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The New York Jets closed out the preseason 3-0 with a 31-27 win over the New York Giants on Sunday night, and after the game, head coach Robert Saleh finally put an end to the question of who would round out the starting cornerback position: Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner.
“He's going to be our Week 1 starter,” Saleh told reporters during his postgame presser. “He's been fantastic. Bryce Hall has had a really good training camp also, but at the same time with the overall body of work since OTAs, it's clear that the kid is going to be pretty good.”
Before Saleh’s announcement, the 2022 fourth overall draft pick spoke to Fox News Digital about both his preseason appearances and his comfort level on the field.
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“I just got to keep taking it time by time, you know, staying focused, not getting too ahead of myself. If I'm doing my job, you know, that's what is expected of me. That's why they drafted me.”
He continued: “I just got to stay level-headed and not get too big-headed, too excited off what's going on.”
A three-time first-team All-American Athletic Conference selection, the Cincinnati standout recorded 31 tackles in 14 games, returning two of his three interceptions for touchdowns as a freshman.
The following season, he registered 28 stops in nine games before finishing his final season with the Bearcats with 40 tackles, three interceptions, and four pass breakups, earning AAC Defensive Player of the Year accolades.
Gardner is already well known for his confidence on the field, but he told Fox News Digital, “I still got a lot to work on. I could still keep getting better.”
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Helping him along the way is Saleh, whose praise for Gardner has been consistent throughout training camp and the preseason. The former Cincinnati standout said he appreciates having a head coach with the background Saleh has.
“It's great. You know, that's how it was at Cincinnati with coach Luke Fickell,” Gardner explained. “Being able to just have a head coach come, and he knows everything that's going on … [him] being a defensive coach is just a different feel. He knows exactly what he's talking about. He knows what everybody's supposed to do — like he's the defensive coordinator. He used to be a defense coordinator, so it just makes sense.”
Despite the success the Jets have had ahead of their Week 1 game against the Baltimore Ravens, their roster took a noticeably hard hit with injuries potentially sidelining quarterback Zach Wilson through the season opener and offensive tackle Mekhi Becton, who was moved to injured reserve after he suffered a chip fracture in his right kneecap.
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“We just got to take care of our bodies more,” Gardner told Fox News Digital of the injuries. “That's been the main thing in training camp. Make sure everybody's taking care of their body because nobody knows when it's going to be their last play. It just sort of happens. We just got to make sure we're doing everything we can so we know we could just stay on that field and stay available.”
Still, the Jets haven’t missed a beat. A lot of that, according to the rookie, has to do with team chemistry.
“We've been forming a brotherhood, doing a lot of things on the field and off the field. … We've been getting a lot closer, you know, not just defense and defense and offense and offense, but offense, defense, special teams — we've just all been bonding. And I just feel like that's why we're able to go on the field to dominate because we know we're doing it for one another.”
Gardner earned the starting position over the weekend, but he told Fox News Digital that he’s still yet to have earned his famous nickname.
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“No, it’s still Ahmad,” he said with a smile. “But I don’t have a problem with it though, I love my name.”
Sauce, a nickname he first earned when he was 6 years old from his Little League coach, has transformed into something more for the 21-year-old rookie. He’s partnered up with Buffalo Wild Wings to create his own limited edition sauce called “Sauce Sauce.”
A “natural” fit, as Gardner put it.
“It's a blessing to be able to just have this partnership with Buffalo Wild Wings. I feel like it was meant, it's natural. You know, they know the meaning of sauce. … If you don't got the sauce, then you lost.”