Robert Saleh won’t decide to play New York Jets starters in second preseason game

FLORHAM PARK, NJ — New York Jets coach Robert Saleh can’t decide whether to play his starters Monday night against the Atlanta Falcons.

“I’m devastated,” Saleh said on Saturday after the second joint practice with the Falcons. “I wake up one day and I’m like, ‘OK, they’re going to play.’ The next day I wake up and they don’t play.”

It’s a layered decision for Saleh. The starters played only two series in the preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, and they usually don’t play in the final game. If they’re up against the Falcons, it would be like having three consecutive bye weeks to the September 11 season opener.

On the other hand, there is the injury factor. The Jets have already suffered significant injuries from right-wing tackle Mekhi Becton (season-end knee surgery) and quarterback Zach Wilson (arthroscopic knee surgery). Wilson, hurt to the Eagles, is expected to miss about a month, making it likely that Joe Flacco will face the Ravens in Week 1.

Flacco, 37, saw no action against the Eagles, so he would have no game reps for the opener — a risky proposition for a quarterback who hasn’t seen much game action in recent years.

“He doesn’t need it, but I feel like everyone can use it as a reminder of how to prepare yourself and make sure every game is just a normal game,” Saleh said, again covering himself.

Saleh said they spent two productive days working against the Falcons, reducing the need to see his starters in the game. The Jets were in a similar situation last year and those memories are not pleasant.

They lost the defense to Carl Lawson through injury at the end of the season in joint practice against the Green Bay Packers, then played their starters in the following game. One of them, linebacker Jarrad Davis, suffered a serious ankle injury and was sidelined for two months.

“It was like bloodshed,” Saleh said, recalling the trip to Green Bay.

The Jets were also crushed by injuries during the season, which could explain Saleh’s cautious approach. In Philadelphia, he decided at the last minute to equip key veterans, most notably Lawson, linebacker CJ Mosley and George Fant.

One potential problem area is the offensive line. Due to Becton’s injury and Duane Brown’s late arrival, the starting five have yet to practice together. Brown, 36, who signed on August 15, spent the entire week with the conditioning staff working his way into football form. He won’t be playing Monday night, meaning the offensive line may not come together in a game setting until the opener.

Security Jordan Whitehead said the joint training sessions were “like preseason” but acknowledged that real game reps are also important.

“When you get into the game it speeds up, so you definitely need some reps to get ready for the season,” he said. Another factor for Saleh: Monday Night Football.

“This one has tremendous value. This one is different because it’s Monday Night Football,” he said. We are such a young team and that’s what a lot of guys dream of.”

Saleh said the Monday Night Football stage is creating an “elevated environment”, which he believes will help players prepare for the intensity of the regular season.

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