Archive for August, 2010

The Long and Winding Tenure of Bryan Thomas, plus other notes

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

No matter whether the sport has a salary cap, shares revenue, or operates entirely on the premise of a completely free market, it is always noteworthy when an individual player remains with his initial franchise for a time exceeding four or five years. Usually, the athlete in question performs exceptionally well to maintain professional stability. And the relationship with his employer is certainly symbiotic. Both General Managers and Owners crave continuity, a sure sign of sound management. Always better to be accused of complacency, rather than outright incompetence. But there are certain exceptions to this rule, for sure.

A player could receive a deserved payday, only to see performance crater thereafter, either coincidentally, or as a symptom for declining passion. Where it concerns the National Football League, the freshly minted multi-millionaire malingerers are often released without hesitation. When the player disappoints, ties are cut, swiftly, so long the salary cap isn’t too adversely affected. In other sports, the process is far more complicated. Long-term commitments can become albatrosses. But even then, the player’s development, or lack thereof, is noteworthy. Something distinguishable has occurred, maybe negatively, but still notable.

And then there are cases even more unique. A player crusading the fringe for years, eventually settling into a groove, straddling a fine line between uninspiring competence and easily replaceable mediocrity.

Meet Bryan Thomas. Oh wait, scratch that. If you are a Jets fan, and the chances are extremely likely that this is the case, you probably know Mr. Thomas quite well… in terms of that whole fan-player dynamic, anyway.

Thomas, a defensive end who plied his pass rushing trade at U.A.B., was selected by the Jets with the twenty-second overall pick way back in the 2002 draft. For a little perspective, back then; Vinny Testaverde was locked-in as starting quarterback for the upcoming season. Curtis Martin still had three years of top-flight production left. Herman Edwards was entering his second year coaching the team. Tom Brady was the miracle kid who’d just won his first, and surely only, Super Bowl ring with the Patriots. Everyone was in agreement that the Rams were destined to be the premier team of the decade. Heady days. And here we are in 2010. Bryan Thomas is still a member of the New York Jets.

Thomas’ stat sheet paints an odd picture. He collected three sacks in his first three years combined, the symmetry apparent, but productivity definitely missing. It appeared he was a bust, the uptick to 3.5 sacks in ’05 barely noticed, amidst an absolutely disastrous campaign for the Jets. But suddenly, that 2006 leaps forth, like a bright brilliant spark thrown from a waning fire-pit.

When Jets fans crowed about the genius of first year coach Eric Mangini, they could point to Thomas as definite evidence. His heretofore, unexplored versatility tapped by the novice Head Coach, Thomas morphed into a monstrous 3-4 hybrid, a converted linebacker who could also dig in the trenches. He became the type of two-dimensional defensive threat coveted around the League, especially by Mangini’s former employer, who always erred on the side of flexibility when piecing together a roster. For a brief little while, the blossoming of Bryan Thomas was convincing proof that the Jets had got it right with Mangini. Unsurprisingly, a multi-year contract extension followed, which included nine million in guarantees.

A bust? Perish the thought.  Thomas’ long-term residency on the Jets is easily explainable. His athleticism and adaptability make him a perfect fit for the 3-4. He has expressed refreshing candor about his performance in the past.  And the Birmingham native has survived two separate coaching changes, proof of his usefulness.

Even still, the disappointment preceding his breakout returned in 2007, before softening somewhat with 5.5 sacks in ’08. In 2009, Bryan Thomas became somewhat of a forgotten man.  Collecting only two quarterback takedowns, as a part of a defense which struggled mounting pressure without flood blitzing, this rather pedestrian effort was lost amid a shuffle including a boisterous new coach, outlandishly gifted cornerback, recently acquired big name receiver, and other major headlines.

Thomas still has a chance to add another victorious chapter to his Jets legacy, his importance magnified by Calvin Pace’s broken foot.   “(I’m taking over) just a lot of the covering he was doing out there, as far as, man-to-man and doing some of that stuff,” said Thomas, regarding his role, now that Pace is injured. “I’ll be taking over a lot of the things that JT (Jason Taylor) is still trying to learn, (so) it won’t be so complicated (and he can) just go out and do his thing.”

