Archive for August, 2008

The Painful Truth: Injuries are Part of Football

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Last Saturday’s preseason affair between the in-state rival Jets and Giants was supposed to be just a run-of-the-mill game. One of those August battles, where Herman Edwards’ famous rallying cry “You play to win the game,” loses its significance. However, for the defending Super Bowl champions, the “Battle of the Meadowlands” turned into something more meaningful, and unfortunately, more painful.

As DE Osi Umenyiora-the Giants’ lone Pro Bowl selection from last season-attempted to rush around Jets LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson early in the second quarter, Umenyiora’s left knee “locked up” and he fell to the turf in pain. The result was a torn lateral meniscus, essentially ending the season for one of the league’s premier pass rushers.

While the Jets looked on as Umenyiora laid on the field clutching his knee in pain, it was not the first instance in the 40 years of Jets vs. Giants preseason football that either team had its hopes shattered by injury. In 2003, Jets QB Chad Pennington fractured his left wrist when he was tackled from behind by Giants LB Brandon Short. Like a punch to the stomach, the Giants Stadium crowd turned silent, as its youthful star grimaced on the turf. Just as the Giants are now facing with their sack leader shelved for the season, Pennington’s injury left the Jets with large shoes to fill. Although Pennington returned  for the final ten games, the end result was a 6-10 record and a last place finish in the AFC East.

Thus, with such deflating injuries occuring in meaningless action, it begs the question, why suit up the starters? With a 38-year old quarterback facing the challenge of learning a new offense on the fly, it is a question Jets Head Coach Eric Mangini faces as he prepares his team for Thursday’s preseason finale against Philadelphia.

Although Favre and the first-team offense had some hiccups Saturday during his 24 snaps, weighing the reward of success and the risk of injury will factor into Mangini’s decision on Thursday’s starting quarterback. As of now, Mangini seems inclined to send Favre to the sidelines rather than in the huddle at the start of the game.

“I kind of like practice where you’re going to get a lot of reps, and it’s an ongoing debate, like how do you treat that fourth game. Some of this game, it’s really about individuals, and it’s about the back end of the roster and it’s about those tough decisions that you have to make,” said Mangini.

Favre has also been one to lobby to start that fourth preseason game, but he does not believe Mangini will budge like his former Head Coach Mike McCarthy did in Green Bay. All that matters now is that Favre’s comfort level in his new offense is rising, which it certainly seems to be.

 ”To me, [Saturday] was a real game, based on the circumstances. At least in this case, I will have some practice and have worked with these guys,” said Favre. “Not that that makes it any better, but I feel more comfortable in the situation now than I did several weeks ago.

Whether Favre’s rise in comfort with his new offense will translate into him spending the entirety of Thursday’s game on the sidelines remains to be seen. What remains certain is Mangini will listen to Favre before making his decision on Thursday’s starter.

“I always listen to the players. Sometimes you just agree to disagree,” said Mangini.

Although Favre has taken his share of hits during his 18-year career, he knows taking reps during games, preseason or not, serve as the best preparation. But after watching Umenyiora fall to the turf Saturday, does the risk of injury in a meaningless game factor into his desire to play? Not a chance.

“[I've] been lucky in a lot of situations. This is 18 years. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. I can’t control that,” said Favre. “I love to play, and that’s really all I can think about.”

Favre feels the same way about Umenyiora.

“[Umenyiora's injury] was meant to be. It’s very unfortunate for him and for the Giants, but it wasn’t like guys rolled up on him. That probably would have happened in practice at some point, the way it occurred. He just went down. Injuries are part of it,” said Favre.

While the risk for injury is certainly hightened for those that play the rough sport that is football, most players share a similar outlook: Injuries come with the physical toll players face.  

“Anytime you go out there anything can happen,” said LB Calvin Pace. “It’s an unfortunate situation that [Umenyiora] got hurt. Freak injuries, you just never know.”

Jets G Brandon Moore added, “You can’t go out there playing not to get hurt. You may not get hurt and hurt somebody else. But you feel bad for [Umenyiora] and he’s always worked hard, he’s a hell of a player, but you  can’t go into it thinking that.”

