Robert Saleh hints at open competition for key Jets position in 2024

One of the biggest questions for the Jets heading into the 2024 season is who will be the team’s starting safety duo.

There are several options for both positions between veterans Chuck Clark and Ashtyn Davis, third-year UDFA Tony Adams, 2024 seventh-round pick Jaylen Key and converted cornerback Isaiah Oliver. Clark, Davis and Adams will likely get first licks at the starting roles, but head coach Robert Saleh admitted Tuesday that there will be an open competition at the position.

“There’s competition all over,” Saleh said at Tuesday’s OTAs. “That entire safety room is open.”

Robert Saleh hints at open competition for key position in 2024

The main open position is at strong safety after 2023 starter Jordan Whitehead left in free agency. Clark and Davis will be in contention for that opening.

The Jets traded for Clark this past season after he spent his first seven years with the Ravens. Clark started 63 of his 96 games in Baltimore before he tore his ACL during the 2023 offseason. He brings 384 combined tackles, five interceptions and 32 defended passes in his career. Clark is a “full-go” this offseason following his injury, Saleh said.

Davis returned to the Jets this year on a one-year deal after New York took him in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft. He’s the only remaining member of that class still on the team. Davis had his best season in 2023 with three interceptions, eight defended passes and 37 combined tackles. He’s also started 21 of 54 games since 2020.

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“With Ashtyn coming back, he’s proven he’s a ballhawk in the defense,” Saleh added. “He knows this defense. Chuck, obviously he has tremendous experience and we love him. We love them both.”

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Adams, meanwhile, has the inside track to keep his starting free safety role. He started 15 games for New York in 2023 with three interceptions, 82 combined tackles and five defended passes.

Oliver is the big wildcard in all of this. The Jets plan to convert him to safety full-time in 2024 after he split the 2023 season between safety and cornerback for the 49ers. Oliver previously played five years with the Falcons. He had one interception in 2023 in six starts over 17 games. Oliver has three career interceptions for 36 defended passes and 270 tackles.

“Oliver is a guy with really a corner skill set from the standpoint of movement, cover skills, all these things,” defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said Tuesday. “But now, we are taking advantage of his intelligence and his ability to communicate and putting him back at the safety position. Then we are also excited about the young guys that we’ve added with Jaylen Key.”

Key appears to be a reserve safety for New York after the Jets took him with the last pick of the 2024 NFL Draft. He allowed only 13 catches and 145 receiving yards in 2023, per Pro Football Focus.

The Jets have the depth at safety. Now, it’s a matter of determining which player deserves to see the most snaps during the year.

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