Day one minicamp recap: Geno’s comfort level grows

Florham Park, NJ – It was a hot and humid day as the Jets kicked off their 2014 minicamp, the players made sure they were well hydrated as they drank a bit more water than normal during warmups and it’s a good thing they did because of all the pushups they had to do.

The Jets have continued a practice they started last season, hoping to correct all the penalty issues they were having, that involves everyone doing pushups any time there’s a penalty except the person who committed the penalty. Otherwise it’s literally everybody, all the players, the coaching and public relations staff. Woody Johnson and John Idzik have joined in when in attendance and today even some fans decided to play along.

Of course Rex Ryan wasn’t pleased with all the penalties, something he expects we won’t see again tomorrow saying,”It got ugly out there. We’re really harping on defensive holding. I know the league is trying to get restive jerseys and all that kind of stuff, but guys are running out there with the jerseys that we used to play in and it’s like you make contact and you really can’t touch them anymore. But yeah, I have to fix that one. Tomorrow, I promise there won’t be half of those penalties, because I’m going to have them wave the flag instead of throw it. That was ugly.”

Geno Smith has never lacked confidence in himself and his growing comfort level within this offense is creating more and more confidence from his teammates. (JetsInsider.com photo)

Penalties aside Ryan was happy with what he saw out of his team today. The penalties had observers calling today’s practice “sloppy,” and some of the penalties were, but the rest of the day was far from sloppy. Ryan said, “Today was good, a lot of reps against each other, a lot of (moving) the ball even though they had no order to moving the ball. You could turn up, sack them and oh now it’s third-and-two and now it’s whatever. (There) was no huddle stuff, firing guys on and off the field, so that was good.”

“I like the competition, I like the guys competing. I think we’re competing better than at almost any time last year in the back end. I don’t know how many times the ball was contested and those DBs were able to knock the ball out.” Ryan said, “I was impressed with that. On the flip side of that, we have to come down with contested balls as receivers.”

Ryan again mentioned that he was pleased with the play and attitudes of both his quarterbacks, but repeated what he said last week that the best part is the way they push each other and themselves at the same time.

“I feel like it’s my responsibility to continue to push the guys, to continue to push myself. Like I said, last year I was learning a lot. We’ve got guys this year who are in the shoes that I once wore.” Geno Smith said, “My job now as a second-year player is to try to help them come along as well as just try to grow myself.”

Both Smith and Mike Vick had good, but not perfect days. They both threw the ball well, made some incredible throws and missed some throws they should have made, but they both look comfortable within the offense and seem to have a firm grasp on the system. Smith looks far more confident with his reads then he did this time last year and you can see it in his performances and hear it in his interviews and his teammates continue to rave about his maturity level.

“The difference is just that, just being a second-year player. Things are going to improve, that’s just natural. That’s a part of the game. That’s part of what we do as professionals.” Smith said, “We practice on a daily basis and I take it upon myself to try to improve something every day. I’m really seeing that improvement.”

Stephen Hill, who spent some time in Florida this offseason so he could train with Smith said you can see and feel Smith’s confidence growing, “Oh man, I mean he understands the playbook even more. You know starting off last year and then the way he ended it it was great to me.” Hill said, “So, now that he’s getting acclimated to the playbook even more it’s just phenomenal.”

Smith was often praised for his maturity and poise last season as he always seemed to say the right things and handled his struggles with a level head, Last year he kept telling us he never once lost confidence in his ability, this year we’re seeing him grow and spread that confidence and poise around to his teammates.

“I always see myself as a leader and that’s in life, in any aspect of my life. Being in this locker room, I’ve just continued to be myself and guys gravitate to me because I have natural leadership ability, leadership qualities, and that’s a part of the reason why I’m here in the first place.” Smith said, “I just try to continue push the guys. Like I said, I push myself. I lead myself on the practice field. I’m a self-starter. Once we get out there, I’m always being vocal. I’m just trying to win games. I’m competing and that’s just the way I am.”

