Archive for August, 2009

Jets-Giants Game Preview

Friday, August 28th, 2009

Back in simpler days, my big brother and I used to get totally excited for the annual Jet-Giant preseason skirmish. At the time it meant everything, Boomer versus Simms, green clashing with blue, city bragging rights on the line.

Jets LB Calvin Pace will be working with the second team on Saturday as Vernon Gholston makes his first start against Big Blue. (JetsInsider.com Photo)

Jets LB Calvin Pace will be working with the second team on Saturday as Vernon Gholston makes his first Jets start against Big Blue. (JetsInsider.com Photo)

Age and experience taught me just how little games in August actually mean in the grand scheme, cross-town tensions be damned. In the present, Bro just hopes his stars survive the game healthy, tortured memories of Jason Sehorn and Osi Umenyiora writhing on scalding turf etched into his skull. And Jets fans have their own hellish scrapbook, headlined by the devastating 2003 injury to Chad Pennington. Even still, the most detached observer would have to admit that there are many interesting subplots to follow in this year’s game, standard health hazards aside. 

 

Ground control to angry Tom 

The Giants have been rightfully touted as a potential Super Bowl participant. Only two years removed from their epic victory against the Patriots, and direct from an off season where they spilled over sixty million dollars into their defensive depth, Big Blue seems primed to compete for home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. But… their preseason performance has been uninspiring, and a litany of injuries has torn apart what was designed to be an impenetrable defensive front.

Their head coach, Tom Coughlin, has never been one to mince words, and seems perpetually paranoid about his team basking in congratulatory press clippings. So a perfect storm of circumstance swirled in the land of the Giants, a broken blue facade clearing the way for a classic Coughlin tirade. “I just think for so long we’ve [read that] we’ve got so much depth,” he seethed in the aftermath of a shellacking by Chicago. “I don’t know what you’re watching, but the guys that are supposed to be the depth have hardly even practiced,” Coughlin continued. “I think you’re talking about something that looks good but hasn’t really materialized. Until we get this thing straightened around with everybody on the field, this rotation and this depth that we’re talking about really is a non-factor right now… I think you have to earn everything that is said about you,” he opined, voice betraying agitation. “What we believe in is that talk is cheap. Let’s do it on the field. It’s been very spotty on the field, so obviously it’s time to get to work and get this the way we want it to be, and for people to come to grips with reality.”

It seems Coughlin has gambled, unleashing his fury preemptively. It’s a bold move, an honest attempt to wake up a shiftless troupe. The occurrence will either be remembered as a harbinger for disappointment or turning point toward excellence, but in the extreme short-term, Coughlin’s edict will have a definite effect on this week’s match-up. The Giants should come out flying, eager to silence their skeptical commander. The Jets will have to match that level of intensity, lest they get buried early, as they did against Baltimore.  

Sneak Preview

Disregarding the entire neighborhood angle in play here, Jets fans and management will be highly invested in this affair simply because, as the third dust-up in preseason, it will represent the clearest barometer as to where the team stands on the frontlines. First team pieces on both sides of the ball will, in all likelihood, man the field for the entire initial half.

While week four of the preseason ledger goes a long way toward determining those precious remaining roster spots, three offers a clear glimpse at the strengths and weaknesses defining an organizational identity. For at least 15 minutes Saturday night, this game will ride up to the edge of regular season importance.

Sanchez and the Kitchen Sink

It is interesting to ponder just how much the Coughlin’s urgency may have impacted his team’s strategy and execution, but the player most affected could be Mark Sanchez, who the Ravens greeted with complicated schemes that could be best described as downright cruel. If the Giants really want a decisive win, they may follow the Baltimore blueprint. This will represent a fascinating challenge for Sanchez, who rebounded from a dismal start to sling a touchdown against the Ravens.

The Jets may be best advised to test the Giants’ touted D-Line with a steady dose of their rushing attack, early and often. The success of this offense will be predicated on the run. Here’s the perfect opportunity to see if Thomas Jones and company can dominate a game.

Of Eli and Matty Ice

There is no scientific method to determine why Matt Ryan stormed out of the starting blocks like a thoroughbred, and Eli Manning, who has matured into a fine quarterback despite occasional bouts with inconsistency, appeared totally dazed and confused as a freshman. Situations and circumstances have plenty to do with it, for sure, but the learning curve for prospective quarterbacks is nowhere near standardized. I remember Chad Pennington playing like he was destined for Canton in 2002, after backing up Vinny Testaverde for two years, and analysts everywhere concluding that this was truly the ticket, time on the bench to soak up experience. The Bengals went a similar route with Carson Palmer, and the early returns there were also great. Philip Rivers, another perfect example. Matt Leinart! Well… never mind. Than there’s the flip side… Flacco and Ryan, Roethlisberger before them, all rookies who performed at a relatively high level despite their total inexperience. Time will tell whether the Jets made the right call starting Sanchez as a rookie. Can he be another Flacco? Sure. Or another Eli? Long-term that’s an excellent proposition, but in the here and now, Jets fans and management are probably petrified about that possibility. What could this game tell us? Well, it will present more evidence pointing in a particular direction… if those Sanchez outlet passes once again land in the arms of beefy defenders instead of streaking halfbacks, the course of the Jets in 2009 could become clearer.

