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Sport Jets’ Robert Saleh says Quinnen Williams-Jeff Ulbrich drama is ‘bush league’ | Is he right?

12:10  01 october  2022
12:10  01 october  2022 Source:   nj.com

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The Jets are once again having to answer for an awkward situation between a coach and one of their best players, Quinnen Williams.

New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) throws the ball during practice on Wednesday, September 28, 2022 in Florham Park, N.J. © Andrew Mills/nj.com/TNS New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) throws the ball during practice on Wednesday, September 28, 2022 in Florham Park, N.J.

And coach Robert Saleh isn’t happy about the mini firestorm that ensued after defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich’s poorly worded answer regarding Williams this week.

New York Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley (57) during practice on Wednesday, September 28, 2022 in Florham Park, N.J. © Andrew Mills/nj.com/TNS New York Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley (57) during practice on Wednesday, September 28, 2022 in Florham Park, N.J.

“It’s kind of bush league to take a one-liner,” Saleh said. “But it is what it is. We all know where Jeff’s heart is, so no harm, no foul.”

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But is Saleh actually right? We have some thoughts on that. But first, let’s explain the situation in full.

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New York Jets quarterbacks (l to r) Joe Flacco, Zach Wilson, Mike White and Chris Streveler during practice on Wednesday, September 28, 2022 in Florham Park, N.J. © Andrew Mills/nj.com/TNS New York Jets quarterbacks (l to r) Joe Flacco, Zach Wilson, Mike White and Chris Streveler during practice on Wednesday, September 28, 2022 in Florham Park, N.J.

In Sunday’s loss to the Bengals, CBS cameras captured Williams and defensive line Aaron Whitecotton in a heated exchange on the sideline that ultimately ended with them being separated by players. Williams and Jets coaches had a simple explanation: it wasn’t what it seemed. Williams was just asking the coaching staff to put more of the burden on the defensive line by not blitzing and giving them the opportunity to win with a four-man rush.

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New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh speaks with wide receiver Corey Davis (84) during practice on Wednesday, September 28, 2022 in Florham Park, N.J. © Andrew Mills/nj.com/TNS New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh speaks with wide receiver Corey Davis (84) during practice on Wednesday, September 28, 2022 in Florham Park, N.J.

The truth is likely somewhere in the middle. Williams’ and Whitecotton’s appeared to be showing genuine frustration in Sunday’s emotional and brief confrontation – but ultimately, it wasn’t going to be a storyline moving forward unless it happens again.

Ulbrich, who praised Williams throughout his weekly news conference Thursday, even admitted the Jets adjusted their strategy in the final three quarters based on Williams’ feedback.

But Ulbrich gave another answer Thursday that reignited the notion that all is not well between the coaching staff and Williams.

He was asked to explain the team’s defensive line rotation and ultimately answer for why the staff thinks it’s best to not have Williams, their star defensive tackle, on the field for every play.

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Ulbrich gave a thoughtful answer. But he also included a line that … left things open for interpretation.

“It’s understandable,” Ulbrich said of wanting to have Williams on the field every down. “There [are] these critical moments in game and ‘Why is Quinnen not out there?’ And you look to the side and he’s gasping for air, so just got to be judicious with it”

New York Jets quarterbacks Zach Wilson (2) and Joe Flacco (19) on Wednesday, September 28, 2022 in Florham Park, N.J. © Andrew Mills/nj.com/TNS New York Jets quarterbacks Zach Wilson (2) and Joe Flacco (19) on Wednesday, September 28, 2022 in Florham Park, N.J.

Room for interpretation is the equivalent of a starting gun for social media and sports talk radio. And one reaction to “gasping for air” gained traction quickly Thursday night and into Friday morning: Ulbrich was taking a shot at Williams’ conditioning.

New York Jets wide receiver Garrett Wilson (17) at practice on Wednesday, September 28, 2022 in Florham Park, N.J. © Andrew Mills/nj.com/TNS New York Jets wide receiver Garrett Wilson (17) at practice on Wednesday, September 28, 2022 in Florham Park, N.J.

And given what happened Sunday between Williams and Whitecotton, many on social media saw it as evidence of a rift between Williams and the coaching staff. It certainly didn’t help matters that Williams on Thursday night retweeted a video from August of Robert Saleh saying the defensive tackle “is in the best shape of his life.”

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New York Jets defensive end Jermaine Johnson (52) and defensive end John Franklin-Myers (91) hit the sled during practice on Wednesday, September 28, 2022 in Florham Park, N.J. © Andrew Mills/nj.com/TNS New York Jets defensive end Jermaine Johnson (52) and defensive end John Franklin-Myers (91) hit the sled during practice on Wednesday, September 28, 2022 in Florham Park, N.J.

We don’t know what Williams meant by that, because he declined to make himself available to reporters on Friday in the locker room.

But Saleh was understandably frustrated when it came up in his Friday morning availability with reporters. “Quinnen is in the best shape of his life,” Saleh said. “I’m not going to get into details about what happened [Thursday]. A quote, in my opinion, was taken and used against Jeff when we all know where Jeff’s heart is. He spent 15 minutes prior to that question showering Q with praise. We have our rotations, we do things the way we do them. Quinnen is in phenomenal shape.”

Saleh ended his answer by referring to the “bush league” controversy. But while Saleh’s frustration is completely understandable, he is wrong to point the finger outside of the building.

Ulbrich is a public figure who gets paid a lot of money, in part, because his job involves being heavily scrutinized and criticized. Ultimately, it’s on Ulbrich to understand how his words will be interpreted by the public and to choose them carefully.

Had he chosen his words better, there would have been nothing to react to. The responsibility lies with Ulbrich.

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Is it fair? Not entirely.

But unfortunately, this is how things work in the social media age. Most fans and big-picture pundits don’t have the time/aren’t willing to go to the Jets’ website and watch Ulbrich’s full news conferences every week. They want to read about and see the most interesting things that were said and react to them.

New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) during practice on Wednesday, September 28, 2022 in Florham Park, N.J. © Andrew Mills/nj.com/TNS New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) during practice on Wednesday, September 28, 2022 in Florham Park, N.J.

And even though Ulbrich’s line on Williams didn’t accurately portray what he had been saying about the defensive tackle, it was interesting and it gained traction. It’s just the nature of the beast.

Was Ulbrich taking a shot at Williams? Almost certainly not.

He praised the fourth-year player repeatedly on Thursday including in the very next sentence he spoke after his questionable comments.

“He plays at such a high clip and he goes so hard that sometimes more is less, or more isn’t necessarily as good [for him to stay on the field],” Ulbrich said. “Because now, you’re not seeing the speed, the explosiveness, all the special stuff from an athletic standpoint that he brings.”

But all of that was overshadowed because of Ublrich’s earlier poor choice of words.

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Should it be this way? No. But that’s an entirely different situation. And it stinks to say that Ulbrich has to be more careful with how he chooses his words because he is one of the more insightful, interesting and honest football coaches you’ll see stand behind a lectern – and now that might change.

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But this is the world we live in, and the focus should be on figuring out how to navigate it, not on lashing out at it.

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New York Jets wide receiver Corey Davis (84, left) and quarterback Zach Wilson (2) loosen up before practice on Wednesday, September 28, 2022 in Florham Park, N.J. © Andrew Mills/nj.com/TNS New York Jets wide receiver Corey Davis (84, left) and quarterback Zach Wilson (2) loosen up before practice on Wednesday, September 28, 2022 in Florham Park, N.J.

Andy Vasquez may be reached at avasquez@njadvancemedia.com.

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC. Visit nj.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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