Bottom line is that injuries are unavoidable in football. Sadly but truly, injuries come down to luck, and the teams that can avoid them are those that prevail. However, don’t expect Mangini to weigh that luck as he decides on his starting quarterback for Thursday.

Additional Observations from Jets-Redskins

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

-I would be very worried if I was Erik Ainge. After missing parts of the Organized Team Activities (OTA’s) and training camp while nursing a surgically repaired thumb, the rookie quarterback has not received many opportunities on the field. Ainge spent most of last week working with the scout team, but he has yet to hit the field on game day. For a fifth-round draft pick and someone the Jets had very high hopes for on draft day, you would expect Mangini to give Ainge a chance. I don’t expect Ainge to play much at all Saturday against the Giants either, as the third preseason game is usually when the starters see action into the third quarter. With Favre, Clemens and Ratliff getting most of the reps, I cannot see how Ainge makes the final 53-man roster. He looks like he’s bound for the practice squad or Injured Reserve.

-Dwight Lowery’s strong training camp has carried into the preseason action. Lowery followed up his strong debut (8 tackles, one interception, 62-yard punt return for TD) against Cleveland with another solid performance last night. Lowery recorded five tackles and returned two punts for 15 yards in the 13-10 loss. He has displayed the versatility he was heralded for while at San Jose State. Aside from Darrelle Revis, the battle for the other cornerback spot remains pretty close between Justin Miller and David Barrett. Add Drew Coleman into the mix and the Jets surprisingly have some nice depth at the position.

-WR Brad Smith showed why he can be so valuable to the Jets offense. Although inconsistency surrounds him at times, he still shows the propensity for the big play. In his two-plus years with Gang Green, Smith has been a nice option for Mangini on trick plays. His 12-yard run on the end-around last night was perfectly executed. Favre also deserves alot of credit for his play fake on Smith’s run.

-Mangini and Tannenbaum are really going to have to do some mixing and matching when determining the depth at wide receiver for the 53-man roster. David Clowney, despite his injury, performed well with four receptions for 59 yards. He showed some nice fight and elusiveness on his 29-yard grab as he evaded tacklers and carried the pile for a few extra yards after he was wrapped up. Marcus Henry, who is returning from a leg injury also performed admirably (4 rec. 42 yards). Wallace Wright did not have any impact on the passing game, but he had two key special teams tackles during the first quarter. Laveranues Coles, Jerricho Cotchery, Chansi Stuckey and Brad Smith all should be locks to make the team, leaving three spots likely open. With Wright proving his impact on special teams, Clowney and Henry will likely be battling it out for the final spot, with the other going to the practice squad or Injured Reserve.

-There’s no question that the Jets really have some nice depth at tight end. Jason Pociask had a solid game, catching three balls for 52 yards. His final catch-a 30-yard completion from Ratliff-was a key  play in the team’s final drive. Bubba Franks had a drop in the second quarter, but remains a good blocker.

-I’m still waiting to see more production from the running back position. Thomas Jones (2 carries, 7 yards) and Leon Washington (4 carries, 6 yards) were unproductive in the few plays they saw. In the first two preseason games, Jones and Washington have combined for 24 yards on just 11 carries.

Sutton on Jets Defense

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

On the heels of the acquisition of Brett Favre, much has changed around Jets land. With the legendary gunslinger under center, no longer does an offense look so limited. For each spiraling pass that lands in a recevier’s hands for six, painful memories of 2007 grow more distant. But just as the Jets’ offense looks re-energized with No.4 now running the show, the Gang Green defense looks to put last year’s struggles behind and become a force on Sundays.

Aside from the emergence of LB David Harris (117 tackles, 5 sacks) and CB Darrelle Revis (3 int) and the continued success of S Kerry Rhodes (5 int, 2 FF), finding a silver lining was difficult last year. Stopping the run became part of the problem, as the Jets allowed a whopping 134 yards per game on the ground. By comparison, only the Denver Broncos (142 yards), Oakland Raiders (145) and Miami Dolphins allowed more (153). Fast forward to now, where that gaping hole once manned by Dwayne Robertson along the defensive line is now filled.

Three-time pro bowler Kris Jenkins (6-foot-4, 349 pounds) has entered the picture. After playing the 4-3 defense for seven years with the Carolina Panthers, Jenkins has moved into Eric Mangini’s compex 3-4 system as a nose tackle. Even with the change, Jenkins already looks the part.

