New kickoff rule ‘slap in the face’ to Jets’ Justin Hardee’s talent


July 22, 2023 | 20:34

Justin Hardee is used to making big tackles for the Jets, but he’s still trying to come to grips with the NFL hitting him and his peers where it hurts.

The NFL adopted a new rule that allows the ball to be placed on the 25-yard line if the receiving team makes a fair catch on a kickoff inside the 25 instead of opting for a return.

NFL owners adopted the rule in May under the premise of increasing safety by reducing open-field collisions at full speed, but Hardee said he believes it will actually limit his value to teams by diminishing the importance of his kickoff coverage ability.

“I kind of take it as a slap in the face, taking away — or trying to — a play,” Hardee said. “That’s how guys feed their family. That’s how I feed my family. They’re taking that opportunity away.”

Hardee wouldn’t be in the NFL if not for his special teams abilities.

He has played one defensive snap at cornerback compared to 765 special teams snaps during his two seasons with the Jets.

The upward trajectory of his six-year NFL career was rewarded last season when he was named a Pro Bowler as the AFC’s lone non-kick specialist.

The Jets’ co-captain said he and other special teamers around the league tried to organize a huddle “to go against it, but by then it was too late.”

Justin Hardee must adjust his game to the new kickoff rule.
Bill Kostroun/New York Post

The NFL claims data suggests the kickoff return rate will drop from 38 percent to 31 percent and the concussion rate will decrease by 15 percent by adopting the rule, which college football has used since 2018.

“I have to embrace it,” Hardee said. “I don’t necessarily agree with it, but it is what it is. I have to find a way to make more plays.”

Diamonds are forever, and so is the bromance between Sauce Gardner and Aaron Rodgers.

The Jets cornerback said Friday that he got Rodgers “a surprise.”

Turns out it was a green and white No. 8 necklace.

Gardner bequeathed the gift to Rodgers on Saturday, with the Jets’ social media team capturing the exchange.

“So you’re my jeweler’s favorite quarterback,” Gardner told Rodgers. “You know what I mean, Al the jeweler. So he wanted to make something special for you. He brought the idea to me; I said I think it would be a good idea.”

Gardner himself put the chain around the neck of the Jets’ newest quarterback as Rodgers stood and smiled with his arms crossed.

Aaron Rodgers and Sauce Gardner gesture during practice at OTAs.
Bill Kostroun/New York Post

The superstar quarterback went out on the town with Gardner in the months leading up to camp, with the two spotted at a Knicks playoff game.

During organized team activities, they even came up with a secret handshake that mimicked smoking marijuana.

With training camp underway, they will finally face each other in training.

“I think he’s going to like it,” Gardner said of the gift. “It’s probably not his style all the way, but I feel like it’s going to be good since he’s in New York now.”

It’s easy to joke that the Jets acquired former Seahawks defensive tackles Quinton Jefferson and Al Woods in a free-agent package, but that’s not too far from the truth.

Woods visited the Jets’ facility first, but he didn’t sign until after Jefferson did.

“We live in the same apartment complex,” Woods said. “Our wives are best friends. That’s one of the main reasons I came here. We talked throughout the free-agency process about what it looked like. When he signed here, it was like, ‘Okay, if we can get it done, I’ll get there.’ “

The Jets placed OT Duane Brown on the physically unable to perform list.

He missed the first two practices for “personal reasons,” according to head coach Robert Saleh, before appearing out of uniform on the sideline Saturday.

Brown underwent offseason shoulder surgery after playing last season with a torn rotator cuff. RB Breece Hall, TE CJ Uzomah and WR Randall Cobb are also on the PUP list.

With so many players returning on defense, the Jets could write less practice than in the past if Saleh wanted to rely on muscle memory. He doesn’t.

“Right or wrong, my philosophy is you always go back to the beginning,” Saleh said. “Now, for the defense, accelerate faster so you can add and evolve and try new things as you go to see if you want to evolve the scheme, but you always want to start from the beginning.

“We all took algebra back today. After leaving school and you come back after just three months, you forget everything, don’t you? It’s the same principle: Never neglect the basics.”

— with Ethan Sears

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