How ‘bout it, D?

Justifiably lost in the Sanchez hoopla against Baltimore were several instances of Raven receivers toasting Jet defensive-backs, especially when Flacco was pulling the trigger. The Jets’ defense has shown promising signs early, those inventive flood blitzes exciting to watch when they work, but the secondary has allowed a couple of big plays that could really sting when the games count. A dominant effort by a healthier unit would be a welcome sight for the team as they prepare for week one. 

Look for Vernon Gholston to make his first start at LB on Saturday. Gholston, who has not even come within light years of living up to his hype will be in the slot that has been held by Calvin Pace since last season. As we know, Pace will sit out the first four games due to a illegal substance violation this off-season. Over the next month, Gholston will have the opportunity to either show he can be a productive member of the Jets defense or solidify his current reputation with most observers as a bust in the making. His camp this summer has been equally unimpressive as he’s been outplayed by Rutgers rookie LB Jamaal Westerman who wasn’t even drafted.

Quote Rodeo

There were plenty of interesting takes on this week’s game from the headquarters at Florham Park…

Wallace Wright: The special teams ace was plenty hyped for showdown with the Giants. “It’s huge for us,” he said excitedly after today’s practice. “A huge rivalry. You want to win this game. It sets the tone for the season,” he said, before adding flat-out, “We want to beat the Giants.” 

Rex Ryan: There was an amusing moment during Ryan’s presser today, as he displayed considerably less enthusiasm for the Giants than he mustered for his previous employer in week two. When questioned whether any experienced players had discussed with him the experience of locking horns with the Giants, Ryan responded with a perfectly timed, deadpan “No.” He should really chat with Wallace Wright. Ryan also dropped intriguing tidbit when queried about the possibility of adverse weather conditions. He suggested that the defensive starters would be primarily protected against the slick field. “I don’t want to have a setback with a guy like Revis in the preseason,” said the coach. This serious note was quickly countered by more humor. Ryan practically guaranteed that Harvard QB Chris Pizzotti would see some game action, preferably early in the second half. “He deserves it…” said Ryan. “We’ll probably be working for him one day.”

Shaun Ellis: The experienced defensive-end, a long-tenured Jet, sized up the Giants game. “It’s always good to play the in-state team,” said Ellis. “A little rivalry… it’s good. They’re a good tune-up. A dominant team. It will be a good measuring stick.”

But it was Kerry Rhodes who summed it up best, saying, “It’s a chance for both teams to get a win. We both lost last week.”

Transaction

The Jets hope former Saint Glenn Pakulak could be their solution at punter.

The Jets hope former Saint Glenn Pakulak could be their solution at punter.

The Jets swapped punters on the roster today by releasing Ken Parrish and claiming Glenn Pakulak off waivers from New Orleans.

Pakulak has been a journeyman in the NFL since 2003 and most recently punted for the Saints last season where he averaged 47.7 yards per punt playing in the last eight games of the season.

The team also cut rookie FA LB Josh Mauga from Nevada.  

Who wins this game?

I say the Jets; with their running attack the decisive factor in the first half.

QB Decision Aftermath

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Quite the historic day at Florham Park, as Mark Sanchez was officially named starter for the upcoming 2009 season. It’s always been my personal point of view that Sanchez would get the nod over Kellen Clemens. The winds were aligned for the rookie.

Rex Ryan had personally witnessed a rookie signal-caller lead the Ravens to the AFC Championship. Matt Ryan had just enjoyed an incredible inaugural campaign quarterbacking the Atlanta Falcons. And Clemens had been defeated before by Chad Pennington, and never really established himself in the regular season when given the opportunity. Yet, after spending time in Cortland, I was nearly swayed from my original position.

The most convincing argument I heard regarding Clemens’ candidacy rested in his experience within the system conceived by offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, a variable admittedly overlooked from my perch.

In the end, Rex Ryan said his gut told him that QB Mark Sanchez was the right choice to lead the Jets offense. (JetsInsider.com Photo)

In the end, Rex Ryan said "his gut" told him that QB Mark Sanchez was the right choice to lead the Jets' offense. (JetsInsider.com Photo)

When a passer is locked in with his coordinator, it engenders an on-field rhythm that could put an opposing defense on its heels. So as training camp unfolded, the idea of Clemens starting became less of an impossibility to me.

But, with the Ravens running complicated defenses seldom seen in preseason, Clemens’ flaws remained apparent, and while Mark Sanchez struggled, he showed enough fortitude to be trusted with a potential playoff team that will rely heavily on it’s rushing attack.

Simply put, considering his immersion in the playbook, Clemens should have appeared decisively superior compared to a talented, but green first-rounder. Instead, he was still plagued by questionable decision-making and a shaky pocket presence.

The dog days of August are coming to a close, narrowing those dreamlike possibilities accompanying balmy weather and pad-free practices. Reality must be dealt with, and the Jets will play their hand with Mark Sanchez, now and in the future.