“He’s, as well as well as the other guys, are learning the system. It’s a little different technique obviously, but I think if you ask him, it’s still football and it’s still pretty much the same job description he’s had in the past,” said Bob Sutton, defensive coordinator. “That’s to clog up the middle. He’s showing signs that he’s capable of doing it.”

Despite being a defensive force ever since he was drafted by the Panthers 44th overall in 2001, Jenkins has faced criticism about his weight. He ballooned to nearly 400 pounds last year, then entered training camp weighing 360 pounds. However, there’s no question Jenkins can turn on the motor when needed.

One play stands in mind, as the Jets practiced red-area situations earlier in training camp: With the offense at the five-yard line, Thomas Jones received a handoff from Chad Pennington and quickly bounced to an open hole on the left. It looked as though Jones would sneak into the endzone, but Jenkins burst through would-be blockers and chased the running back down.

The improvements just don’t stop at Jenkins. After playing 16 games last year (9 starts) as a rookie, Harris received the experience he needed to take the next step in his young career.

“I’m sure a year ago for David, breaking every huddle it was ‘I’ve got to do this, this and this. Hopefully now, that’s a little more second nature to him,” said Sutton. “He can start looking at the formations and anything that can help give him a tip or a clue of what might be coming.”

 After being drafted in the second round (47th overall) in the 2007 NFL draft, Harris burst onto the scene last year. After replacing Jonathan Vilma at inside linebacker, Harris shined in his just his second start. Against the Washington Redskins in week 9, Harris earned 20 tackles. His impressive starts earned him the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for Novemeber after recording 36 tackles and one sack during the month.

Now working aside Harris at outside linebacker is Calvin Pace. Pace, who enjoyed a career year last season (106 tackles, 6.5 sacks) with the Arizona Cardinals, was brought in to improve a pass rush that only registered 29 sacks last year. Pace has the intangibles to become a star.

“I think he’s a pro. He understands the game, he’s a knowledgable guy and he has insights to things like when they’re happening on the field or in practice. I think he has some of the things that you think about when you think of a big outside linebacker,” said Sutton. “He’s rangy, he’s quick. He has flexibility both in his ability to rush and to cover.”

There’s no question the Jets defense has been vastly improved. But will the Jets’ defense live up to its billing? We will soon find out.

Here’s what Sutton had to say about LB Vernon Gholston and CB Justin Miller:

On Gholston: 

“He’s just got to come in, learn the system and obviously he’s converting from basically being a down-end to a standup outside linebacker, so there’s a transition that happens. I think the longer he goes here, the more comfortable he gets with the system. I think he’s going to be fine. I think he’s going to be a good football player and he’s shown at different times that he can help us. We need to just keep trying to speed up his indoctrination which he’s worked hard at and he’s spent a lot of time at.”

On Miller:

“Justin certainly has the ability to play [cornerback] and I think for anybody to become a starter, I think the key element is you have to develop a level of consistency. That varies by every position but I think in the end, that’s how coaches choose who’s going to be the starting player. You say ‘we can count on this player to do this this percent of the time, whatever it is.’ Justin’s worked really hard, he’s been very competitive in practice.”  

 

 

 

Favre’s Arrival

Saturday, August 9th, 2008

It was a day like no other in Green Bay. A teary-eyed Brett Favre sat in the Lambeau Field press room to bid farewell to a storied 17 year career. For the NFL great who tops record books with 5,377 completions, 442 touchdown passes and 61,665 passing yards, it surely seemed like the end. However, just five months later, number four was back out on the practice field with that March day seemingly a distant memory.

“That seems like so long ago,” said Favre. “It seems like a dream.”

But as the trade rumors continued to escalate and the Packers’ committment to Favre’s three-year understudy Aaron Rodgers continued to grow, a return to football today became a relief.

“There’s been a lot of ups and downs not only the last week but the last couple of months. I think everyone was kind of ready to just get on to football,” said Favre. “I was overly excited as I started practicing.”

Favre’s arrival was a favorable sight for those on the field and in the stands, but the quarterback knows he has some catching up to do.

