New York Jets coach Robert Saleh plans to miss next game after positive COVID-19 test

FLORHAM PARK, NJ – New York Jets coach Robert Saleh, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, is set to miss Sunday’s home game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“We are proceeding as if I will not be training on Sunday,” Saleh said Friday during a Zoom call with reporters. “If I find two negatives it would be an easy adjustment. But we operate as if I won’t be here on Sunday.”

Saleh, who said he was feeling “fine,” was awaiting a test result Friday morning. He is expected to test negative again on Saturday to clear league protocols.

Tight Ends Coach Ron Middleton, a former NFL player and longtime assistant who has not been a head coach at any level, is set to step in after being named interim coach on Wednesday.

The Jets (3-11), mired in their third streak of three consecutive defeats, have had to deal with an outbreak of COVID-19. They have 16 players on the reserve / COVID-19 roster after activating wide receiver Jeff Smith and special team Justin Hardee on Friday.

Saleh expressed a hint of gallows humor, saying, “The whole season has been filled with adversity. Why not end it with a little more?”

The Jets do not anticipate any further activations until Sunday, which means they will lose six starters, including four in defense, to the coronavirus.

The two safeties, Ashtyn Davis (COVID-19) and Elijah Riley (concussion), are knocked out, almost completely exhausting the position. The Jets’ safe options are rookie Jason Pinnock, a converted cornerback, and two veteran newcomers, Will Parks and Kai Nacua, who joined the squad this week.

Saleh dodged the question of whether he thought the match should be postponed, saying: “It’s not for me to make the decision.”

Quarantined in a hotel, Saleh participated in virtual meetings. He contacted Cleveland Browns coach Kevin Stefanski, who must have missed a game due to COVID-19. Saleh said Stefanski told him he would be “fine” during the week because everything is virtual, but not so well on match day.

“He said Sunday was going to be miserable,” Saleh said. “So I am looking for misery.”

Saleh said four of his seven children have tested positive but are not showing any symptoms.

The decision to raise Middleton came as a surprise to some, but Saleh explained the decision saying that Middleton is an experienced coach and much respected on the staff. Saleh also did not want to disrupt one of his coordinators by giving him an expanded role.

Middleton, 56, who had head coaching aspirations early in his career, said he was eager to seize the opportunity. He will virtually meet Saleh and the staff on Saturday to discuss the game plan and how he should handle the game.

“It went well, man,” Middleton said. “It’s a little scary, with everything going on and on and on and all the uncertainty, but people are just going about their business.”

The outbreak, coupled with injuries, could affect rookie quarterback Zach Wilson. If Jamison Crowder (calf) doesn’t play – it’s a playing time decision – Wilson won’t have his top three wide receivers due to injuries. Starting tight end Ryan Griffin (knee) was placed in the injured reserve this week, and starting goaltenders Alijah Vera-Tucker and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif are on the reserve / COVID-19 list.

Despite the roster’s upheaval, Wilson, the No. 2 pick this year, is in “a great place mentally,” Saleh said.

While not reflected on the stat sheet, the team believe Wilson has improved in recent weeks. Saleh said Wilson played “freely” and relaxed. Previously, he was so concerned about playing in the offensive structure that it “would lock him up.… He would get stuck,” Saleh said.

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