Now it’s on you, kid

Current roster composition aside, in the extreme short-term, this Jet team would probably be best suited with a caretaker Q.B. able to limit turnovers and manage the game effectively. Kellen Clemens has shown hints of his gifts before, a rocket arm particularly, but he and consistency have never been on good terms. This is a major reason why Sanchez was able to claim the job. When your fourth-year guy is making rookie mistakes, you may as well cast your lot with the freshman. Common sense. But now it’s on Sanchez to learn from his preseason errors against the Ravens, to acclimate himself to the high-speed, controlled chaos ruling the pro gridiron. The linebackers are quicker and can make plays on the ball. The defensive-backs are more intelligent. Hell, even the D-lineman can break a game, as Haloti Ngata exhibited just a few days ago. For this Jet team to be successful, Sanchez doesn’t have to be Joe Namath, a Brad Johnson imitation will be fine for now. 

Reaction

Reactions were varied and plentiful from the Sanchez news.

Kellen Clemens was disappointed, but supportive.  “As far as myself and my reaction, I’m disappointed overall because I think I left some plays out there that I should have made, both in practice and during the games,” said Clemens. “Going forward it is Mark’s job and I’ll support him. I’ll be an extra set of eyes for him on the sideline. I’ll be more than ready if I am called upon.”

Kerry Rhodes was optimistic, stating his point of view quite reasonably. “We believe in him, everybody does. The coaching staff believes in him. They made the decision. The players are behind him as well. We think we have something special with him. He has to go out and get it done on Sundays but from what we see, we have a lot of confidence in him. Sure he is going to have some mistakes but we are going to try to limit that. We have the best O-line in the game and pretty good runners and skill players. We’re not going to put it all on him. He is going to have the chance to hand the ball off. With the way our running game is going to be this year he is going to have easy reads. He shouldn’t have too many opportunities for mistakes.”

Jerricho Cotchery trusts the coaching staff. “We were going to leave that up to the coaches no matter what [the QB decision]. I didn’t know how the quarterback battle was going to go at the time. I knew both guys had been performing well. It was going to be up to the coach to make that decision. All of us in here felt the same way. We knew it was a pretty close battle and that the coaches were going to make the best decision for this team.”

Rex Ryan trusts his gut. “I’ve relied on a lot of people, but more than anything I relied on myself, my instincts as a coach,” said the first-year coach. “I’ve been around this game a long time and feel that the best move for our franchise and for our team is to go with Mark as our quarterback… right now Mark gives us the best opportunity to win.”

News department, non-QB division

The New York Jets waived free agent offensive tackle Tavita Thompson. He started at left tackle as a Junior and Senior at Oregon State.

Preview and Predictions

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Preview and Predictions-

With question marks at quarterback, expect big things from the Jets ground game in 2009 (JI Photo).

With question marks at quarterback, expect big things from the Jets' ground game in 2009 (JI Photo).

With only a special teams practice on the Jets menu today at Cortland, [a setting which will now recede into the rearview mirror…] I thought it a good time to break out my immense powers of prognostication and bless the readers of this fine website with picks so alarmingly prescient that you’ll think me, from this point forward, a prophet instead of mere journalist. I say that sentence without the slightest sense of irony. Nope. Not one bit. So, without further adieu, my thoughts on all thirty-two teams as the regular season approaches… Teams shall be listed in their predicted order of standing.

The AFC East

1. New England Patriots: Would absolutely love to pick against them, but Tom Brady will probably mirror Dan Marino’s return from Achilles surgery in ’94 and have a great season. [Also starring Matt Cassel as Scott Mitchell] Joey Galloway seems an excellent stealthy addition.

2.  New York Jets: The running game should be superb. The air attack is in question, though Dustin Keller is being overlooked as a legitimate pro bowl candidate at tight end. The secondary could be one of the best in the league.

3. Miami Dolphins: Sorry to say, but Chad Pennington is due for an injury per his track record. And despite the hype, I’ve never been sold on Chad Henne. It’ll be interesting to see if defenses adjust to the wildcat formation, a key to the Fish’s surprise ’08.

4. Buffalo Bills: Goes to show that the AFC East is a bit loaded, because there are actually quite a few things I like about the Toronto franchise to be named later, most of all Turk Schonert’s plan to implement a no-huddle offense. This scheme would have been in effect last season, but offensive line woes scuttled the idea. No doubt T.O. will do something borderline insane to garner attention out in the New York hinterlands, and Marshawn Lynch’s lawyer may be a candidate for team MVP before it’s all said and done. Also, Trent Edwards may be a bit too mistake prone to get a quick striking offense in perfect rhythm. Too many question marks, feels like six wins to me, as Dick Jauron icily stares at me from the sidelines.

THE AFC NORTH

1. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger’s personal issues aside, the Steelers seem a really safe pick here. If he can build on his amazing Super Bowl performance, Santonio Holmes could be the breakout star of ’09. The offensive line is a definite weakness, and one wonders if all those sacks and last second heaves could catch up with Roethlisberger as his career progresses. I definitely think the Steelers caught favorable breaks on their playoff run, [drawing a .500 Chargers team coming off an intense overtime affair and avoiding a road AFC Championship game against the Titans, who totally blew their Divisional match-up against Baltimore] so counting them as an ironclad juggernaut would be a bit presumptions. But the pieces are in place for at least another first place finish.

