New York Jets’ Sauce Gardner calls himself a ‘different’ rookie, plans to ‘dominate’ – New York Jets Blog
FLORHAM PARK, NJ — New York Jets rookie Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner was named the Week 1 starter Sunday by coach Robert Saleh. Even before the announcement – a mere formality – Gardner was already thinking big things.
Looking ahead to the regular season, Gardner – drafted fourth overall – said he expects to “dominate” his opponents. He thinks he’s wired differently than other rookies, which he thinks should minimize typical growing pains.
“I think it’s going to be different than most rookie seasons,” Gardner said in an interview with ESPN. “People are always talking about this rookie wall, things like that. I take football very seriously, but at the same time I have fun with it. I feel like that’s why I can to be so successful. When I’m in the field, I smile and have a lot of fun with it.
“Everything comes naturally,” he continued. “I don’t think I’m going to hit the quote-unquote rookie wall. I think I’ll just be able to go out there and dominate whoever lines up in front [me].”
“Most certainly,” he said.
Each rookie corner has a target on its back; that’s how the NFL works. Gardner comes to the league with a stellar reputation — he didn’t allow a touchdown pass in college — but even the best prospects are tested, especially those who like to talk.
Gardner’s reaction? Bring it on.
“I just can’t wait to be there,” he said. “That’s all I have to say about it. I’ve heard since I started my freshman year in college, ‘You know, they’re going to attack you.’ Alright, I’ll wait.”
Gardner had a relatively calm training camp, but calm is good at his job. He didn’t make any plays, but neither did he get torched by one of the Jets’ veteran receivers. He didn’t miss a single practice and, from all indications, worked hard at his craft.
And he did a lot of talking. Like, nonstop.
“Sauce always talks, whether it’s garbage or not,” rookie catcher Garrett Wilson said. “I would say he has the edge on foul language, that’s for sure.”
Saleh said he hadn’t been around a rookie who talked so much from the cornerback Jalen Ramsey, when Saleh was linebacker coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2016. Ramsey finished second in AP Defensive Rookie of the Year voting and was a first-team All-Pro in his second season. “The best of football,” Saleh said.
Gardner still has a long way to go before reaching this level, but he has mastered the vocal part perfectly.
“The guy can’t stop talking when he’s on the football pitch – and he supports it,” Saleh said.
Gardner doesn’t care about Ramsey’s comparison.
“I feel like that’s true,” he said. “[Saleh] is just to be honest. Jalen is a great player, he’s a great guy. He’s my guy. We chop it up from time to time. I see myself in him a little. We have a lot of the same tendencies, on and off the pitch, the way we carry ourselves, the way we talk a bit of trash on the pitch.”
It’s unusual for a rookie to be so brash, but Gardner isn’t like most rookies. He already has a sponsorship deal with Buffalo Wild Wings and his own signature sauce. It’s called “sauce sauce”, described as a combination of sweet and spicy smoky barbecue. He’s come a long way since the kid from Detroit nicknamed “A1 Sauce Sweet Feet” Gardner by one of his junior football coaches. Eventually it was shortened to… well, you know.
He actually played wide receiver until his sophomore year in high school, an experience that helps him now. His familiarity with the route tree and wide receptor separations helps him anticipate specific routes. A smart corner can eliminate certain routes depending on where the receiver is aligned.
“A lot of things I just know when they happen,” Gardner said.
“He’s this guy who constantly gathers information and then goes back to the locker room and writes it down,” defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said. “He’s just building this database right now.”
Gardner alternated with the holder Bryce Room throughout training camp, largely because the coaching staff were unwilling to give him a starting job due to his rookie status. They wanted him to win it. Saleh made it official after Sunday’s preseason finale against the New York Giants, naming Gardner the starter after a “fantastic” summer.
“The sky’s the limit. I don’t think I have a cap,” Gardner said. “There is no ceiling. I pray to God the sky is the limit.”