Archive for September, 2009

News update: No Secondary Concern

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

 

Jim Leonhard is a vital part of the Jets’ pass defense.

Jim Leonhard is a vital part of the Jets’ pass defense.

The Jets’ are contending with injuries to multiple defensive backs as their contest with the high-powered New Orleans Saints draws nearer. Corners Lito Sheppard and Donald Strickland both missed the tilt with Tennessee, and valuable Safety Jim Leonhard was absent from practice today, nursing a knee injury. Should Leonhard be out Sunday, backup Eric Smith will need to maintain his recent string of strong play.

JETS 24 – TITANS 17

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD NJ – Just call it Christmas in September. In a tense physical battle, a pair of costly blunders by Tennessee return man Ryan Mouton proved to be the difference as the Jets defeated the Titans 24-17.

Adter 6 years in the pros, Jets TE Ben Hartsock scores his first NFL TD on Sunday during the Jets 24-17 win over Tennessee. (JetsInsider.com Photo)

Adter 6 years in the pros, Jets TE Ben Hartsock celebrates after scoring his first NFL TD on Sunday during the Jets 24-17 win over Tennessee. (JetsInsider.com Photo)

Mouton was manning the momentum pendulum, swinging it twice for the wrong side. He fumbled a first quarter kickoff, allowing a temporarily in-sync Jets offense to take advantage. After scrambling for the team’s first score, Mark Sanchez hit reserve tight end Ben Hartsock for a two yard touchdown and fourteen point lead. Sanchez and Leon Washington badly fooled the Titans’ defense with a nifty play-action fake.

The impact of special teams on this Sunday was undeniable. While the Titans’ unit  practically gift wrapped fourteen points for their opposition, the Jets were a swarming force. Jason Trusnik set the tone on the Jets’ initial kickoff, forcing Mouton to cough up the football before recovering it himself. In the third quarter, Larry Izzo scooped up a dropped punt by the beleaguered Mouton. “Each week, the coaches put us in the best position, and you just have to do your job,” said Trusnik after the gun. “From what the coaches give and from what you watch on film, you know who’s going to be blocking you, you know what their trying to do,” he added before reiterating, “You just do your job.” Izzo, a special teams warrior throughout his distinguished career, opted not to compare this crew to the dynamic group he led with New England, but his confidence was obvious. “Each team is different… we’ve got young players, great returners. Each week we expect to dominate that phase.” Today’s dominance set the Jets up for a win.

The Tennessee Titans were branded desperate in the week leading up to this game, and perhaps attempted to shroud self-doubt with bravado. Keith Bullock and Ahmrad Hall brazenly talked trash. The team backed up their boasts with ferocious play, decisively dominating the trenches. Their resolute efforts, however, were undone by turnovers, dooming the Titans’ season to a potentially terminal state.

When quarterback Kerry Collins was given time to throw, he excelled. He connected with talented rookie Kenny Britt for 27 yards at the start of the third, setting up a precise laser touchdown pass to Nate Washington three plays later, giving the Titans’ their first lead of the game. But Collins’ accuracy vanished when the Jet defenders pierced the pocket. The defensive line is due credit for both of Collins’ interceptions, forcing him to make rushed throws. The first pick was grabbed by Safety Eric Smith in the second quarter. “I’m just trying to do my job,” said Smith, echoing Trusnik. Smith, an able coverage safety whose reputation was somewhat skewed after his vicious hit broke Anquan Boldin’s jaw last season, has been quite adept at shutting down opposing tight-ends, often in man situations. “I like playing one-one,” said Smith. “It’s like a challenge within the game.”

Fireman Ed Anzalone did another fine job getting the fans riled up against the Titans (JetsInsider.com Photo)

Fireman Ed Anzalone did another fine job getting the fans riled up against the Titans (JetsInsider.com Photo)

As for the Jets quarterback, Mark Sanchez had an inconsistent day marked equally by success and frustration. The rookie started on a roll, marching the Jets’ downfield on their first possession with the detached cool of a ten year veteran. After moving the chains with perfect intermediate strikes to Dustin Keller and Jerricho Cotchery, Sanchez cashed in with a frenzied fourteen-yard dash to the paint. It appeared Sanchez would be stopped at the one by Defensive Back Michael Griffin, but the gutsy signal caller lowered his head and drove himself forward, reaching out with his right arm to break the end-zone plane as he was being driven to the ground. The spectators went wild, and with good reason. “That was a big-time hit,” said Sanchez, summing up the nasty shot he absorbed for six points. “It was a big momentum swing for us… that’s just the way I’ve been playing since I was little.”

Head Coach Rex Ryan was thrilled with the play, though he wondered if the Owner might feel differently. “Mark showed a lot of guts, a lot of courage,” said the head coach. “I thought it was great. Just don’t tell Woody I thought it was great.”

Most of Sanchez’s trouble occurred during a nightmarish second quarter. The Titans would leap back into a game that had nearly spiraled completely out of their control. They rushed Sanchez and challenged him with confusing fronts, forcing a key fumble before the Jets could hammer in another nail. “That second quarter was a disaster,” admitted Sanchez honestly. “I can’t put the ball on the floor like that. It was a big-time letdown for us.”