2. Cincinnati Bengals: Pegging the Bengals as a sleeper has been on my agenda this entire Spring and Summer, and I can’t relent to common sense now. I see Carson Palmer bouncing back big enough to be in MVP consideration. I see Chad Johnson similarly returning to form for a vintage campaign. I see Laveranues Coles being a reliable second option in T.J. Houshmandzadeh’s stead. And I see a solid defense continuing to elevate it’s game. And never bet against desperation: Marvin Lewis is on the hot seat, and he is acting like it, ripping his team after they lost their first exhibition game live on Hard Knocks. [It’s not TV. It’s HBO.]

3. Baltimore Ravens: Sure they kept Ray Lewis, but the losses of Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard will sting their defense. And Lewis, despite his fearsome reputation, is bound to seriously decline at some point soon. Add in a tougher schedule and take away that reliable placebo effect a new coach can bring, and the Ravens seem primed for a step back.

4. Cleveland Browns: Eric Mangini has his work cut out for him in Cleveland, where the long-term situation at quarterback appears in doubt, the running game is anchored by an aging Jamal Lewis, and the top pass catcher led the league in drops. A turgid rebuilding effort appears in the offing.

THE AFC West

1. San Diego Chargers: The class of a very weak field. Phillip Rivers had a quietly spectacular statistical performance last season. LaDainian Tomlinson is earning rave reviews at camp, and Darren Sproles remains a top-shelf compliment, though the mighty mite may be ready to assume an even larger role. On paper the Chargers should run roughshod over this division…

2. Denver Broncos: Remember that aforementioned new coach placebo effect? Well, Josh McDaniels, at the moment, represents the other end of the spectrum, a realm that could be dubbed “Club Kotite”. Not to be overly hard on the guy, but alienating the franchise Q.B. in your first few weeks on the job just can’t be construed as a sound strategic course. If this team gets off to a slow start, locker-room morale could get real ugly. And with consolation prize Kyle Orton struggling to fend of Chris Simms, Denver doesn’t seem in position to burst out of the gate. All of which amounts to second place in the AFC West. Amazing.

3. Kansas City Chiefs: Speaking of new head coaches employing sensible strategies, Todd Haley recently “held out” on naming newly acquired Matt Cassel his starter for the upcoming season. It appears a battle has broken out in Chiefs camp between Cassel, who the franchise paid quite well after attaining his services, and Brodie Croyle, a disappointment to date who has lost playing time to Damon Huard in the recent past. Tempting as it was to place the Chiefs ahead of the dysfunctional Broncos, this dispatch sealed the deal. How will Haley, a noted hothead, deal with building a team clearly a couple of years away from contention? If this potential PR disaster is any indication, it could be a real rough go for the Chiefs.

4. Oakland Raiders: So their head coach broke somebody’s jaw. Am I even supposed to be surprised at this point? Jon Gruden saved the Raiders in the late nineties, and Bill Callahan won with a team he left gift-wrapped, but since then, it’s been a never-ending spiral of atrocious football. I see no definitive reasons to bet against that cycle being broken, though signing reliable Jeff Garcia was a sensible move.

Look for Antonio Gates and the Chargers to be celebrating in Miami this February.

Look for Antonio Gates and the Chargers to be celebrating in Miami this February.

The AFC South:

1. Indianapolis Colts: Marvin Harrison faded and is now officially gone. A new coach will now prowl the sidelines at Lucas Oil Stadium. But, despite these changes, one finds it impossible betting against Peyton Manning, especially in this division, where he is the best quarterback by a country mile.

2. Tennessee Titans: The departure of Haynesworth leaves a gaping hole, but I think the Titans possess enough to still be a factor in 2009. Last season was probably their best chance to return to a Super Bowl under Jeff Fisher, but the longest tenured coach in the league usually has his squad on the cusp. I do believe Vince Young will become of vital importance as the season wears on.

3. Houston Texans: The Texans are being talked up plenty, and given their step forward in ’08, that is understandable. Sage Rosenfels’ made plenty of mistakes, but I think the Texans will be hurt more than they realize by his address change, as Matt Schaub has proved to be equally talented and brittle. Rex Grossman and Dan Orlovsky aren’t exactly an ideal insurance plan. I also have no faith in their secondary, though a dangerous pass rush could mitigate those concerns somewhat.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars: End of the line for Jack Del Rio.

The NFC East

1. New York Giants: Sure, they haven’t truly replaced Plaxico Burress with an elite number one, a course of action I personally disagree with, but the Giants are capable of dominating from the point of attack, and will probably lead the league in sacks. Defense is what will separate the Giants from the rest of this division.

2. Philadelphia Eagles: The Michael Vick signing will have far less of an impact than people realize, though it can result in a few fun situations and formations. Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson could be an explosive duo for years to come. The defense could slip, especially after Stu Bradley’s injury.