But Thomas was adamant that he wasn’t replacing Pace, in the strict sense of the word. “It’s not like that.  It isn’t flip-flopping.  It’s not just, ‘Ok, I’m going to play Calvin’s side.’  I don’t know if you all have noticed, but Calvin and me, a lot of times, we just switch sides. Once the formation breaks, (you) just stay on your side and go from there because we both knew both sides (of the formation).  Now, I have to do a lot of stuff, (but) JT knows a lot of that as well, so we’ll just go from there.  It’s just having JT step up faster than most people expected.”

Thomas values the interchangeable nature of the Jets’ defense, a strength reflecting his own attributes. “That’s when it really works.  When you first come in, Rex (Ryan), Mike Pettine and all the defensive coaches have you line up (on) both sides.  Just in case something like this happens, you already know both positions (and) both sides-the strong and the weakside outside linebacker position.  JT knows a lot of that stuff anyway.  Calvin going down is a big void in the defense, but still you know you have someone that can step up and fill that role.”

It's been a journey for Bryan Thomas with the Jets, a story still unfinished.

……………………………………………………………….

Kellen Clemens is still kicking. He was competing for a starting job recently as last season’s training camp, eventually losing the quarterback competition to rookie slinger Mark Sanchez. Upon veteran Mark Brunell’s signing as designated mentor before 2010, Clemens appeared an ill fit in green and white. When the number two job wasn’t even put up for grabs by Head Coach Rex Ryan, it seemed the final thud had sounded on Clemens’ Jet descent. But prepare the trampoline, for Ryan announced that, after an impressive preseason, Clemens had a “pretty good” chance to make the team.

“Score!” Proclaimed a joking Clemens. “That’s a heck of a lot better than it could have been.” Clemens continued, saying, “the Jets have an awesome chance to win the Super Bowl this year and I’m excited about the opportunity to be a part of it.  I really am.  I’m still not at the point in my career where I’m going to say, ‘Hey, I’m just a (number) two (quarterback).’  This year, I’m just a three, but I have a great relationship with the guys in this locker room, with a lot of the coaches here and a lot of the people upstairs.  I’m excited to be here.  I hope that I’m here and we’ll just move forward with whatever the results are come cut day.”

………………………………………..

Speaking of Rex Ryan and proclamations, yesterday’s presser included other intriguing bits of information.

Are any starters playing against the Eagles, including recently injured Safety Brodney Pool? “None of the starters are playing.”

Is he concerned about Donovan Warren’s concussion? “No. It’s just like (Josh) Mauga.  Mauga missed (practices).  We had that goal-line scrimmage and he had the concussion.  He actually finished the practice and then came back and had the concussion.  He hasn’t played in a single preseason game.  Obviously, if you still have symptoms, then you don’t play.  It’s as simple as that.  It’s weird.  You go back and you think about many years ago, a guy would have a concussion and it was like, ‘No big deal.  He’ll be up next week.’  That’s not the case anymore and it shouldn’t be.  You’ve got to make sure they’re a 100 percent healthy.  That’s really what we’re doing.  It’s not like back in the days where he would have played.”

Was it tough waiving Aundrae Allison? ‘He did (have a decent summer).  He’s really an outstanding young man, but I just think that it was a deal where he really can only play receiver.  You talk about the different roles where (David) Clowney is ahead of him because he does play special teams.”

Anything to the Adalius Thomas rumors? “Well, we haven’t signed (him).  I think we need to play this game and find out exactly how we have the roster set up.”

A few thoughts on this preseason of hype, plus a rant, and practice notes

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Surely the tension and anticipation preceding this Jets season is unmatched in my life. But there have been plenty of summertime bores, too. You bet. 2003 wasn’t too thrilling, until justifiable panic ensued after Giants Linebacker Brandon Short broke Chad Pennington’s left hand during that oh so foreboding cross-town exhibition game. [Jason Seahorn and Osi Umenyiora know the deal. Eli Manning may have been lucky to escape the yearly Jets-Giants gauntlet with a mere laceration, if he indeed drew the short straw from fate] Short’s hit was a perfectly clean takedown from behind, the painful result chalked up to bad luck, more than anything else.

Sometimes it can feel too quiet… as if some elaborate setup were taking place. The stereotypical Jet fan, fretting from paranoia, is an image receding. But for those freak-out specialists still playing that role, they find justification in a checkered past. We all may have been slightly bored questioning whether Curtis Conway could adequately replace Laveranues Coles [that, uh, didn’t go so well] but damn it, sometimes a long lasting lull can benefit everybody.

