Sauce Gardner incredibly didn’t allow a touchdown pass in three years of college play, earning him the honor of being the fourth-overall pick, by the Jets, in the 2022 NFL Draft.
The rookie cornerback officially was beaten for a score by Cleveland’s Amari Cooper last week in the Jets’ comeback win over the Browns, but head coach Robert Saleh knows it won’t be the last time even if Gardner turns out to be the star he’s projected to be.
“We talked about this way back in OTAs, saying he’s going to give up his first touchdown, so get your mind right because you’re not just going to give up one,” Saleh said before practice Friday in Florham Park. “There is going to be plenty and you could argue he still hasn’t given one up, but teams are going to keep trying like that.
“People are competitive in this league. They are going to try him and they are going to keep trying him until he can prove that he can take the ball away and do different things, but yeah, I wouldn’t even notice that. He probably didn’t even know that he was credited with that touchdown to be honest with you. … He is going to give up a lot more, and it’s hopefully not too many more, but it’s just the way the league works.”
Saleh, a longtime defensive coach and former defensive coordinator of the 49ers, believes that Gardner’s position is the toughest to step into as a rookie and immediately thrive.
“Corner is really hard in this league to master as a rookie,” Saleh said. “It’s not easy going to defend some of those guys out there. Those receivers are avatars, aliens, if you will. Some positions are easier to transition than others, but it’s still very difficult. It’s just a different game.”
And it won’t get easier this week against the 0-2 Bengals, who boast one of the most formidable receiver trios in the league, with Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd hauling in passes from Joe Burrow. Gardner, the former University of Cincinnati star, told The Post on Wednesday that facing them will be “a huge challenge.”
As for the challenges of simply starting as a rookie, the 22-year-old Gardner added a saucy response.
“I hold myself accountable with everything. I don’t depend on Coach having pity for me as a rookie,” Gardner said. “I tell the other rookies we’ve got to be the ones to help change the culture, change the organization, so we can’t come in with the typical rookie mindset. We’ve got to hold ourselves accountable and be able to scout ourselves.
“If we make a mistake we’ve got to learn from it. We can’t put our head down, we’ve got a bounce back.”
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