3. Dallas Cowboys: When the Cowboys put together that 13 win performance two years ago, it looked as if Tony Romo and company were set to reign over the division for the duration of the decade. How quickly those windows can close. After a quiet off-season where they saw Chris Canty flea to rival New York, Dallas seemed to take an “addition by subtraction” approach. And though Gerald Sensabaugh and Igor Olshansky aren’t marginal players by any means, these signings may not be enough in these ruthlessly competitive surroundings.

4. Washington Redskins: They made the biggest splash, landing defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth with a 100 million dollar deal. But in a division where Washington competes with Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo, and Eli Manning, the Redskins’ obvious dissatisfaction with Jason Campbell makes them a pretender.

The NFC North

The Brett Favre soap opera is now in Minnesota, but expect it to bring a division title (JI Photo).

The Brett Favre soap opera is now in Minnesota, but expect it to bring a division title (JI Photo).

1. Minnesota Vikings: Look past the ridiculousness of Brett Favre’s latest comeback attempt, and the move truly makes sense for both him and the Vikings. He gets to play eight home games indoors. He gets to hand off the ball to arguably the game’s best running back. He has a premier offensive line providing pass protection. Whether or not Favre can remain healthy all season is in doubt, but, even at his downward curve, he represents an upgrade over the other options available. And, most important of all, he is well versed in this offensive system, as opposed to his Jets experience. The Starcaps verdict still looms, but as of right now, the Vikings are the best team in this division.

2. Green Bay Packers: The Packers were very unlucky in close games last year, a deflating 0-7 in contests decided by four points or less. Talent is a factor in those results, of course, but when only two other teams have chalked up that kind of record in 25 years, one assumes those results will swing.

3. Chicago Bears: The addition of Jay Cutler was a fantastic move for a team that has searched for a franchise quarterback since the eighties, but too many questions remain at the receiver position to mark the Bears down as a definite postseason team. It will be extremely interesting to see whether Jay Cutler elevated Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal, or the other way around.

4. Detroit Lions: The Lions will win a game this season. Past that…

The NFC South

1. The New Orleans Saints: Very high on the Saints. Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush should form a fearsome tag-team. Drew Brees is the perfect triggerman for Sean Payton’s aerial offense. Tabbing Greg Williams as the new defensive coordinator was a sharp call, and the Saints certainly made an effort to shore up their Achilles heel, adding Malcolm Jenkins via the draft along with veterans Darren Sharper and Jabari Greer. The D may not be stout, but it will be decent enough to get this team back into the postseason.

2. Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons went from misled misfits to coached up contenders nearly overnight, and they should build on their success in ’09, though a tougher schedule may slightly skew the results. Tony Gonzalez is another weapon for Matt Ryan, who set a bar for rookie quarterbacks that very few will reach.

3. Carolina Panthers: Defenses are going to dare Jake Delhomme to beat them this season. It’s going to be difficult to totally neutralize that vicious two-headed rushing attack of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, but should the game be consistently put in the increasingly suspect Delhomme’s hands, the Panthers may start to see the wins slip away.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: It’s a clear developmental season for the Bucs, who will break in a new coach and quarterback.

NFC West

1. Seattle Seahawks: Going with a slight surprise here, as I have the Seahawks rebounding under Jim Mora, relying on a deep receiving core and a healthy Matt Hasselbeck to return to prominence.

2. Arizona Cardinals: Sure, the Cardinals’ 9-7 regular season record wasn’t overly impressive, but keep in mind they were 9-5 before winning the division and resting their starters over the final two weeks, and they did topple a feisty Falcon team in the wild card round before Jake Delhomme handed them the division game on a silver platter. Their NFC Championship game was a shootout won almost entirely by their offense… which leads me to picking them second. I just don’t feel this defense up to par, although an improved running attack, fortified by Beanie Wells, could go a long way to keeping the lagging unit off the field. Simply put, the Cardinals’ defense relies on making big plays, but if the other team is intelligent, and able to adequately protect it’s QB, they could be carved up quite efficiently. Throw in a fragile Kurt Warner and unreliable Matt Leinart backing him up, and the Cardinals’ are a candidate to suffer some serious Super Bowl hangover.

3. San Francisco 49ers: I just don’t find this team remotely interesting, though they are quite capable of chalking up 7 wins or so under fiery coach Mike Singletary. Hindsight and everything, but wouldn’t have Jeff Garcia and the Niners been way better off these past few years had they not split up?

4. St. Louis Rams: Steve Spagnulo won’t turn this program around over night, but if Marc Bulger can have a healthy, productive season, that would certainly be a step in the right direction.