In such a physically grueling game, the media dispatches usually bear bad news. Weekly injury reports are integrated within the culture of the sport. Drill Sergeant coaches may believe maladies somehow manageable, preventable via sound conditioning and intense practicing, but the fact is, players will get hurt. All types. Madden cover dudes? They get hurt. Special teams gunners? They get hurt. Kickers? They get hurt. Hell, kickers have gotten hurt celebrating.

It’s interesting to note, considering these vicious circumstances, some Jets fans are expressing a confidence that borders on hubris, projecting traits of invulnerability onto the athletes they revere. There’s certainly nothing wrong with having confidence. This is a potentially top shelf defensive team that has augmented its offense with pro-bowl caliber talent at major skill positions. The starting running back and quarterback are young and exciting, second year players potentially prepared to blossom. What could be more intriguing than that?

And yet, a strange sensation percolates while I attempt to assess the fan-base’s general pulse. Jets fans are enthusiastic, all right, supporting their team with an obsessive zeal that betrays pure and admirable passion. Something is always bound to hang up the hardcore, an issue causing ample debate. Usually it’s arguing projections and predictions, or optimism dueling with pessimism, maybe temerity and timidity going twelve rounds. But this year, in the midst of a positively frantic August, featuring Hard Knocks, skyrocketing expectations, intriguing newcomers to the fold, most of the fanatic’s talk has centered on contract negotiations.

Make no mistake; Darrelle Revis’ contract holdout shouldn’t be misconstrued as a distraction. Hardly. That does this scenario an injustice. It is the storyline defining this team. It’s a wild journalistic chase for the scoop. It’s Woody Johnson and Mike Tannenbaum defending their well entrenched positions. And right now, it’s the silence. But not the kind of silence suggesting borderline indifference, like the epic four-way quarterback competition probably inspired in ‘06.  [Most national analysts were sure that team would be an afterthought] The quiet from both camps, Revis and the management, regarding these talks, has people buzzing about the Jets on a National level. Were this issue ever to be resolved, it’d be like a playoff win before Week One.

And therein lies the rub: With or without Revis, it seems that certain segments of Jets fandom needs be reminded of one simple fact, in a sport that is often impossible to predict: Hype is not a shield. One only needs to turn back to the ’99 Jets for that reminder. Rightfully labeled a Super Bowl contender before the season, dreams of glory were quickly shattered, in the moment between Vinny Testaverde standing upright and writhing on the Old Meadowlands turf, clutching his Achilles.

In the message board era, where trash talk has become a subterranean art form, it’s an impossible proposition, to request fans enjoy the ride, instead of jumping straight to the parade. Everyone wants that dominant team, close to impervious. If the Jets are that, it won’t be because of the hype. And if they aren’t, the same holds true. They could be derailed by any number of unforeseen factors; unpredictable twists in an implacable game. But the hype is an illusion, so much perspective skewing mist, evaporating upon week one. And, I, for one, am eagerly anticipating the unveiling of real facts. They always trump the noise, the predictions, the August boasting, the contract negotiations. What we are left with is a game where anything can happen. That cuts both ways.

…………………………..

I do have a few notes on the Hofstra practice. Initially, it was not necessarily memorable for what occurred on the field, despite the players making a game effort. No, what I found personally noteworthy was the impressive Hofstra football facility, which to my surprise, no longer houses a team. [Yeah, I was way late to the party figuring that one out] Also leaping to my attention was the fantastic fan turnout, numbering over ten thousand, and the friendliness toward the masses exhibited by New York’s players after their day’s work was done. But, those two impressions would be nearly evaporated by a pointless incident. For, a man, apparently of middle-age, wearing a green shirt and gray pants, decided to walk onto the field of play, whereupon he posed for a few moments before being tackled and hauled away by security. The incident wasn’t too unnerving from a safety standpoint. The guy was corralled pretty quickly after being initially spotted, and though he did get the opportunity to pointlessly gesture for a few seconds; it was obvious to anyone watching that this shallow exercise was certainly not worth the bruises, or ensuing embarrassment.

This is something I truly can’t stand. For an individual to take it upon himself or herself to run out in front of a crowd and act like a jackass… it’s just so nonsensical. It’s a cheap grab for exposure, a desperate play for attention, recklessness which shows absolutely zero perspective. Now, perhaps this gentleman has a good excuse for his behavior. But if not, I just don’t understand.

…………..

Deposed Florida State coach Bobby Bowden stopped by Jets practice today. Bowden was in the news recently for claiming he’d been pushed out of his job by University Hierarchy, chiefly longtime friend T.K. Wetherell.

