orange Crush. Purple People Eaters. New York Sack Exchange.
These Jets have a long way to go before getting anywhere close to securing their place in NFL lore.
“I feel like it still hasn’t made it yet, but we’re pounding away at it,” said Claiborne, who added that all the defensive backs have the shirts. “So, for us right now, it’s going out and laying it out there on the field. Put the name out there and let the people judge to see if it sticks or not.”
The first step, though, is having the nickname itself.
“It’s just a brotherhood that we have in our secondary, our camaraderie,” Maye said. “It’s the way we hang out with each other, the way we play with each other, just the style of play we have and just the type of attitude and mentality we carry.”
The safety tandem of Adams and Maye is already considered one of the most promising in the league, with both looking to build off solid rookie seasons.
“You definitely have to have that swagger out there,” Adams said, “that energy, running to the ball and just playing with that nasty mentality.”
Adams has already established himself as a team leader, a guy who leads with emotion and intensity. He finished third on the Jets last year with 83 overall tackles and had two sacks, but is still searching for his first NFL interception.
Maye is bit quieter than Adams, preferring to lead mostly by example. He was fourth on the Jets with 76 tackles and had two INTs.
“He can be phenomenal,” Adams said of Maye. “I think everybody can. As long as we continue to work at the little things, continue to take to the coaching, the sky’s the limit.”
Maye is coming off offseason ankle surgery and has been gradually worked back onto the field. He’s hoping to play some against the Giants on Friday night in the team’s third preseason game, usually the last extensive action starters see before the regular season.
“I’m definitely itching to get out there,” Maye said.
Claiborne was mostly solid as the Jets’ No. 1 cornerback last season and re-signed with the Jets on a one-year deal. He’ll likely be more of a 1-A this year with Johnson now in the mix.
After six seasons with the Rams, Johnson came to New York in March when he signed a whopping five-year, $72.5 million contract that included $34 million guaranteed. He was the Jets’ biggest free-agent signing of the offseason, and he’ll be expected to perform like an elite cornerback.
“Another playmaker in the back end, man,” Adams said. “A lot of energy.”
Johnson has 18 career interceptions, including a career-high seven in 2015. His presence gives coach Todd Bowles the luxury of having two experienced cornerbacks with good track records of covering other teams’ top receivers. It will also allow Skrine to play more often as the team’s nickel corner and in the slot, a role in which he has excelled during his career.
It’s unclear how Johnson and Claiborne will be used in terms of coverages, but Claiborne is certain of one thing.
“I do know that we’ve got two corners who can match up with anybody in the league,” he said.
Well, they’ve got the catchy nickname and the confidence to match.
In a few weeks, the Jets’ “New Jack City” defensive backs will get their first chance to live up to their own lofty expectations.
“We’re loaded with talent in the back end,” Claiborne said. “It’s all (on) what we do with it. We have all the pieces. We just have to find a way to put it together and go get some wins.”