One person who is helping Smith become a better quarterback and a better leader is none other than the man brought in to “compete” for Smith’s starting quarterback job. From all accounts Smith and Mike Vick have a great relationship, and really the entire team seems to have fully embraced both quarterbacks, but despite the competition they both having nothing but good things to say about each other and you can tell they’re both genuine in their praise.

“Just the way he goes about his daily a lot. He’s been through life. He’s been a guy who’s bounced back. One thing that I noticed right off the bat from talking to him awhile back, is that he’s extremely humble. He’s a guy that’s giving.” Smith said, “He has a ton of knowledge and he’s trying to give that knowledge to young guys like myself which is why we all gravitate to him as well. We all look up to him. Just the level of leadership and just him being a veteran brings a lot to this team.”

“I think ‘G’ (Smith) is a great listener, first and foremost. I think any key to success in this sport at our position you have to have the ability to listen.” Vick said, “I think Geno wants to learn, he wants to be better. It all starts with your desire and ambition.”

With all the new receiving targets and cornerbacks Smith was asked specifically which receivers and defensive backs stood out and simply said, “All of them, really.” Which of course sounds like he’s ducking the question, not wanting to single anyone out or leave anyone feeling left out, but Smith is just impressed with the amount of work and competitive fire everyone is playing with.

“All of them have been competing. Every single guy has taken it upon himself to get better and that’s on both sides of the ball. I can’t say one guy stood out.” Smith said, “I really think as a whole, as a group, the wideouts are really beginning to bond.”

One receiver Smith talked about specifically was Eric Decker, but only because he was asked a direct question about him.

“Phenomenal. Deck, he’s a pro’s pro. He knows his assignments. He came right in, we talked on the phone  prior to even starting camps or OTA’s and we really just talked over a bunch of things as far as scenarios and where he liked getting the ball, the routes that he was good at. When you’re out there on the field with him, you just see he’s played a ton of games, he knows how to get in and out of coverages.” Smith said, “He’s seen pretty much every coverage and he’s not getting fooled out there. When you have a guy that consistent, who can get in and out of cuts and has great hands, he’s always a quarterback’s best friend.”

Since Decker walked through those locker room doors he has told the media how impressed he has been with Smith. Impressed with his ability, his maturity level, his work ethic and leadership. Decker continues to shine at camp and the two are steadily building up a clear and noticable chemistry.

“It’s building, it takes time and I think every day I learn something about him, he learns something about me. Whether it’s something good on the field, whether it’s something maybe that we can correct, you always learn from those experiences.” Decker said, “And that’s irreplaceable, it’s always (important) having that time. So, I think right now, whether it’s individuals, whether it’s team periods, we’re always figuring out kind of how we’re going to work this season.”

Everyone from the coaching staff to the players like what they have seen and heard from Smith, they aren’t shy about expressing their confidence in him and he certainly isn’t shy about expressing his confidence to us. Still Smith constantly talks about how much more work needs to be done, how much he wants himself and his teammates to improve each and every day. Outside expectations won’t affect him at all, because his expectation is eventual perfection.

“I’m doing the things I always do, being myself and when it comes to being on the field, I just want perfection.” Smith said, “I try and chase perfection.”

Other takeaways from day one of minicamp:

Smith didn’t want to single any receiver out, but the reporters did that for him with Decker and I’ll do it for him and say Hill. I’ll repeat what I said on the first day of OTA’s, it’s just offseason work and we’ve seen Hill perform well in the offseason before and in brief spurts in the regular season so take this with a heap of salt if you so choose, Hill has continued to look really impressive this offseason. His route-running is much sharper, he’s making plays in the air, fighting for and attacking the ball more than ever. Hill said his knee is 100 percent and that’s helped his confidence going into his third season.

“Oh it’s a big relief.” Hill said, “(I’ve) been able to get going 100 percent at all times so it’s a big relief.”

Shaq Evans was able to join the team for the first time since rookie camp, he’s been at UCLA finishing up his last semester so he can graduate, and although he had a couple of easy drops he stood out today as he seemed to be open every time he was on the field.