Kellen Clemens had a pass picked off by Eric Smith. Smith was on tenuous ground upon Rex Ryan’s arrival last August, but has persevered and fortified a place for himself on the roster. This time last year, it would have been a shocking development for Smith to outlast then defensive backfield teammate Kerry Rhodes as a Jet. But go figure. Somewhere a Jets fan who made the investment on an official Rhodes jersey shakes his head…

Tight-End Jeff Cumberland caught a pass in tight double coverage near the left pylon for a touchdown. Cumberland continues to impress in practice, and seems due for a big preseason performance. With a crowded offensive depth chart, especially in the backfield, and only two warm-up games remaining, the capable Cumberland better make it happen soon…

Mark Sanchez hit Keller on a quick curl following rollout, certainly a nifty short yardage pass that could get the talented tight end in rhythm early in games.

Sanchez also hit Braylon Edwards on a long bomb off play action, reminiscent of that impressive cold weather fling early in a loss against the Atlanta Falcons. Sanchez, on this perfectly temperate day, under-threw the ball. Imagine that. Edwards adjusted to the pass beautifully, and continues looking strong in practice.

A great play like Braylon Edwards' adjusting on a deep ball shouldn't have to share the spotlight with some dude crashing the field.

The practice was moved up to 5:15, from the original 6:00 time.

Game Recap: Jets 9 Panthers 3

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

Result: In a turgid affair that was absolute ugliness aesthetically, and pure Jets football strategically, New York’s dominating defensive backfield bailed out their sputtering offense, while grinding out a 9-3 preseason victory on the road against the Carolina Panthers. With Darrelle Revis still holding out, Antonio Cromartie, Kyle Wilson, and Jim Leonhard provided ample evidence that the Jets’ secondary could remain a definite strength, whether or not the League’s best corner reassumes his perch atop a dynamic depth chart. Though the Jets’ reinforced their offense after last season, and possess high expectations for the group, here was a victory that harkened to the raw ground and pound successes of 2009.

Top Players: In a first half that provided scant aerial theatrics, the performances of LaDainian Tomlinson and DeAngelo Williams were an offensive beacon. Tomlinson made the most of his three carries, racking up twenty-six yards. The multidimensional halfback also collected two catches, but he found little running room after securing the receptions. Tomlinson tallied most of his rushing yards on a twenty-yard burst from the five-yard line, which erased a third and thirteen during the Jets’ initial drive. Tomlinson is displaying satisfactory first-step quickness at this early juncture, and his pass catching talents have shown no sign of erosion.

Though the Jets’ first team defense impressed, shutting the Panthers out, their star running-back DeAngelo Williams was not corralled, also collecting twenty-six yards, and chalking up a 4.3 average while knifing through New York’s defensive line, occasionally eluding their fantastic linebackers.

Jets safety Jim Leonhard aborted an early Panthers possession with a nifty sideline interception, smoothly sliding over to help rookie corner Kyle Wilson, who himself was impressive, and hardly exploited by Carolina’s passing game. Leonhard also picked up a sack during a jailbreak blitz on Moore, whose head may have been ever so slightly spinning after opposing an elite defense on point.

It was a standout night for Jim Leonhard and the Jets secondary

Vernon Gholston is showing flashes at defensive end after his impact free tenure as linebacker, nabbing four solo tackles, two for a loss, throwing his weight with agression at the point of attack.

Kicker Nick Folk just may have been the brightest point of the evening for the Jets. His signing questioned by certain fretting fans throughout the off-season and into training camp, Folk racked up three field goals, from 43 yards in the first quarter, 36 in the second, and most impressively, 49 in the fourth. Folk, another year removed from hip surgery, just may be back in the form that made him one of the top kickers in the League.

Panthers defensive-ends Eric Moore and Everette Brown each had two sacks.

Sometimes maligned reserve cornerback Drew Coleman made a leaping interception in the fourth quarter against highly touted rookie Jimmy Clausen to secure the win for New York, sealing a fabulous night for their secondary.

Rough Nights: It was a first half that would have made any forward pass enthusiast wince.  Second year Jets starter Mark Sanchez had a terrible performance, overthrowing short, medium and deep targets with equal proficiency. He also appeared slow to identify blitz packages, failing to adequately compliment a strong New York rushing attack.

