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Laurent Duvernay-Tardif
New York Jets

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif On Zach Wilson’s Growth, Potential Return To Jets

  • Justin Melo
  • February 15, 2022
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The New York Jets experienced an up-and-down season throughout year one of a brand new rebuild. Head coach Robert Saleh appropriately began the process of laying down the building blocks for future success. An injury to rookie quarterback Zach Wilson derailed much of their early-season performances, but Wilson finished his debut campaign in a rather strong fashion while providing flashes regarding why the Jets were extremely intrigued by his skill set in the first place. The Jets’ offense played significantly better down the stretch.

Jets guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif recently spoke exclusively with The Draft Network about his experience with the Jets, free agency, Wilson’s rookie season, charitable efforts, and so much more.

JM: You recently partnered with Sleep Number, who is making a generous donation of $5,000 to your foundation, the Laurent Duvernay-Tardif Foundation. The fund has been granted by Sleep Number to assist your mission of encouraging sports, arts, and studies for kids in your home province of Quebec in Canada. I realize this opportunity and donation hit extremely close to home for you. Tell me about your relationship with Sleep Number, this initiative, and why it matters so much to you.

LDT: I’ve been partnering with Sleep Number since 2021. They’ve been amazing to me and my foundation. Their values fall right in line with mine. I try to promote a healthy lifestyle. Rest and sleep are a big part of that, especially as an athlete. Sometimes we think we have to lift harder and train harder, but we also have to rest harder. It can be hard for athletes to do that when faced with the pressure that comes with playing professional sports. Having the right rest environment and monitoring your rest is very helpful.

I’m a data-driven guy thanks to my background in medicine. I pay close attention to the links between IQ and quality of rest and sleep. Some of those things have helped me dictate my decisions when it comes to sleeping, training, resting, and lifting. That’s how I optimize my performance on Sunday.

I talk about promoting health in general. It’s sort of my mission I guess. That’s what I aim to achieve with my foundation. To have Sleep Number help me promote my message by making this donation means the world to me.

It’s a big deal for the LDT foundation. Our presence can now be found in nearly 20 schools in Quebec. We run activities every week in every school we can be found in, whether that’s in artistic categories or via physical activity. It all revolves around well-being and a healthy lifestyle. Sleep Number joined me on this mission and it’s fantastic for all parties involved.

JM: It’s a big deal for yourself, Sleep Number, and your foundation. You talked about optimizing your performance on Sundays. You enjoyed a new experience with the New York Jets in 2021. How do you reflect on the change of scenery and your first season with the Jets?

LDT: It’s been a short experience this far. I was there for about nine weeks as I played in eight total games. It’s been great. When I opted out of 2020, I told myself I would do everything within my power to get back on the football field. When I showed up to training camp in Kansas City, I broke my hand and I also realized they had a vision of moving toward a younger movement on their offensive line.

With my best opportunity to play in mind, I asked for a trade. I had a no-trade clause in my contract and I waived that to become a member of the New York Jets. I thought that represented the best opportunity for me to play football again. I thought the offensive system in place lined up beautifully with my strengths as a football player. I was back on the field within 10 days and I played in eight games.

There were some ups and downs. At the end of the day, there’s no better feeling than stepping onto the football field with your shoulder pads on. We play the game that we love in front of 80,000 people every week. That’s the feeling you get addicted to as a player. That’s what motivated me to make sacrifices to get back on the field.

JM: You led me to my next question. Offensive coordinator coach Mike LaFleur runs a very different offense from what you experienced alongside Andy Reid in Kansas City. You touched on the system being better suited to your strengths. What were your thoughts on coach LaFleur’s offense?

LDT: I won’t lie to you, it’s a system that takes some getting used to. I still haven’t 100% mastered the system. The approach is totally different. You’re not just trying to get the right angle and block the man in front of you in the running game. Instead, you’re trying to get off the snap as fast as you can and always gain ground. It’s really different from what we ran in Kansas City.

I knew that I was a good run blocker and that this system would suit me. I love running outside zone. Playing for the Jets took that to a whole new level. We had some success with it later in the season. We ran the ball well late into the year. I’m very optimistic for next season.