New York would recover, due in no small part to wide-receiver Jerricho Cotchery. The Jets’ most established and accomplished pass catcher is being validated as a true number one option, though Rex Ryan would like to keep it a secret. “He’s just an average receiver,” said the gregarious coach sarcastically at his presser, drawing laughs from the assembled media. “Far as anyone knows…”

If Cotchery continues having eight catch, one hundred yard days for an undefeated team, everyone is going to know. “God is at work right now doing special things in my life,” said the man known as J-CO to teammates. Sanchez and Cotchery connected for the Jets’ pivotal go-ahead score after Mouton’s second charitable act in the third quarter. Cotchery was particularly impressed by his quarterback’s ability to read a defense. “Young buck did a great job,” claimed Cotchery, referring to Sanchez. “Changed the route, made a great throw, put the ball on me.” With a safety blitzing and Cotchery singled up in the red-zone, Sanchez made the proper read and communicated excellently with his target. Cotchery the grab and stood defiantly on his feet despite being drilled by two defenders.  The duo would also key a Jay Feely field goal in the fourth, hooking up again for forty six yards down the sideline, Cotchery acrobatically keeping two feet within the field of play before slamming down out of bounds. Sanchez was pumped for that throw before even taking the field for the drive, exclaiming to Cotchery that, “We got the go-route!”

The Titans, who trailed 14-0 in an eye blink, fought back in the second with a five yard LenDale White run off left tackle for a touchdown. White broke two tackles on the play.

OVER 100 EXCLUSIVE JETS-TITANS PHOTOS! For the largest gallery of exclusive Jets vs. Titans photos on the internet: CLICK HERE

Friday Notes from the Complex: Stuckey Catching On

Friday, September 25th, 2009

It may genuinely seem a lifetime ago, but Brett Favre was in the midst of his first game as New York Jets quarterback. He faded back to the pass, and almost immediately found himself under heavy pressure from a Miami sellout blitz. In desperation, Favre lobbed a pass in the general direction of the end zone. Three Dolphins defensive-backs surrounded the scene, and yet, a New York Jet leapt and corralled the pigskin for six points. It could have been described as a fortuitous fling, a positive omen. But the Jets collapsed in 2008, and the actual answer may be a bit more obvious. Chansi Stuckey, a budding playmaker, made it happen. “That’s a great label to have,” said the former Clemson star after practice.

Stuckey, considered a question mark by pundits before the season, is coming into his own. Snagging Favre’s circus throw last year remains his defining play as a Jet, but Stuckey seems intent on providing more highlight reel material for the present. “You want guys to say, ‘Stuck’s going to do something, Stuck’s going to make a big play for us,’ continued the third-year man in the third-person.

Securing a starting spot proved difficult for Stuckey. After an impressive collegian career, the Jets grabbed him in the seventh round. Jerricho Cotchery, then a blossoming pro, had similarly slipped in the draft after a record-setting tenure at N.C. State. But Cotchery was a fourth round choice, while Stuckey nearly dropped completely off the radar, tabbed in the seventh. If that wasn’t discouraging enough, a foot injury derailed his rookie campaign, costing him valuable learning experience. Like Cotchery, Stuckey wouldn’t break out immediately. He didn’t even have the chance. “It was definitely frustrating,” says Stuckey, while recollecting that malady. “But everything happens for a reason. I just kept working.” That he did. Stuckey showed enough talent and drive in the aftermath of his setback to be entrenched in the slot as training camp began in ‘09. But he wasn’t satisfied being branded exclusively as an inside man.

Did it personally bother Stuckey being judged so early in his career? “Not really,” he responded. “Just as a player you want to be diverse. The more things you can do the more pressure you can put on the defense. Now I can go outside and inside.”

Stuckey has taken advantage of his opportunity. He recorded four receptions in each of the first two weeks, solid support for Cotchcery. “I’m still waiting for that real big-game,” said Stuckey, reflecting on his first two weeks. “But as long as you’re winning, [it's fine].” Stuckey then attested to feeling more comfortable on-field with each passing rep as a starter. “I feel like I’m getting open,” he added.

 

stuckey_840407

Stuckey has stepped up in ‘09.

 

While eight catches in two games represents a solid performance, Head Coach Rex Ryan, who anointed Stuckey a starter, was positively thrilled with the reciever’s intangible contributions. “Outstanding in both games,” said Ryan, who would elaborate. “It’s not just necessarily the receptions… it’s what he does away from the ball… he’s a great team guy… he’s making plays. He made one catch, he’s got ten yards to get the first down, he keeps moving, he gets the first down. He’s been a real clutch guy for us.” 

Teammates are well aware of Stuckey’s importance, as well. “He took a big role, being named starter,” said Cornerback Darrelle Revis, when queried about Stuckey. “He really just needed to wait his turn. We had Coles, who was the other big receiver for us. But with him gone, we had a hole that need to be filled. We really needed him to step in and make plays.”  

Stuckey has been making plays so far. But one can tell, just in conversation, that he’s aiming to be a consistent game breaker. “You never want to be satisfied,” he said, while summing up his performance so far. The Jets would love nothing more than Stuckey to gain a sliver of some satisfaction this Sunday against the Titans. 

 

……………………………………………………….

Rex Ryan discussed a few pressing issues at his daily conference. 