Sanchez failed to capitalize on favorable field position throughout his outing, provided by a generous Panthers special teams unit, with Jordan Pough and Armanti Edwards doing their best Ryan Mouton imitation. Well, Pough didn’t quite provide a traditional muff early in the first quarter, a bouncing Steve Weatherford punt clipping his foot, as he stood momentarily unaware.  Pough and Edwards’ errors resulted in six Jets points, and could have hurt even worse, had Sanchez been able to find a rhythm.

Carolina’s seemingly stout defense should not be overlooked while assessing Sanchez’s disappointing appearance, but it’d take a delirious optimist to provide a positive critique.

Fortunately for Sanchez, his quarterbacking was par for the course, on a night where his backup Mark Brunell also struggled mightily, and Panthers first stringer Matt Moore found his assortment of spirals swallowed by an opportunistic Jets secondary.  Moore may have thrown an interception, but his paltry 3.4 yard completion rate easily outdid Sanchez’s anemic 1.2. But if this were some sort of sick contest, Mark Brunell took the prize with an unfathomable 0.3. Safe check-downs, ahoy!

The Jets offensive line was far from sterling, allowing five sacks.

Notes:

It was an up and down night for rookie running back Joe McKnight, who fumbled and didn’t exactly light up the box score with twenty-eight yards rushing on eleven attempts. But he did return a punt in the fourth quarter for sixty-seven yards.

Kevin O’Connell went 0-3 in a short stint behind center.

Training Camp star Jeff Cumberland, a physical specimen with speed to burn at the tight end position, recorded two catches.

In unfortunate injury news, defensive lineman Ropati Pitoitua was severely hurt during tonight’s contest, suffering an Achilles tendon injury. Pitotua, a mountain of a man, was seen being carried by teammate Kris Jenkins on the sideline, eventually placed on a medical cart and wheeled toward the locker-room.

Quotes:

Head Coach Rex Ryan: “I liked the way our defense played in the first half, keeping them off the board… [Offensively] We have to do better than that. We got three turnovers down there in the red zone. We have to move the ball better. That was disappointing.”

Quarterback Mark Sanchez: “We kept putting ourselves in third and longs, which allowed them to play deep and forced us to take the stuff underneath… We need to be a little more efficient on first downs and score touchdowns in the red-zone.”

A Few Thoughts on Head Injuries, News and Notes from Camp

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Wow, has this first part of my weekly feature been tough to write. The subject matter concerns head injuries, and it will be tackled from strictly personal viewpoint.

Perhaps the simple shift from reporter to temporary first person essayist is proving jarring stylistically. But a confusing swirl of emotions probably bears more responsibility for this curious, numbing pause, causing a deep mental freeze, and preventing the necessary keypunching.

It started yesterday, as I did a daily cruise through baseballthinkfactory.com, a fantastic hub where hardball news nationwide is collected and presented for the connoisseur’s reading pleasure. I quite inevitably stumbled upon a fascinating report regarding Lou Gehrig, the iconic Yankees star thought to be killed in 1941 by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Gehrig’s stature, and amazing displayed courage, dictated that he become synonymous with the rare disease that took his life. The sickness is a medical conundrum. But while combing through the usual baseball articles yesterday, I made a stunning discovery, stumbling upon this article, written by Chris McGreal and featured in the Guardian.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/aug/17/lou-gehrig-disease-baseball-death

The piece, culling information from a soon to be published, peer reviewed medical journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology [Editor in Chief: Raymond A. Sobel] suggests that numerous blows to the head suffered throughout a relentless athletic career may have set Gehrig down a path of untimely demise. In fact, a heretofore-undiscovered disease, striking victims of repeated head injuries, may not even be amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, despite similar symptoms. In essence, Lou Gehrig may not have even died from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Too many pitches to the head, one too many hard headfirst slides into second, these may be real explanations for Gehrig’s death, instead of vague guesses.

I was left flabbergasted. Of course, the dark irony of this situation, at least concerning Gehrig, is grimly apparent. But there was another story here, churning through my conscience, as if an ignored, inconvenient epiphany was rapping maniacally upon the door, impossible to ignore, yet difficult to engage.

A night out took my mind off the issue, how I had viewed athletes as a fan, and for most of my life. I awoke at two in the morning, for reasons unknown. Frustrated, after tossing and turning, I turned to the television, eventually engaged by an episode of Real Sports. Gumbel and company were all over this story, running a follow-up feature on Harvard grad Christopher Nowinski, a former Pro Wrestler who saw his promising career derailed by concussions. Nowinski threw himself into studying brain damage, publishing a book, challenging the National Football League to first acknowledge their relationship with the problem, before initiating proactive measures to protect it’s athletes.