League MVP Pick: Donovan McNabb

Wildcards: AFC: Jets, Bengals /  NFC: Eagles, Packers

Rookie of the Year: Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

Coach of the Year: Rex Ryan, New York Jets

Super Bowl match-up: New Orleans vs. San Diego

Super Bowl Winner: San Diego Chargers

The Talkative Reign of Rex

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

Rex Ryan has held back nothing. He’s given direct, honest answers when questioned about specific team topics. He’s shown a penchant for deadpan humor and anecdotal tangents. The beat writers have been impressed, and why not? For the previous three years, they had been dealing with a head coach who employed bizarre strategic tactics like refusing to reveal which knee belonging to a star linebacker had been injured and operated on, even after the procedure was complete. This maneuver, steeped in paranoia, represented perfectly Eric Mangini’s manipulative, controlling tenure. But, in the departed coach’s defense, the team he left was bubbling with talent, even before the additions of Lito Shepphard, Jim Leonhard, and Bart Scott. Every instance Ryan enthusiastically mentions how much his players seem to enjoy practicing, one recalls Mangini specifically targeting college prospects that legitimately loved football and displayed leadership qualities. The stars were aligned for the dismissal of Mangini, no doubt about that. And the timing seems perfect for a personality like Ryan to ingratiate himself with a starving press corps and dismayed fan base. But destiny only makes suggestions. It’s up to the individuals ensnared to fulfill their promise. These cosmic questions will be answered officially starting week one, but for now, well… take it away, Rex. We’re all appreciative of these pressers:

Open with a Joke-

To begin today’s conference, Ryan acknowledged his controversial remarks regarding Bill Belichick and the Patriots, poking fun at himself. He pulled out a script and said, with perfectly robotic delivery, “Hello everybody,” the laughter already building. “I like Tom Brady. I like Adalius Thomas,” the gathered media was now really cracking up, as Ryan finished, “I really do.” He went on to assess the day’s practice.

“The guys were energized and doing a tremendous job. The focus is good. I love the competition. It’s not false enthusiasm. I like the enthusiasm that our guys have. Sometimes I say ‘come on, we have to pick it up, give me some false enthusiasm’ but you don’t really have to do that with this bunch. They’re excited to be out there competing against each other.”

Improving Statuses-

The injured Jets are closer to returning but may not see action against the Ravens.

“[Donald] Strickland will miss this game,” Ryan began. “It is not that serious of an injury but we are just going to have him stay off his foot. He has a broken toe. He’ll miss this game. We’ll keep him off of it for a week. If this was a regular season game, he would probably play. But we are probably going to hold him out. (Damien) Woody is getting better, (Kris) Jenkins, and (Darrelle) Revis, all of those guys are questionable to doubtful for the game against Baltimore. They are improving, so that is good.”

Even with Brett Favre now in Minnesota, No 4.s name still circulated around Jets camp today (JI Photo).

Even with Brett Favre now in Minnesota, No 4.'s name still circulated around Jets' camp today (JI Photo).

Favre Drama-

Of course, the major news around the league regards Brett Favre, who is positively Shakespearian when it comes to indecision. His interior monologue would probably put Hamlet to shame at this point. First, he retired after the favored Packers were toppled in their house by the Giants in the 2008 NFC Championship Game. After all, Favre’s interception in overtime helped set up the game-winning field goal by Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes. There he was, tears raining from his eyes, declaring he had nothing left. The decision seemed final. However Favre reversed course late in the off-season, and demanded to be traded from Green Bay, who decided that former first-round pick Aaron Rodgers deserved a shot. The Jets, desperate for the playoffs and leery of Chad Pennington’s injury history, practically ran to the altar, dealing for the future first-ballot Hall of Famer. The move seemed to pay off, until Favre’s arm ran out of bullets, requiring a surgeon’s blade. So Favre, after a brief flirtation with the Vikings, retired again before camps opened this year. But that was before yesterday… when Favre, much like Jason Voorhees stalking after that last camper with an axe imbedded in his head, decided he still had unfinished business. Perhaps he wants to stick it to the Packers while wearing the Viking Purple. [They can’t be blamed for decisively going with Rodgers, a steal late in the first round year’s prior] Who really cares at this point? Rex Ryan chimed in, asked whether the Jets helped Favre get where he wanted to go via a release.

“I guess you can look at it different ways,” said Ryan. “That wasn’t our purpose. He obviously is a legend. We have the utmost respect for Brett Favre. I know I do. Once we drafted (Mark) Sanchez we couldn’t afford Brett. You know how I talked about him when I first got here. I would have loved to have had Brett Favre as our quarterback. Again, the way it worked, the timing of it when he decided he was done, we went to the draft and drafted Sanchez. We were obviously out of that business. Would I try to convince him to come back? I don’t know. That would be speculation. We were just going to move forward and that is what we did with our team. I’m sure he is happy. He is in Minnesota and we wish him the best there.”

The New Guy-

Ryan seemed enthusiastic about recently signed punter Ken Parrish, who will compete with Reggie Hodges for the pivotal position.

“He can boom it. Again, we’ll see what happens when the lights are on. I am sure he will get an opportunity. (He is) a former police officer, I understand, in (Philadelphia). So I have to be careful what I say about this young man (laughter). I don’t want to be driving through Philadelphia with bonus tickets along the way (laugher). He is a great young man.”

Quarterback Derby-

Mark Sanchezs and Kellen Clemens performance against Baltimores stout defense could go a long way toward deciding the Jets quarterback derby (JI Photo).

Mark Sanchez's and Kellen Clemens' performance against Baltimore's stout defense could go a long way toward deciding the Jets' quarterback derby (JI Photo).