Donald Strickland will probably be out Sunday, and Lito Sheppard did not participate in practice. Neither has practiced this week. “If a guy can go, he shows up on Sunday and we think he’s ready to roll, we’re going to go with him,” said Ryan, addressing the less certain situation involving Sheppard. In the event of a worst case scenario, where neither defensive-backs are able to play, and this is a definite possibility, Ryan had faith in the depth, especially Drew Coleman. “We’ll be fine there… those guys can play. We have no excuse… [Coleman] has great man-cover skills. He’s quick, he’s fast, and he’s a lot tougher [than his size indicates]. I’m excited about him.”  

Ryan is aware the Titans will be desperate. ‘They’re going to bring everything they’ve got… they’re not going to leave anything in the tank. But neither are we… this is going to be one of those old-fashioned games, physical games… It’s going to be a fun one to watch.”

The head coach remains high on Dwight Lowery, praising his advanced field acumen. The corner knocked down Tom Brady’s final pass in the victory against New England. “It’s funny, the first thing that popped in his mind was to go for the interception, but then he said ‘Ah, I just got to knock it down… He knew the game specifics.”

 

lowery_minicamp

Dwight Lowery continues to earn rave reviews

 

More trash talk this week: This time the opponent is the aggressor. Titans’ fullback Ahmard Hall accused Bart Scott of excessive talking and taunting between the white lines. Ryan responded, with comedic touch, that, “Nobody likes Bart Scott. Except his teammates.” Keith Bullock has also publicly stated the Titans’ intention to rattle Mark Sanchez. “He’ll be up to the task this week,” responded Ryan, defending his signal caller.  

Ryan on Chris Johnson: “He’s the fastest running back I’ve ever seen.”

Friday Notes from the Complex

Friday, September 18th, 2009

“I’m just doing my job,” says Darrelle Revis, sitting beside his locker after Friday afternoon’s practice. He is responding to a question regarding the most difficult aspect of covering Randy Moss, who has terrorized cornerbacks since entering the National Football League as a rookie in 1998. How dangerous is Moss? He is a major reason why the ‘98 Vikings and ‘07 Patriots had two of the greatest offenses of all time. Moss was the enzyme in both cases, his arrival coinciding with historic productivity. He has size, speed, and deceptive strength. And yet, Revis seemed to view the task with the calmness of a detached observer, just another day at the office.

The elite corner established himself in the eyes of many Jets followers with a strong performance against Moss while still a rookie in 2007, holding his own in the winter chill of Foxboro. The stakes have been gradually rising since that contest, the Jets and Patriots dueling for a divisional crown neither claimed in ‘08, and prepared to dance again as consensus favorites this time around. Just don’t expect Revis to flip his top. He may have grown up watching the flamboyant antics of Deion Sanders, but for a star player, he possesses a refreshingly quiet assurance.

When tasked to scan his memory bank in order to reflect on that aforementioned solid rookie outing, Revis quickly responded and all but disassociated himself from the past. “I wouldn’t say that particular game [helped him arrive],” he said calmly. “Being a rookie was more about learning Mangini’s system and feeling comfortable with that. ” Perhaps the humble defensive-back is unwilling to reflect on his immense importance to the Jets. But his teammates in the secondary are more open.

“You can leave him by himself,” says safety Kerry Rhodes. “And you can be more of a freelance.” Jim Leonhard also gets it.  ”He [Revis] allows you to do so many things,” said the first-year Jet. “Just to know you can count on him. It’s kind of funny watching him on film… not only how well he does things, but how easy he makes it look.”  

The laconic ease of Revis follows him both on and off the field. In interviews, he offers nothing that can be construed as remotely controversial, yet doesn’t  sound remotely evasive while answering questions. For instance, does Randy Moss talk trash? “Randy is actually a real nice guy, responded Revis, and, touching all his bases, “It’s the same thing with Andre Johnson last week.”

Jets CB Darrelle Revis is no nonsense. (JetsInsider.com Photo)

Jets CB Darrelle Revis is no nonsense. (JetsInsider.com Photo)

Revis is undoubtedly one of the best Jets draft decision this decade. The team traded up to acquire his services, and the move has paid massive dividends. A freak athlete with top flight field awareness, Revis is the total package at cornerback. He was even a superb return man back in college, and ironically enough, discussing this almost made him crack. Revis smiled painfully when the subject was bought up. “You kind of miss it sometimes…. it [reminded] me of being in a peewee football game…” Revis trailed off for a moment, before regaining his focus. The Jets obviously want to protect their most valuable asset in coverage. And the man seemed to understand this fact, shaking his head and repeating,  ”I’m just doing my job.”

If the Jets manage to finally snap the Patriots’ recent run of dominance at the Meadowlands, their soft spoken corner may be the reason. Revis will definitely be entrusted with the unenviable task of guarding Moss, often in one-one situations, which will allow the Jets to take their shots at Tom Brady.  ”Yeah,” says Revis matter of fact, “playing man to man is my job.”

The home opener will mark Shaun Ellis’ return from suspension. The defensive end will suit up and provide pressure from the edge for the first time this season. When asked how he could have possibly contributed to the decisive victory against Houston, Ellis said, “It’s kind of hard to say what I could have added, but I think my presence would have been felt. I just wanted to play my game. Those guys are terrific guys. I wanted to be there with them.”