The stories are well known already, and terrifying, former players driven to the darkest depths due to head injuries, their prior livelihood spent smashing the opposition perhaps an explanation.  There’s Andre Waters, just for one, who committed suicide, his brain tissue deteriorated.

Nowinski and his team are being praised in medical circles for breakthrough research. As time rolls onward, more evidence may surface, deeply human tragedies that chill the bone, contemporary cautionary tales that must be recognized.  When it was revealed that the late Chris Henry had been living with brain damage; who among us didn’t consider the consequences? As I watched the Real Sports feature, I was aghast at the state of these strong men, either already gone, hobbling, or barely able to breathe. I pondered the fragility of our bodies, and brains, felt the scar on my own head.

Of course concussions are dangerous. Is it really shocking they could lead to long-term damage? Is it really surprising that such a violent sport would yield bodies broken in the name of transient glories? See, I thought of myself, growing up as a fan, believing these football players somehow above the same laws of frailty that apply to every life. Common sense refuses to compute, in the name of the game, and entertainment. Those monstrous shots delivered by defenders to prone receivers become highlight fodder for Youtube instead of dangerous collisions. Vicious practices are old school, not excessive. I guess the real question is, could football even exist in this rationalistic light? The great thing about sports is their close relation to art, activities of direct participation or observation that rise above the normal bounds of reality, teaching us to strive and dream. But the difference is, movies have trained stuntmen. Writings and paintings are visions, fascinating because they aren’t real, but something else entirely… But these players are human beings. They aren’t polygons on a virtual football field. There aren’t landing pads waiting to catch their fall. No one, except those within their own fraternity, could possibly understand the commitment.

And so, as a lifelong football junkie, and current learning journalist, I am left convinced that those aforementioned, mixed feelings are the result of two clear conclusions: That something must be done. And I don’t know what.

To the League’s credit, they have donated money to further research. But I hope my dilemma, found in thought number two, is not shared. Because something does need to change. Drastically. Quickly.

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Center Nick Mangold shared his logical rationale for missing the first preseason game, along with other insights. “I just didn’t feel right,” said Mangold, regarding Monday. “I don’t have the medical definition or anything. In five years of being in the NFL, I’ve had my share of bumps, bruises, and everything in between. This time it just didn’t feel right. I was fortunate we took it seriously  and the chance to sit down for it.”

Mangold didn’t believe he had been concussed. “As far as I know,” before the blunt center added, “I wasn’t puking, so I guess that’s a good start.” Mangold believes he’ll be able to suit up for the second preseason game against Carolina. “I would assume. That’s my assumption going into it. I wouldn’t see any reason for a change.” He also offered an early assessment of the offensive line.  “We’re coming along.  The battle at left guard is still going on, in full fury.  It’s still a work in progress in watching to see how it all plays out, and trying to help out.  Today it seemed like it was a little bit of a rough one for both of them.  Just trying to keep them going, and keep them fighting.  Other than that, I think we’re doing some good things in protection, (we did) some good things in the game.  Our guys picked up some blitzes and were pretty good at making different calls and everything.  I’m excited about the progress that’s been made so far, but it’s not time to sit back and relax,” finished Mangold.

In light of continuing discoveries about head injuries, no malady should be considered minor and no decision to rest questioned, as Nick Mangold did against the Giants. Mangold feels fine now, but caution should always come first. His mature and patient approach should become the rule.

……………………………………….

Braylon Edwards, who had a strong effort against the Giants, was eager to advance past the experience, from a team standpoint. “It’s self-explanatory,” began the bearded ball-hawk. “If you watched the game, you saw two halves.  (Head Coach Rex Ryan) told us we had to step it up (in) the second half.  It’s not about the one, two, or three (string players), it’s about representing the Jets.  (During) the second half, we have to (play with) the same intensity that we have in the first half.  (We have to) come out and sustain games.” Edwards would later add, “We were (in Cortland, NY) right after the game trying to get better.  Things we did wrong, (we are) trying to correct.  The first part of practice was about getting better at what we did wrong.  I’m happy we’re here.  (Today) wasn’t the prettiest practice, but in some sense I think we got better.”