“For me, I’m a few weeks behind as far as practice is concerned. I’m also 38 yrs old so I’m a little bit behind there too,” said Favre. “My arm feels fine. It will be tired tomorrow, it will be sore because there’s no substitute for actually getting in a game-type situation, putting the pads on,” he said.

Although Favre has always been known to throw hand-swelling bullets to his receivers, there’s no question his targets are excited to be playing with the ole’ gunslinger.

“I was excited when I first saw him because I never thought I would be playing with him,” said Jerricho Cotchery. “We’re very fortunate to be able to have this opportunity for him to come to us. Hopefully we can do some great things.”

Whether or not Gang Green can do “great things” remains to be seen, but there is no doubt Favre’s arrival has filled Weeb Ewbank Hall with a energetic vibe not felt in decades. After opening training camp with a less than impressive quarterback battle between Kellen Clemens and Chad Pennington, Favre’s arrival brought out a record 10,500 fans to Hofstra today. On a simmering summer day, the players fed off the crowd’s excitement.

“At this point and time in camp everyone is like, ‘it’s hot out here.’ As soon as we step out here the stands are filled. It creates a new energy for the team,” said Cotchery. “Practice went by so fast today just off the excitement we got off of the fans.”

That excitement is sure to permeate through Giants Stadium in 2008 as Gang Green will hope to ride Favre’s arm back to the playoffs. Favre’s arrival has come at a especially meaningful time for Gang Green, with the defending super bowl champion Giants stealing the spotlight in New York. Not to mention, Favre surely puts more fear into the rival Patriots than Clemens or Pennington ever did. Favre will bring leadership off the field and a multitude of options on it. With Favre leading the reins, that dink-and-dunk offense that has frustrated Jets fans for so many years will become a thing of the past.

The Jets have become relevant around the NFL again and will no doubt be an exciting team to watch with Favre at the helm.

A Look Back on Chad’s Tenure

Friday, August 8th, 2008

As Jets Owner Woody Johnson was set to introduce Brett Favre to the media, he offered a departing word for Chad Pennington.

“We owe Chad a lot of gratitude for the dedication for his dogged, team-oriented persistence even in light of all the adversity that we had in some years,” said Johnson. “He was always concentrated and always a good teammate so thanks to Chad.”

The Jets released Pennington Thursday afternoon, officially ending his eight-year career with the Jets that began when the team drafted him 18th overall in the 2000 NFL Draft. Pennington entered the league off a record-setting career at Marshall University, where he threw for 123 touchdowns and 14,098 yards with a 63.3 completion percentage. Teamed with WR Randy Moss, Pennington led the Thundering Herd to three Mid-American Conference titles and was named MAC Offensive Player of the Year in his senior season.

After the Jets sputtered to an 8-8 record in 1999 with the likes of Vinny Testaverde, Rick Mirer and Ray Lucas splitting time at quarterback, Pennington came to New York as a potential savior. For a franchise that had suffered so much at the position since the days of Broadway Joe Namath, Pennington’s arrival was a welcomed site. But a rash of injuries plagued Pennington and never allowed him to reach the league’s upper echelon of signal callers.

However, even with the struggles, Pennington had his moments to shine. After throwing a combined 20 passes (2 TDS, O INT) in his first two seasons, Pennington was handed the starting job in 2002 by Head Coach Herman Edwards. It turned out to be the right decision as Pennington threw for 22 touchdowns with just six interceptions. His 104.2 quarterback rating ranked highest for any season in team history, ahead of Testaverde’s 101.6 rating in 1998. His strong play led Gang Green to a 9-7 record and an AFC East championship. He continued his solid play into the AFC Wild Card game against the Peyton Manning-led Colts, completing 19 of 25 passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-0 rout.

But just as the Jets’ quarterback continued to rise onto the scene, the injuries began to set in. In a 2003 preseason game against the New York Giants, Pennington fractured his left wrist when he was tackled from behind by LB Brandon Short. The injury forced Pennington to miss six weeks and he returned to throw for 13 TD’s and 12 INT’s.

The rollercoaster ride for Pennington continued. He returned with a strong year in 2004, throwing 16 TD’s and nine INT’s while leading the Jets back to the playoffs with a 10-6 record. If it weren’t for two boots by K Doug Brien in the Divisional game at Pittsburgh, Gang Green’s run would’ve continued.