Ellis will have his chance against New England. A long-standing competitor against Tom Brady, Ellis has a healthy respect for the quarterback. ‘He’s really smart, like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, [and] those types of guys. They’re really not going to mess up that often. You’ve really got to force them into bad decisions.”

………………..

Rex Ryan isn’t sensing any hypocrisy in the league allowing the Minnesota acquitted to play while Calvin Pace serves his suspension. “That’s the league,” said the head coach. “The league makes those kind of determinations. Clearly I wish Calvin Pace were playing right now. He’s not and he’s accepted responsibility. Come week five against Miami, we’ll certainly be happy that he’s back.” Shaun Ellis offered that Pace should play mind games while on the shelf. “It’s a tough situation. [He should] look at it like you’re rehabbing.”

………………

The Jets have enjoyed relatively good health so far in ‘09, and Rex Ryan is expecting “everyone” to be ready for the Patriots game. Vital defensive component Kris Jenkins, however, has been listed as probable. Ryan was asked whether he’ll be watching Jenkins closely. “I guess a little bit,” he said. “I like to keep fresh pass rushers in there anyway… he’s [Jenkins] such an unusual guy. He’s a guy that if he is not in there, the other team will no-huddle you then.”

JETS – PATRIOTS PREVIEW

Friday, September 18th, 2009

The year was 2007. The New England Patriots were at the peak of their powers, on their way to an undefeated regular season, filleting opponents with ease. Two brilliant acquisitions at receiver, enigmatic Randy Moss and overlooked Wes Walker, placed peerless quarterback Tom Brady in perfect position to operate an unstoppable offense. The New York Jets were expected to offer legitimate competition for New England, but there really was no contest. The Jets were weak at the point of attack on both sides of the ball, and didn’t have a dynamic passer to carry the team, not even close. And so, when the two teams met late in the season, the Jets were playing purely for the purposes of pride.

 Kellen Clemens, deep in the process of disappointing as starter, was knocked out of the game early on a vicious sack, leaving the task to Chad Pennington, who performed admirably in relief, but couldn’t quite lead a stunning road upset. It was a familiar theme for everyone associated with the Jets, a hard fought effort producing an empty loss.

Pats QB Tom Brady is back and always is a thorn in the Jets side.

Pats QB Tom Brady is back and always is a thorn in the Jets' side.

 There are no moral victories in football. The abridged schedule could never allow it. The line separating entrenchment and displacement is so perilously thin the constant shifts begin to seem organic. All of the sudden Sproles is out there at crunch-time instead of Tomlinson, and it’s only natural. The riptide forces change, and the fantasy leaguers do all they can to keep up. For the players and coaches, there are no answers beyond what the scoreboard offers. No time for philosophy. And on that raw winter day, despite encouraging play from a rookie corner named Darrelle Revis, who stepped up to the challenge of covering Randy Moss, the Patriots won, and the Jets lost. The contest had spoken volumes about where both teams were, the harsh truth. 

 But the crystallizing moment may have occurred afterward, during a presser featuring Brady, who perhaps had reached the apex of his remarkable flight. “We swept the Jets,” he said suppressing a smile. Even though the opponent was already seemingly defeated, Brady seemed to relish finishing the task with brutal efficiency. If the fictional Commodus had that kind of killer instinct, Russell Crowe wouldn’t have stood a chance in “Gladiator”. It is the mark of a champion.

 Anyone with eyes could see these two franchises shared a hatred extending far beyond the white lines. In 2007, it pulsated subtly, still there, but mere background noise. Much has changed. This Sunday offers something far more tangible, for all parties involved.

 From a Jets perspective, 2007 represents the perfect prologue in a new narrative. This one fades to black following their unseating of New England as perennial AFC East power. Whether the Patriots comply with this script is a matter to be decided. But following that season’s truly dismal showing, New York was ultra aggressive in the open market. Those maneuvers set up Eric Mangini for a fall, connecting a chain of events forming a cast that could be different. Or not. The Patriots, despite their surprising struggle against the Bills, are still a formidable foe. One fact is absolutely certain… the Jets aren’t afraid. Just ask them.

 “You go out from the first quarter on, from the first play on and try to embarrass them. Not just go out there and try to win, try to embarrass them. Try to make them feel bad when they leave here.” Kerry Rhodes is responsible for this quote. It’s the kind of line that defines a week of hype. Provides an unavoidable storyline. All of the sudden, one can’t discuss the game without mentioning Rhodes.

Jets WR Chansi Stuckey hopes to build on his great game against Houston last week (JetsInsider.com Photo)

Jets WR Chansi Stuckey hopes to build on his great game against Houston last week (JetsInsider.com Photo)

The revelation of base emotion always intrigues. In this age of supreme manipulation, with public relations strangling expression like never before, when LeBron James and his Nike cronies have a harmless video of him being dunked on by an average Joe banned from public consumption, [lame] it’s refreshing that the home opener against a divisional foe can still coerce the modern athlete to forego fine etiquette in favor of raw trash talk. Why not? Is this a chess match or a football game? Is there anything more tiresome than control freak coaches restricting their player’s free speech, treating them like Junior Varsity athletes prepping for their first interview?

According to the Daily News, Rhodes wasn’t finished. “We will hit him [Tom Brady] more than six times,” Rhodes predicted, expecting the game plan to feature heavy blitzing. Well, that would hardly be a shock. “Any quarterback can be rattled,” Rhodes explained.