………………………

Rex Ryan may have been better served ignoring the indignation of Tony Dungy, who had some harsh comments as it concerned the Jets head coaches’ liberal use of profanity. But Ryan, ever himself, did in fact offer a rebuttal. “I’ve been a big admirer of Tony Dungy. I’m sure a lot of people are. I felt that he unfairly judged me. That was disappointing to me. I made a phone call to Tony and I’ve invited him to come to camp, or anytime, to spend a day with me and the organization. I think that maybe he’ll have a different take on it.”

Of course, Tony Dungy wasn’t the sole topic on today’s agenda.

On the drop-off between the starters and backups during the Giants game: “Skill is one, but I thought it was the intensity. Obviously, the ones were all excited, but when we came out of halftime, we were flat. We missed a field goal and then they hit the big play. [Dwight] Lowery had great coverage, but sometimes it’s hard to defend a perfectly thrown ball and the kid [Victor Cruz] made an unbelievable catch. After that, it snowballed. It looked like we had no fire. There were some guys hitting people out there but it just wasn’t consistent. The intensity wasn’t consistent.”

On Nick Mangold: “They’ve done all those types of tests. He’s fine, he had a little bit of a headache. I said “Forget it” so I played doctor on that [laughs]. He’s fine today. He was out there and he’s fine.”

And the pivotal left-guard competition: “I thought both played pretty well. It was good for Vlad [Ducasse] to get in there, see what it’s like in an NFL game, the intensity and everything else that goes along with it. Now, he’ll be more prepared for it the next time. But I thought he did OK. I thought [Matt] Slauson did pretty well. I was happy with the way Slauson played.”

A Personal Take on the Revis uproar, and other Notes [from Camp]

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

While understandably venting about contract disputes between millionaire athletes and billionaire owners, fans can be forgiven for basing their opinions from a perspective of rigid practicality. But it is a fundamental mistake.

Ego clashes have occurred in the realm of human affairs since the origins of man, many over petty issues easily resolved with the simplest of conversations. Often, a sound middle ground between two parties is never found. Throw millions of dollars into the mix, and one should be sure to cast aside any expectation of sensibility to enter into the proceedings.

Oh, sure, grievances are occasionally resolved magnanimously, even in the National Football League, a land where one false move can end a career, and the contracts are not guaranteed, aside from the precious allotment of bonus money. But considering these whacked-out circumstances, it’s not the slightest bit surprising when negotiations collapse.

Now, here’s where Darrelle Revis is barraged by a wave of rationality from an infuriated fan-base, because it’s easy to be pragmatic when observing a situation from a detached perch. And no matter how entertaining, inspiring, and uplifting the symbiotic fan to athlete relationship may be, it is an inarguably impersonal one. So here come the pleas: Come on Revis, don’t throw away a potentially special season on financial trench warfare! Come on Revis, you held out for this very same rookie contract, how could there be a legitimate act two without something drastic, and regrettable, taking place, like a season-long stalemate, or a trade! [Which, a few months ago, would have shocked everyone. The fact that it would not, at this point, shows how ugly the squabbling has gotten] Come on Revis, how could you do this to your teammates! [But they understand, the fans are counting themselves as teammates here]

But sorry folks, we are hardly dealing with a cut and dry scenario, here. If you ever saw a co-worker fired because he blew out his knee during the exhibition workday that didn’t even count toward the yearly pie chart breakup, then you could properly assess this situation. Nor can the writer really understand. Has a well-compensated scribe ever broke his finger on the keyboard and lost the next four years on his contract, without so much a grievance, because his boss was really worried about proper comma placement post-surgery? [Well hopefully that’s never happened, anyway. Otherwise, writers… assemble!]

Information can be received, discussed, public relations machinations analyzed. But getting legitimately infuriated over the crazy gamesmanship between athletes, owners, and agents is an unhealthy trip, and one likely to constantly repeat. However this whole issue is finally resolved, it probably won’t make sense, anyway. Sports never did, and yet some of us still ask.  Revis has his right as an individual to make choices, and so does Jets management.  Woody Johnson has to worry about countless different outcomes to any business decision, in terms of precedent setting and future deals. All the rest is noise, interesting noise, reportable noise, but noise all the same, until a resolution.

Should fans really be picking sides between players and owners, without walking a mile in either shoes?

