The new New Jack City features a couple guys searching for their place in a group filled with enough confidence to fill MetLife Stadium.
The Jets’ swaggerlicious secondary will likely be without starters Trumaine Johnson (quad) and Buster Skrine (concussion) against the Colts on Sunday, prompting Rashard Robinson and Parry Nickerson to spring into action.
Robinson: “I’m just ready to fill in and do what I know what to do.”
Nickerson: “My job is to be ready whenever they need me.”
Well, Commissioner Gordon has flashed the Bat Signal: The Jets desperately need these guys to help a banged-up secondary facing one of the best quarterbacks in the world.
Robinson, activated this week after serving a month-long suspension due to violation of the league’s substance abuse policy, has a chance to make Gang Green look very smart after making them look so very not smart after they acquired him at the trade deadline last year.
“Nickerson has a chance to make a difference as the nickel corner.”
Both young cornerbacks have the skills to help the rest of the season… and beyond.
“We got two guys down, so I just want to come in and bring some energy,” said the 23-year-old Robinson. “(Defensive backs) Coach (Dennard) Wilson trains us every day to be the best and do the small things right. That’s what you have to do. Just be a pro. Go out there and work on your craft, work on your technique and when your name is called, go out there and take full advantage of it.”
“I’m more mature now,” Robinson added. “I’m more of a student of the game, working on my technique more knowing that I’m in more press-man situations.”
Todd Bowles praised Robinson at the end of the summer for his renewed focus in the wake of a December arrest that ultimately led to the suspension.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the strides he made coming in personally,” Bowles said in August.
Robinson’s four-week suspension was a daily grind filled with workouts designed to keep him in shape.
“It was a grind,” Robinson said. “There weren’t any days off. I was constantly working…. I’m in a good place. My mind is good. I don’t have any outside distractions. I’m just ready to go. I’m ready to give it all to my team right now. That’s the only thing that really matters right now.”
Robinson isn’t out of the woods just yet, but he has the look and feel of a guy whose past off-field transgressions were a wake-up call. Chances in this profession aren’t infinite. Sooner or later, you’ll run out of opportunities and live to regret it. The former 49ers fourth-round pick appears to understand that now.
“I’m not really out here to try to prove anybody wrong,” Robinson said. “Nothing like that. The proof is in the pudding. A spade is a spade. And everything else will speak for itself. I just want to go out there and showcase what I can do. I’m not trying to prove anything to anybody. Because at the end of the day, the only people I owe something to is my team and the coaches. I’m ready to go out there and put it on display.”
Nickerson, meanwhile, turned a summer setback into a learning experience. The rookie sixth-rounder from Tulane opened eyes early in training camp before being pushed to the margins by a hamstring injury.
“Any injury is frustrating,” Nickerson said. “But I felt like over time, staying on the outside looking in, I learned a lot. I took a bad situation and made it positive by taking notes and learning more.”
Nickerson actually made the most athletic play of the season on a top-drag swag interception that was ruled incomplete. Replay reviews showed that the officials should have called that a pick. Regardless, Nickerson has played 97 defensive snaps through the first five weeks, including a season-high 52 last week after Skrine left with a concussion that will keep him out of at least one more game.
It’s an opportunity for the rookie to get more comfortable playing in the slot after being an outside corner in college. Nickerson likened the nickel spot to being a smaller linebacker with more pre-snap responsibilities that requires better eyes.
His increased comfort level will help him play faster and maintain that same intensity that made him into a college difference maker.
“You always have to play with maximum amount of energy,” Nickerson said, snapping his fingers. “I just feel like every time I hit the field, a switch clicks. Play fast. Finish strong. Just be alert on everything. It’s just a whole different feeling from in the locker room to actually being out there. You get pumped up. Adrenaline’s running. It’s just a different feel out there.”
Andrew Luck’s penchant for airing it out should give Bowles’ defensive backs plenty of work. Luck, who’s averaging a league-high 49 pass attempts per game, can make life miserable for the Jets back end if they’re not on the same page. Communication breakdowns did them in Jacksonville. Air-tight communication last week helped them stymie Denver.
Adding new pieces this week allows for the possibility of breakdowns.
“We communicate every day,” Robinson said. “It’s not going to be new… It’s going to be like clockwork. I don’t think there’s going to be a communication problem. If you’re out there and you know what you’re doing and you’re a pro, just open your mouth. Checks are going to be made. You just got to go out there and execute.”