Kerry Rhodes is at a critical point in his career. Lauded as one of the best safeties in football after a spectacular beginning to his career, he seemed suppressed as the defense collapsed in 2008. Forced to assist in coverage, the ball-hawk nicknamed “Hollywood” by his teammates began resembling a phantom as the Jets’ playoff aspirations vanished down the stretch. These sentiments may have revealed much about his mind-frame. With a new coach and coordinator in place, and a dominating defensive effort in the books for week one, Rhodes appears frothing to attack. Through his entire tenure, the Jets simply have not measured up to New England. In their last eight trips to the Meadowlands, the Patriots have waltzed off the field victorious. That kind of statistic beckons baseness in the defeated. And the frustration seems to be boiling over. Is Rhodes speaking only for himself? Doubtful.

And though the other Jets weren’t as controversial in their delivery, a resolutely confident tone has been established at Florham Park. “We believe in our preparation. We practice really hard,” reasoned Leon Washington. “We believe, going into the game that we have the best chance to win. We don’t believe in letting the other team dictate our outcome. If we go out there and do what we’ve been doing all year long, we’ll be fine. We’ll back it up. I’m a firm believer in that.”

Jim Leonhard was equally assured. “We feel like we have a great game plan going into this week. As a secondary, we feel like we can’t have any busts in coverage. We can’t have any miscommunication between us. If we play well in the back end, that front seven is going to play well.”

Rhodes’ candor seems to speak to another challenge facing Rex Ryan as he stalks the sidelines this Sunday afternoon. The Jets are pumped and primed, but will they be in control? With a frenzied home crowd and self-imposed high stakes both a factor [Kris Jenkins called it “Our Superbowl”] discipline may just fly out the window. And handing New England’s high-octane offense free penalty yardage is not in the Jets’ best interests. Ryan acknowledged Rhodes’ disgust. Did not chastise his safety’s honesty. “Our franchise has been embarrassed (with) eight straight losses at home.  You’ll have to ask Kerry if that’s what he meant, but that’s probably where that tone was coming from.”

 

And so, past the headlines and bulletin board material, there is the game. The Jets most likely will attempt to establish their rushing duo early. The Patriots defensive line appeared a step slow last week. They seemed especially worn out late by the Buffalo’s no-huddle offense, making that Leodis McElvin fumble all the more heartbreaking. A big run by Leon Washington within the opening minutes would electrify the crowd and shift momentum toward the Jets.

 

Thomas Jones seemed to be heading for a nondescript week one, but he popped a few long runs late, prettying up his numbers. If the Jets get Jones in a groove, the play-action could open up. Dustin Keller will be a major factor… the Patriots couldn’t stop him at Foxboro last season, and it will be interesting to see if they adjust.

 With the Jets so completely hyped for this contest, one wonders whether Bill Belichick and his staff will attempt using that emotion against them. The most obvious resource in this stratagem would be the screen pass. If the Jets are undisciplined, they could be burnt.

 This is going to be a close one. The difference will be New England’s Achilles heel: a suspect ground attack. Kris Jenkins and company will force the Patriots to throw early, and that fortified secondary will be equal to the moment. The Jets will lead at halftime and hold the Patriots off, surviving a late scare.

Either way, it feels a long way from 2007. And with Tom Brady and Mark Sanchez opposing each other at quarterback, 2008 too…  

 PREDICTION

Jets 24 -  Patriots 20

Friday Notes from the Complex

Friday, September 11th, 2009

The roar of the crowd became amplified as the pigskin spun from the right hand of Mark Sanchez, a gorgeous pass dropped by Jerricho Cotchery, who broke wide-open on a picture perfect post pattern. Despite the grand ambiance, this miscue meant nothing. For the Jets were at practice, indoors in fact, shielded from the downright nasty weather pounding the metropolitan area on this particular Friday. Indeed, the shrieks and screams were synthetic, provided by a D.J. from on high, not a fanatic in sight.

Rex Ryan left his presser mumbling Im ready to play, ready to play... His players most definitely agree. (JetsInsider.com Photo)

Rex Ryan left his presser mumbling "I'm ready to play, ready to play..." His players most definitely agree. (JetsInsider.com Photo)

The ongoing soundtrack represented a worthwhile attempt to duplicate the intensity awaiting New York in their opener against Houston. But there’s no way this technological trickery could come close to mimicking a sold-out crowd fortified by untested delusions of grandeur. In fact, the majority of the practice was given a musical accompaniment, with noted classical artist DMX providing the most noteworthy number. “Stop, drop, shut ‘em down open up shop,” he growled through the speakers, a few players allowing for some restrained moves. While commenting on Dustin Keller’s minor toe injury, Rex Ryan assuaged any potential worries by mentioning that the tight-end, “looked good dancing out there.”

………………………….

 Kris Jenkins was the perfect man to quiz about the Texans’ overlooked offensive line. It seems the group is the forgotten facet of a high-powered offense. Obviously deep in preparation, the most vital component of the Jets defense shared a few insights. “They’re a solid o-line,” started the burly nose tackle. “They have that Denver zone scheme. I’m expecting trash talk… it seems teams who use that scheme like talking trash. They pride themselves on knowing that scheme and executing that scheme.” On the topic of trash talk, Jenkins revealed himself a courteous abstainer. “I don’t need to talk trash,” said Jenkins, before narrowing his eyes and adding, “I talk with my pads.”