There doesn’t seem much traction in the all-important quarterback battle. Though Ryan hinted that the upcoming Ravens game could serve as a worthwhile barometer.

“Both of them look good at times. There are some great throws out there. It’s almost status quo. I think it’s a decision that I am not going to say the deadline is this. I’ve said all along that I want to make the decision as fast as possible. But, it’s going to be a prudent decision. When the timing is right, we will make it.

“When we feel confident that we definitely have the right guy that we feel good about going in against Houston, that is when we will make that decision. We’ll see how it is. This is going to be a great test. Baltimore never gave up more that 13 points a game last year at home. I know it is a preseason game, but tell their fans that.”

Wide Receiver Department-

Ryan shared more positive tidings about the receiving crew, especially David Clowney, who seems primed for another impressive preseason.

“We’ll play all of those guys. We won’t be the only team in the history of this league who will just play multiple receivers. At times, everybody shines. You see what Brad (Smith) can do. You see the different thing he brings to the table. (Chansi) Stuckey has had a great camp. (David) Clowney, what he always says is ‘who can cover the Clown? (laughter).’ After he made his catches I made sure to say, ‘who can cover the Clown? I don’t know if anybody can cover the Clown (laughter).’ But the guy is a football player. Just like I showed you those plays of him blocking away from the play, he wants to be a complete receiver. I like the strides he is making.”

Ainge Update-

Erik Ainge is almost the forgotten man on the quarterback depth chart, but Ryan took note of how soundly the second-year man defeated Harvard rookie Chris Pizzotti for the third and final spot.

“They were competing for that job.  Clearly, [Ainge] won that.  Could he be a No. 2 or a starter in this league?  Probably.  When we ended up drafting Sanchez, I never thought we could split the reps three ways, you know what I mean?  Is it fair to him?  All he does is go out and play.  Like I said before, will he get a chance one day to be the starting quarterback of the Jets?  He may.  Joe Flacco, as we said, went into the second-to-last preseason game (last year) as the number three quarterback, and the rest is history.”

A Signing-

Today, the Jets inked rookie free agent safety Nate Ness. Ness was signed by the Browns in May before being waived in July. During two seasons with the University of Arizona, Ness notched seven interceptions and totaled 107 tackles.

Here We Go

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

 

After a strong debut, rookie QB Mark Sanchez will start ahead of Kellen Clemens in Baltimore (JI Photo).

After a strong debut, rookie QB Mark Sanchez will start ahead of Kellen Clemens in Baltimore (JI Photo).

Well… here we go. Training camp is well underway. The first preseason game has been played and can be analyzed for posterity. Position battles are being waged full tilt and as the regular season approaches with each passing day, Rex Ryan and his coaching staff will be coerced into making the cold hard decisions that shape a football team, press conference pleasantries aside. There’s a rhythm developing now, a routine that will become a blur. Strap yourself in, as another chapter unfolds…

 

Cool… Calm….

 The big news of the day, undoubtedly, was the announcement that Mark Sanchez will be starting the second preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens. Kellen Clemens, the leading man in the opener, did not seem perturbed by the story.

“It’s coach’s decision,” said Clemens, adding to ample laughs. “It was a preordained plan that they are letting us know step-by-step.”

Clemens’ solid debut against the Rams was slightly blighted by his only turnover, a strip sack perpetuated by defensive end Leonard Little.

“You always want to maintain possession of the ball,” Clemens said. “After looking at it, in hindsight, I wish I would have just turned and ran up to get what I could. He would have caught me either way but at least I would have got back so we could punt.”

Clemens can no longer be categorized as inexperienced, entering his fourth season as a pro. He’s been through enough to share an insightful take on the pressures of impressing with limited reps in the preseason. 

“Playing quarterback, in a lot of ways, is about getting into a rhythm,” he offered. “Fortunately I did get the two series and did get into a rhythm in the second. Mark (Sanchez) obviously came out and was in a pretty good rhythm on his first series with the big throw. You just have to make the most of it. We understood going in that we were not going to be in the game very long. So, you just go out and make the throws that you can then execute the plays that get called and make the most of it.”

Clemens was also asked about his competition. “It was awesome,” Clemens said of Sanchez’s first pass in a Jet uniform. “David Clowney ran a good route, Mark looked the safety off and made a good throw.”

Clemens certainly seems to be taking the quarterback battle in stride. He has been through this type of circumstance before, a participant in the great training camp derby of 2006, in which four passers were pitted against each other, and just last year, before Brett Farve’s arrival scuttled a rematch with Chad Pennington.

…And Collected

Interestingly enough, Mark Sanchez had a very similar reaction to the news that he had been named starter for the second preseason tilt. “It’s just a matter of the rotation,” Sanchez said, echoing Clemens’ calm tone.

“That’s how it ended up working, and (the rotation) takes place in games as well.  Today, we only have one practice, so tomorrow, Kellen (Clemens) has the ones in the morning, I’m in the afternoon.”