 Just as Pennington had a strong year to build from, a critical injury again marred his play. In a week-three game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the signal-caller left the field with a torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder. Pennington was placed on Injured Reserve just one month later, essentially ending his season.

With the injuries continuing to mount for Pennington, the Jets drafted QB Kellen Clemens in the second round (49th overall) in the 2006 draft. The strong-armed rookie was viewed as Pennington’s successor, but with Clemens in-waiting, Pennington courageously returned to the field  and became one of the league’s top surprises. Under rookie Head Coach Eric Mangini, Pennington started all 16 games and led Gang Green back to the playoffs with a 10-6 record. The surprising return earned Pennington the Comeback Player of the Year award.

Even those closest to Pennington took notice of the quarterback’s efforts. He was the recipient of the Dennis Byrd Award for most inspirational player, as selected by his teammates.

In all, Pennington never did get his storybook ending with Gang Green. He finished his Jets career with a 32-29 record (.525) and ranks fourth in club history with 13,738 passing yards. Even with an injury-battered arm, Pennington’s accuracy never suffered. He enters this season as the NFL’s all-time most accurate passer with a 65.6 completion percentage, ahead of Kurt Warner, Steve Young and Peyton Manning.

 As of late Thursday, ESPN.com reported that six teams had contacted Pennington’s agent, Tom Condon, to discuss their interest in the signal caller. Among the teams rumored to be interested are the Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Favre Traded to Jets

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

Brett Favre has found a new home. Foxsports.com is reporting that Favre has been traded to the Jets for what is believed to be a single draft pick. No word on the exact compensation, but it is expected that the value of the pick will increase depending on how Favre performs for Gang Green in 2008.

With Favre now in green and white, the Chad Pennington-era will soon be over. The Jets are expected to either trade or release the nine-year veteran.

Tomorrow’s “Green and White Practice” a Welcomed Event for Coaches and Players

Friday, August 1st, 2008

Tomorrow the Jets will hold their Green and White practice, which will offer fans their first opportunity to watch Gang Green in a “simulated game environment” before the team begins its preseason schedule Thursday at Cleveland. Yes the Jets will make sure to keep their quarterbacks protected, but tomorrow will still give players an opportunity to handle overlooked aspects of the game such as clock management. During Eric Mangini’s pre-practice press conference, the Jets head coach explained how beneficial the simulation can be.

“You can’t create as a coach the stuff that comes up in a game. You try to as much as possible, but every time we throw a certain amount of time on the clock with a certain amount of timeouts, the scenario is completely different,” said Mangini. “So this allows you to go through the process in a game, see what happens, put the coaches in some different spots so they can appreciate those roles.”

After watching more than one week of practices, Mangini seems like he’s ready to see what he has. For backups like QB Brett Ratliff and WR David Clowney, who have shined in several 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills, simulated games will show Mangini how these players constantly react in and out of the huddle.

It seems like even the players look forward to these game simulations. With practices remaining pretty consistent day in and day out, the simulations are a nice change of pace.

“[The simulation] breaks up the monotony of practice,” said QB Kellen Clemens. “You get to game plan and scheme for a little bit.”

It was also interesting to have Mangini explain how the green and white teams are actually chosen. The general managers for each team? General Manager Mike Tannenbaum and Senior Personnel Executive Terry Bradway.

“Really it’s Terry and Mike do the initial [player selections], and then I’ll look at it. I’ll switch some guys around, and I show it to the coaches and they complain and talk about it, well, I can’t do this and I can’t do that,” said Mangini.

As one reporter called the selection process during the press conference, you can think of this as a fantasy draft.

“You trade and you don’t know who’s going to get banged up and who can go, who can’t go, so that switches everything around,” said Mangini.

The two head coaches will be Defensive Coordinator Bob Sutton and Running Backs coach Jimmy Raye.

Besides the victor of the game having bragging rights as Mangini explained, there is an extra incentive to come out a winner tomorrow. What’s that incentive?

“(I think it’s) like a sack lunch versus a steak dinner. Sort of, it’s not quite a steak dinner, but generally there is something to it,” said Clemens.

Clemens could do nothing but smile when he told reporters he played on the winning side last year.