Jenkins is duly impressed by superstar wide receiver Andre Johnson. Johnson, a physical beast, is close to peerless, utilizing a combination of speed and strength to dominate secondaries. “Andre Johnson is probably the best in the game at this point… it’s a man out there.”

After taking it all into account, Jenkins surmised that this Jets-Texans, with it’s intriguing subplots and positional match-ups, should be a pretty entertaining affair. “I wish I could sit down and watch it,” he said, before adding with a smile, “But I have to work.”

…………………….

Darrelle Revis is tasked to shut-down perhaps the sports’ most incomparable talent. It’s not an assignment likely to overwhelm the collected corner, who has enjoyed strong performances against Canton-bound Randy Moss. When asked what impressed him most about the Texans’ offense as a whole, Revis noted their superior sense of timing and rhythm. ‘They have a quick tempo,” began Revis. “[They are] A finesse team,” he elaborated. “They make a lot of plays. It obviously starts with Matt Schaub. He gets the ball to those play makers, Andre Johnson… Owen Daniels…” Revis’ voice trailed off, as if he were envisioning the challenge ahead. “You guys know it as well as we do,” he said suddenly, snapping back to focus. “Averaging thirty plus points, in this league, you’re doing something right. It’s going to be very loud, [in Houston]  and they’re going to be very comfortable.”

When questioned whether the background noise thumping at practice today could benefit the team as they prepare for a boisterous opposing crowd, Revis was blunt in his assessment. “That’s more for the offense, I think. That’s why we do that.” Perhaps Revis is counting on a quieting the Texans fans. If the Jets accomplish that, he will be a major reason why.

………………………….

Rex Ryan’s post-practice presser began on a somber note as he acknowledged the tragic events which forever changed this city, and the world, eight years ago. “It’s obviously a tragic day,” said the normally gregarious head coach. “It sheds a little light on this subject,” he continued, referring to football, of course. Something like 9/11 can change your view of existence, never-mind sports. 

On a personal note, September 11th forever altered my perception of life, and I was fortunate enough not to lose anyone on that day. Despite counting my blessings for that reason, a question began swirling in my mind that has haunted me since. I was in eighth grade, so the concept of the world as something to be feared was alien to me.  The question was, how can life, being so important, also be so fragile? How could that many families get destroyed for absolutely no reason at all? Makes no sense.

Look, sports aren’t going to save the planet. Of course not. But I do think that they represent a noble attempt to at least address that question forever circling around my skull. [and probably others too. Definitely]

Here we have a human attempt at order, distillation, so similar in principle to legitimate art. There are umpires, referees, foul lines and sidelines, coaches. This realm we live in is way too chaotic for any endeavor to be completely fair, but sports… hey… sports give it a shot. That alone makes football a worthwhile endeavor. From a philosophical perch, I can respect a player’s love for the game he plays professionally, and a fan’s devotion to it. This, to me, is healthy behavior. Well, most of the time… there are extremes that the media seems to love portraying for whatever reason.

But yeah, this Sunday, when you’re pumped for the game, feel no shame about temporarily disconnecting yourself from this unstable patch of land amid the stars. Organized competition has the power to transcend. To celebrate football is to celebrate life. There must be a reason they play on Sunday.

Enjoy. The. Game.

………………………

After his brief address concerning 9/11, Ryan had some interesting news on Shonn Greene.  According to Ryan, “Shonn is fine. He’s practiced… full participation. We’ll have the option of playing him or not. That won’t be an issue.”

Jets 38 -Eagles 27

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

On a night where intrigue swirled around a reclamation project, the rookie quarterback slinging it for the home team stole the show in a cameo role, as the Jets downed the Eagles 38-27.

In his sole series, Mark Sanchez fired five passes without suffering an incompletion, eventually finding a streaking Jerricho Cotchery in stride down the sideline for an electrifying touchdown. “A couple of plays before that, I hit Dustin [Keller] down the middle,” said Sanchez, referring to his twenty-seven yard strike to the tight-end that set-up the touchdown. “I faked a little bit to the middle and the safety thought I was going down the middle and J-Co [Cotchery] had  a great route again. The timing was perfect.”

 It may have been the only truly perfect aspect of the night for the Jets, their defense pretty clearly torched.

Jets LB Vernon Gholston gets his first sack as a pro against Eagles QB Kevin Kolb during the Jets 38-27 win against Philly (JetsInsider.com Photo)

Jets LB Vernon Gholston gets his first sack as a pro against Eagles QB Kevin Kolb during New York's 38-27 win against Philly (JetsInsider.com Photo)

Yet for seven plays early in the contest, it couldn’t get rosier for Rex Ryan’s crew. Sanchez was precise, protecting the ball, yet still able to take shots on a vertical plane. He demonstrated patience with a three yard dump to Keller near midfield, and also found Washington on the offense’s initial play for a gain of two. But the freshman made his mark, and hyped up the Meadowlands, with his intermediate missiles to Keller and Cotchery. “It’s something we’ve worked at a lot”, said Keller, referring to his team scoring on the first drive. “We definitely wanted to come out in that first series since we were only playing one and set the tone for the other guys, because this is huge for them,” Keller continued, acknowledging the importance of this game for his teammates on the fringes, scraping for a roster spot.