“Well he’s got a lot of catching, first off, would be nice (joking). Just a few things were missing but it looked like he wasn’t here forever.” Ryan said, “That’s right, he wasn’t (joking). But there were a few things, some of the timing and stuff obviously was off with him. He made a couple of good catches, made a nice long catch and things like that.”

Oday Aboushi received some praise last week from his head coach who said he has looked much better this offseason than he did at any point last year and today Aboushi looked impressive again. Aboushi’s play stood out when he stood up Quinton Coples and Sheldon Richardson on back to back plays. During the season-ending press conference last year the coaching staff and John Idzik talked about the progress Aboushi made during the season, the media didn’t get to see it since practice (with the exception of warmups) are closed to the media during the season but we’re starting to see it now. Aboushi got abused early and often during mini-camp and training camp last year, but this year he is holding his own so far. One possible reason for this jump in progress, other than the standard developing with time, is Aboushi seems to have filled out and actually looks like an offensive lineman now. Last year he had an oddly shaped frame that just didn’t seem to fit an offensive lineman, but he’s filled out and looks bigger and stronger and it shows in his performance.

Still Ryan expects Willie Colon to remain the starting guard, opposite of Brian Winters, who said he will be ready to rejoin the team in practice for training camp. Colon was on the field for stretching/warmups, but as practice started he was relegated to the stationary bike.

On defense it was the play of two cornerbacks that stood out the most. As Ryan said the way the secondary contested passes was extremely impressive today, even a majority of the completions seemed to be more of a great pass/catch than bad defense because the receivers were making catches with defenders draped all over them and clawing at their arms trying to knock the ball loose. The two corners were Dimitri Patterson and Dexter McDougle, the two of them were all of the field, blanketing receivers and jumping routes. Patterson had one interception where he read Decker’s route and Vick’s eyes perfectly, jumped the route and snatched the ball immediately running the ball back.

McDougle clearly enjoyed being allowed to bump and run and get a little physical as he was throwing stiff-arms around like a guy on a New York City corner passes out club flyers. He showed off his speed and physicality as well as his mental aptitude as he seemed to be everywhere at once yet never out of position.

“Like I said before, it (McDougle’s play) doesn’t surprise me now.” Ryan said.

News and notes:

Mike Goodson was a no-show today, the only Jet not in attendance. The fact that Goodson didn’t practice wasn’t a surprise, but the way this situation is unfolding continues to become more and more mysterious. Ryan said he expected Goodson to be here and added that he hasn’t spoken to him or his agent nor has anyone else in the organization, at least that Ryan is aware of.

When asked if he thought it was unusual that Goodson didn’t show up for mandatory minicamp Ryan said, “I would think so. I don’t think we’ve ever had a guy miss a mandatory something. I think Revis might’ve (even) been here, or whoever (joking).” He was joking, but he was correct Revis was here for mandatory minicamp during that holdout year, he started the holdout by not reporting to Cortland for training camp.

The Jets have been rumored to have some interest in ex-Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers, rumors Ryan didn’t seem too eager to deny saying, “I’m happy with what we have, but I’m not going to shut the door on any player that we think can possibly help our football team. We’ll certainly look at (him), for sure.

Chris Johnson – During drills, seven-on-seven’s and 11-on-11’s Johnson was running back and forth across the field. Sprinting and jogging, seemed to be healthy to me. No noticeable limp, good burst and didn’t seem to be hampered at all.

Plays of the day:

Kerry Hyder slipped in front of the running back to intercept a screen pass from Matt Simms and he did it all while shuffling his feet to try and stay balanced. He made the pick and stumbled forward as his teammates on the sideline erupted with cheers.

Jalen Saunders caught a simple 10 yard in-route, but in tight traffic with a defender on each side. As he made the catch one of the defenders ripped his helmet right off his head and Saunders didn’t miss a beat, completing the catch and turning to run upfield sans helmet.

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