JM: It’s an extremely exciting system when it’s firing on all cylinders. What was your first-year impression of head coach Robert Saleh? He’s a terrific leader of men by all accounts.

LDT: You said it perfectly. He’s a leader of men. He’s a family guy first and foremost. I played for coach Andy Reid who’s an offensive-minded head coach. Coach Saleh is a player’s coach as well, but he’s more focused on the defensive side of the ball. He trusts his coaching staff to make certain calls. I thought that was amazing.

It goes back to coach LaFleur, who has an excellent grasp on his system. He’s allowed to usher his offense forward. Coach Saleh puts his players in the best position possible to make plays. I honestly have nothing but great things to say about coach Saleh and the entire organization. I love the way coach Saleh and coach LaFleur work with their offensive line position coach. We worked together to learn from our mistakes. We’re always trying to get better and identify opportunities for us to create mismatches.

It served us well, even though we didn’t win as many games as we wanted to. You look at the games against Tampa Bay and Miami, those were close, competitive games and we clearly got better as the year went by. If you look at our stats as an offense, they greatly improved down the stretch of the season. We were one of the better offenses in the league at the end there. It’s just a matter of putting it together now. I’m sure we can win more games than we did in 2021.

JM: The offense got significantly better as the season went by as your unit became more productive, as you alluded to. It’s been proven statistically. What do you attribute those second-half improvements to?

LDT: It’s strange because we had a lot of injuries down the stretch. We had tons of injuries at the tight end position. We lost Elijah Moore and Corey Davis. We still found ways to produce. We dug deep and found ways to play together. I think it comes down to our ability to run the ball more efficiently. We ran the ball well down the stretch. The run game opened up our passing game. We reduced the mental mistakes, too. It took a while for everyone to get used to the new system and once we did that, we really started to see how good we could be. It was pretty cool and hopefully it’s very telling for next season.

I can compare it to my experience with the Chiefs. I first got there in 2014. It was coach Reid’s first season and we missed the playoffs. We knew how good we could be, though. I’m getting the same vibe here with the Jets.

JM: Jets fans are going to love to hear that. The key to progression is straightforward. How would you measure Zach Wilson’s progress throughout his rookie campaign? It’s something that will be closely analyzed in a big market such as New York’s.

LDT: Looking at it from an offensive lineman’s perspective, I’m always going to protect my quarterback. For me, that’s true both on and off the field. One of the first things I did when I showed up in New York was introduce myself to Zach. I wanted to engage in conversation with him. I wanted to get to know him. He’s such a great guy.

I arrived midway through the season but the difference in his character and leadership between Week 10 and Week 16 was extremely noticeable to me. I think he’s getting there. Like you said, it can be tough in a big market when there’s a new coaching staff and a lot of pressure on everyone involved. I’m sure he’s going to get there.

JM: Who are some of your favorite NFL defenders to play against? Guys you enjoy competing against?

LDT: That’s a nice way to put it (laughs). The greatest defensive lineman I’ve ever played against is Aaron Donald. He’s probably the greatest to ever play the game. He’s such a good, complete player. He does damage both as a run defender and as a pass rusher. He reads the game at such a high level, too. You can see him sniffing out screen plays and whatnot. He’s a complete player. When you’re playing against that type of talent, you know that your performance now serves as a key to victory or defeat. You have to embrace those situations.

Early on in my career, I probably feared playing against the best of the best. At the same time, we play a competitive game in a competitive league for a reason. I began embracing that. We have to prove ourselves all over again every week. The best way to prove yourself is to perform at a high level against the best players on the opposing side of the ball.

JM: I’ve really appreciated your time today, Laurent. In closing, you’re set to become a free agent. Are you hoping to be a New York Jet in 2022?

LDT: I am definitely hoping to play for the Jets in 2022. I could talk about it for a long time but for me, I really enjoyed playing in an offense that best suited my strengths as a player.  That’s a big deal to me. I loved playing with those guys in the locker room. I feel I add value to the team both on and off the field. It’s a young team and I feel like I possess the experience necessary to help us. It represents the best fit for me.

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Justin Melo