Keller’s excellence set the stage for Cotchery, who hit pay-dirt. “It was a play where they were soft in coverage and Sanchez did a good job of holding the safety and hitting me in the hole, making a very accurate throw,” said Cotchery, when asked about his six point reception. If Sanchez can be that dangerous of a passer consistently, the Jets offense will be far better than expected.

Meanwhile, defensively, the news wasn’t as positive for New York. Plagued by penalties and a swiss-cheese secondary, especially on third down, the unit struggled to stop the Eagles attack. Despite plainly blowing a few easy throws, Kevin Kolb still chalked up a 93.2 passer rating, racking up one touchdown pass and avoiding any turnovers. “We were fortunate to get a couple of penalties there and then we were able to punch it in,” said Kolb. “For the whole half, I felt we were in pretty good rhythm.” 

Of particular concern was the play of Lito Sheppard, who was flagged down-field for a crippling pass interference penalty on the game’s first drive. It was Sheppard’s second straight shaky preseason performance, after being attacked vigorously by the Giants in week three. Perhaps sensing an opportunity, Dwight Lowery had a strong game, picking off an under-thrown Michael Vick pass in the end-zone, succeeding despite interference from Jeremy Maclin. “Just from watching film, this past week, in the red area, most of the teams in this league… they like to take a shot,” said Lowery, describing the preparation that helped him make the pick. “Before the snap, I saw Vick looking in my direction,” continued the cerebral second-year corner. “Last year, I was in a similar position, Ted Ginn pushed off me to get open. [This time] I boxed him [Maclin] out, like I was playing basketball.” 

The first half run defense also left much to be desired, gashed by Eldra Buckley for thirty-three yards and a 4.7 average. The results weren’t all a drag, however. Vernon Gholston, perhaps the defense’s top question mark, mauled Kolb for a sack on the Eagles’ second drive, showing an impressive burst to the quarterback. Gholston though, was very quiet for the rest of the evening. 

Danny Woodhead, the fourth-string running back fighting for a roster spot, was unquestionably the most productive player on the field for either team. With Shonn Greene sidelined, Woodhead capitalized on his carries to the fullest, running wild on a porous Eagles interior defense. Woodhead garnered  one hundred fifty eight yards on eighteen carries, scurrying into the end-zone for two scores. His longest run was a fifty-five yard touchdown jaunt, ending with him sprawled just past the goal-line. “I’m not very tall, not very heavy,” said Woodhead in the locker-room after the game. “I just try to use my speed, quickness, and vision… I just want to to go out there and help the team… I was confident before this game.” Woodhead wasn’t in a rush to make any declarative statements following his breakout performance, claiming it to be in, “God’s hands”, regarding whether or not he had done enough to be a suit up in the regular season for the Jets, or another team. He also claimed not to be especially motivated by Greene’s absence. “Not really. I just wanted to come out and help the team.”

Michael Vick was relegated to near-afterthought. Vigorously booed every time he took the field in the first half, the svelte scrambler was employed in a collection of wildcat packages in the first half, before settling back into a traditional drop-back mode in the second. He looked rusty at times, still feeling for those old instincts. Vick displayed flashes of that legendary escapability that defined his truncated tenure with the Falcons, but he was often caught behind the line of scrimmage, crunched by defenders and coughing up the ball. These circumstances presented themselves twice, as he was dropped by Jamaal Westerman for a loss of twenty-two deep in Eagles territory, managing to recover the loose ball. “We’re all playing hard together, and he just turned into me,” said Westerman. Vick was then hammered by Marques Murrell while driving for points, this time losing his fumble. Vick was accurate, completing seven of eleven passes, and Andy Reid focused on the positives. “I saw a lot to like,” said Reid after the game. “I’m sure he’ll be a little sore tomorrow.” 

Meanwhile, the man dubbed somewhat derisively as Mr. August by Jon Gruden came up with another eye-popping preseason performance. David Clowney caught two balls for one hundred eight yards. His seventy-three yard touchdown catch was launched from the right-arm of Erik Ainge, who took most of the game’s snaps. Ainge put up a strong showing, going ten of seventeen with two touchdown passes and no interceptions. Aundrae Allison enjoyed a productive game on special teams, averaging twenty seven yards on three returns.

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Approaching the grind

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

With the fourth and final preseason game next on their ledger and camp in Cortland receding deeper into the memory bank, the Jets are rapidly approaching a finished product.

Practice today typified that notion. The desperation so evident on the field only a week or so prior is giving way to a new groove keyed by routine, the depth chart solidifying, roster spots cemented. There are still eighty players here in Jersey, but according to Ryan at his presser, only six or so are really on the bubble, fighting each other for a shot to contribute to the ‘09 Jets.  

The matchup with Philadelphia will determine those vital reserve roles,  but the heavy lifting has been done. The team is just about ready for week one, and should be in full frenzy as that day draws nearer.

Jets NT Kris Jenkins may get some extra playing time on Thursday to make up for lost time in camp. (JetsInsider.com Photo)

Jets NT Kris Jenkins may get some extra playing time on Thursday to make up for lost time in camp. (JetsInsider.com Photo)

Nothing today summarized the notion of impeding stability quite like the Mark Sanchez press conference.