Sanchez seemed off his game during today’s practice, and offered a blunt assessment of his day. “I don’t think we had the best practice possible from the quarterback unit, myself personally.  (I was) not as sharp, I missed a couple plays in the two-minute (drill) that I think I should have had, and the (mis)communication with Brad Smith.  He ran the right route and I missed him.  We just have to get on the same page there.  That’s what happens when you go from preseason back to playing (against) our defense.  It was a good wake-up.”

He did seem satisfied about his performance against the Rams, especially on the mental side of the equation.  “The checks were good,” Sanchez said. 

“There were only eight or nine plays, so it was a good series.  There was one run footwork thing where I was half a step off and those are the little things that you have to clean up if you want to be great.  There’s still hard coaching from it.  If anything, just to get quicker and faster and let the ball go sooner because I’m going to need it this week.”

Indeed, Sanchez faces a challenge in his first ever NFL start, drawing a stout Ravens defense. “I have my work cut out for me,” Sanchez said with a laugh. “And that’s why it wouldn’t be (right) of me or anyone at my position to make this the make-or-break game.  It’s not that way at all.  (I need to) be relaxed and poised and play and go through my checks and my reads just like I have and build on the last game.”

 

Rex Notes-

Rex Ryan held court at his presser, as per usual, and with a preseason game in the books, there was plenty to discuss….

Wait and See-

In the wake of the Sanchez decision for Baltimore, Ryan was questioned if he would name a definitive starter by the pivotal third preseason game, the contest wherein starters are usually stretched beyond the first half in preparation for week one.

“Hopefully, we’ll get an opportunity to see those guys a little more this week in game action,” said Ryan, before he diplomatically hedged. “Again, I know I want to have it done then, but I’m not saying 100 percent it will be.  I’m assuming it will, but I’m not going to guarantee that I will have it done by that time.”

Reserves-

After Clemens suffered an assault and theft at the hands of Little, questions regarding the play of a line consisting mainly of backups became pretty pertinent after week one of the preseason. Ryan defended the play of the substitutes.

“I thought it was great,” said Ryan of his line’s performance. “We never got the movement they needed in the running game that I was hoping for and probably Thomas (Jones) was hoping for.  When you consider you have three of your best players, three starting offensive linemen and your starting fullback out, I thought they held up well.  I thought they did a great job.  You can’t ask for much better than that.  I thought our protection was great and we did a good job picking up blitzes.  That first sack, (Leonard) Little is an outstanding pass rusher and its sometimes hard to get that on the practice field.  I thought Wayne (Hunter) did a great job after that.”

Ryan didn’t seem able to offer a definite prognosis on his battered offensive line. “I’m not real sure,” he responded, when quizzed about when the wounded would return. “It’s too early to tell.  We have a Monday night game, so hopefully we can get some of those guys back.”

Ouch-

With uncharacteristic viciousness, Ryan brutally assessed the punting competition, his words carrying an acidic, impatient tone.

“We tried (punter Ken Parrish) out today,” Ryan started. “Again, I’m tired of seeing ground balls hit.  We’ve got to do better than that.  Our guys know that so we’ll see.  You watch some practices and you’re like ‘man we’ve got Ray Guy here.’  I want to see that.  I want to see an NFL punt.  Reggie’s (Hodges) numbers look good, but I don’t think those are exactly rockets that he hit.  We’re going to find a punter.  If he’s here or if he’s on somebody else’s team, we’ve got to find a punter.” Late in the day it was announced P.J. Conley had been waived. It seems Hodges has to get his game together, or he could be next.

Parrish has previously been with the 49ers and Eagles, but he has yet to punt in a regular season game.

Vernon-

Vernon Gholston has been a major curiosity throughout camp. Pressed into starting duty due to Calvin Pace’s suspension, the disappointing rookie will look to take advantage of a clean slate for his sophomore campaign.

“I realized he made two tackles and everybody wants to blame him,” said Ryan, discussing Gholston’s effort against the Rams.  “What I would like to do is sometimes look past the numbers and let’s see how the unit plays.  Because sometimes you ask a guy, “Ok, you’ve got the dirty work here.”  We used to do this with Jarret Johnson all the time.  I’ll never forget Jarret Johnson won a game ball on defense and he had one assist.  He was so mad but he had to do all the dirty work.  And sometimes you ask guys to do different things.  I think in Vernon’s case he probably had a couple of plays we wish he had back, but then he did some good things as well.”

Injury Report-

The press received an update on the various maladies sidelining members of the team:

“Jehuu Caulcrick) was out.  He had an issue,” Ryan began.  “He’s probably questionable for the game.  I don’t know the severity of the injury.  We’ll see. He probably will play.  It’s one of those things where we’ll know later in the week.  I think it’s a knee.  It’s his left one.  I think he did it in the third quarter when he came out.”

A few of the afflictions are lingering.

“The other guys are progressing slowly, painfully slowly,” said Ryan.(Kris) Jenkins (calf) and (Darrelle) Revis (hamstring) and, of course, (Damien) Woody (concussion) and (Alan) Faneca.  Faneca is going to be out this game for sure.  He had surgery on it (finger). Again, he could play with a cast on but we want to make sure it’s healed before we put him out there.”

Nick Mangold missed the preseason opener with a knee injury and also remains sidelined.