Back in seventh grade or so, my class had to read works by Shakespeare, which predictably flew right over our still developing brains. [Mine definitely] It was strange reading a play out of a book, and the bard’s colorful usage of the English language was straight up baffling. For some reason though, despite my befuddlement, I enjoyed the reading, and to me, the coolest section could be found at the beginning of each work. Each major character was introduced to the reader, signaling their status as a key “player”.

Well, if the Jets were a Shakespearean tale, and why not considering their history, today best represented Sanchez’s introductory moment.  Sure, there was his exciting performance against the Giants, his fling downfield on the run to a wide-open Chansi Stuckey for an eye-popping touchdown, but that was Sanchez the football player, just one part of his required persona as franchise quarterback. His role as the story on a pretty quiet practice day cements the fact that this is his team, ready or not. More time is needed, a whole lot more, to determine whether Sanchez is prepared to lead on-field. But on the mic? There’s no doubt. 

He strode to the podium and started with a joke, kidding the press corps about hazing a sole member of the Boston media who had visited Jets camp today. The crack garnered a healthy laugh from the assembled media before the serious questions would begin. 

Sanchez was asked if there were many adjustments he had to make while undergoing this transition from college to the pros. “A million,” he said in response. “The locker-room is obviously more mature than college. The typical conversation in college was who’s throwing a party this weekend,” more laughs for that, “Or what test you were taking,” he continued with a smile. “Now it’s my kids are switching schools…”

The tone of his voice seemed to reveal a welcoming, or at least acceptance of this more mature realm. This became undoubtable as he discussed the defining aspect of his work. “The speed of the game on-field is so much faster,” he said, before acknowledging the supreme athleticism and intelligence of professional defenses. “I think the most important thing is trying to get into a routine. Everyone’s been great about helping me out with that, the coaches, Kellen… watch film on these days, practice on these days… make sure I’m not worn out by the end of the week… there’s constant rehab on the arm. I want to make sure I still have a live arm in Janurary.”

Sanchez seems to be approaching his career with reasoned urgency. He isn’t close to resting on his college laurels, pointing out an acceptable throw for USC could be picked  at this level. He is calm and composed and really details every answer. “Carson Palmer told me you’re so blessed to be playing this game,” Sanchez said after being asked about the best advice he had garnered during his NFL intitation process. “After every game I always give myself a minute to take a deep breath,” he breathed deep, mimicking his routine, “Ok… that was awesome.”

Sanchez went on to harshly assess his performance against the Giants, admitting to be his own toughest critic. At one point, while talking about a potential touchdown pass he believed was fired from his hand too late, Sanchez said he could hear his old high school coach, chiding him that the throw would have been better, “an hour-and-half ago, dude.” So on he went, from high school to college and now to the Jets. The conference was a solid spoken summation of his career.   

Mark Sanchez has taken to his part quite well. Jets fans will be hoping he doesn’t exit stage right anytime soon.

Practice notes and Quotes 

The day’s practice began with the players dividing into two sides and crossing the sidelines, back and forth. They took to yelling an elongated “heyyyyyyyy” while passing each other by.

While they had the time, a few players, including Kerry Rhodes and Lito Sheppard, hung out with a New Jersey high-school football team watching practice intently from the sidelines. Sheppard, who had a rough game against the Giants, was particularly amiable.   

Glenn Pakulak booted a few impressive punts. The battle between him and Reggie Hodges will most likely be determined by the Eagle game, an absolutley pivotal game for the small cluster of players with a legit shot still fighting to make a team. Ryan suggested that an impressive performance in week four could elevate even a potential afterthought. 

The Wisdom of Mangold

With the marked difference in style between Rex Ryan and Eric Mangini, I was curious whether the team was sporting a different mental mindset going into week one, as opposed to recent seasons. Nick Mangold gave a realist response. “I think every year, you’re always prepared,” he said after practice. “That’s why you play the season,” before offering that the team “was excited.” But Mangold definitely has a point. Of course Rex Ryan and Eric Mangini are studies in contrast, but that doesn’t mean this team was mentally weak under the previous regime. Getting the locker-room fired up shouldn’t be difficult, if one actually sits back and thinks about it. A coach unable to cope with that task should be fired immediately. Consider it… these guys play football all their life. It’s what they love. Most probably realize their career span could be short. In some way they must treasure every day of fulfilling an ambition dreamed of by millions, but achieved by a fortunate few. Rex Ryan isn’t going to win because his guys are fired up… everyone is fired up, at least through the first three or four games of the season. It’s going to be about execution. And the Jets’ offensive attack will very desperately depend on the offensive line, anchored by Mangold. “The O-Line is a major facet of any team,” Mangold said, before dropping in simply, “We’re the only group where you have five guys on the field at the same time.”  Indeed. What could be more important?

The Daily Rex 

In his daily meeting with the press today, Head Coach Rex Ryan confirmed that the offensive starters would only play one series. When told that Mark Sanchez was hoping to play “a lot”, Ryan sardonically replied, “Oh, he’ll play a lot. On the first series.” 

Ryan also implied that Kris Jenkins may get extra reps to make up for his missed time earlier in the preseason. He didn’t seem enthralled at the prospect of facing Michael Vick, but the coach thought the experience could serve his second-half defense well in the long-run.