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New Jets Receiver Santonio Holmes shared a few thoughts on fellow newcomer Kyle Wilson, the rookie corner who is now an invaluable member of the secondary, as Revis-gate lurches onward with no sign of stopping. “He’s got a lot to learn,” said Holmes of Wilson, “He’s been asking a lot of questions. He’s been willing to learn. He’s always in his coach’s ear asking for advice. He’s always talking to me. I’m always pulling him to the side.  I just found out we have the same agent. That makes it a little easier for us to communicate amongst each other even though we’re playing on opposite sides of the ball.” Holmes is now a well-established pro, a venerable Super Bowl hero, but he remembers the travails of being a rookie. “You have to feel confident. Confidence comes in practice. Every time he comes up to me, I’m always giving him advice on what he’s doing wrong. If he’s doing something right, I tell him ‘Good job’, I think it’s building his confidence going against number one receivers like myself, Braylon [Edwards] and Jerricho Cotchery.”

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Head Coach Rex Ryan lent his opinion on today’s training camp happenings, blunt quotes regarding the Darrelle Revis contingent sure to capture headlines. But he began with a quick assertion of the morning practice. “The defense dominated the practice today,” said Ryan. “It was a good practice, a good physical practice.”

Center Nick Mangold took a nasty shot to the head when Sione Pouha jumped a snap count during individual drills. “He literally… got hit in the temple. He was a little dinged,” said Ryan, who didn’t appear remotely troubled about the injury, even cracking that Pouha may have found a new strategy for handling Mangold in practice.

In a rebuttal sure to lead in most papers tomorrow, Ryan publically expressed his displeasure over allegations levied against Jets upper management by Darrelle Revis’ rep Neil Schwartz. Schwartz claimed that the Jets blatantly lied about team owner Woody Johnson offering to personally join the discussion fray last Friday. Johnson countered that the offer was legitimate, but rebuffed. Ryan had an offer of his own. “That’s a blatant joke to me,” said an incredulous Ryan. “This is what I would like to have happen. Everyone put their cards on the table. Have Darrelle come here, with anyone he wanted. And we’ll have Mr. Johnson here. In fact, this is what I think we oughta do… we’ll call off practice. We’ll have our whole team there, and meet… Let’s do this. I’m inviting them to come in.”* Ryan tapped the podium as he spoke, seemingly growing more frustrated with every syllable.

The battle for number two quarterback never existed. Mark Brunell is the backup, leaving Kellen Clemens in limbo, without a clear role on the team. “We bought him in to be our number two quarterback,” said Ryan of Brunell, “That was pretty much pre-determined.”

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*Remember, this all makes sense!

Thursday Camp Report: Buckets of Rain

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan had a wealth of information and opinions to share following an encouraging Thursday practice, where the team successfully dealt with adverse weather conditions, battling the element of precipitation. “I never really counted on this… but it was a great opportunity because you got to be able to throw a wet football… you got to hold on to that thing,” said the second year coach. Being the Jets play in an open air Stadium on the Northeast, capably adjusting to the whims of nature is a necessity. In fact, with their ball control philosophy, the Jets have been practically designed to withstand aerial derailing conditions. Never too early to experience what could be a raw reality at anytime during the regular season, or beyond.

Ryan was enthused about veteran running back LaDainian Tomlinson’s desire to score a touchdown at the goal line, amid the downpour and in the face of an offensive and defensive dog pile. “It was great to see LaDainian tell the offense, ‘hey listen, don’t worry about it… I’ll put it right over the top.’ He was all excited going in there…. But then we fumble the snap. I was like, ‘God I wanted him to score so bad, he was so passionate about it.” Tomlinson is a prolific touchdown machine. Even amid a 2009 where his statistics plummeted, the future hall of famer still managed to wrack up twelve tallies. Reaching the paint is probably second nature to Tomlinson at this juncture, a strength not lost on his head coach.  “He really is a great goal-line, short yardage runner. You look at the numbers [he’s had] in the past. And that’s critical. Remember Thomas [Jones] last year did a tremendous job in that area.” Ryan is seeing nothing but positive signs from the redemption seeking running back. “You know what you were going to get – as soon as you met with him for five minutes, you know what you were going to get. Just that competitive… you can’t be that great and not have that competitive fighting spirit… our doctors never wanted him to take the conditioning test, but he absolutely refused, said ‘No, I’m definitely doing it.’ He’s ready, there’s no doubt.”

It was a rainy day in Cortland, but Rex Ryan has a sunny disposition, especially regarding the aggressive approach of LaDainian Tomlinson.

It was a positive session for returning nose-tackle Kris Jenkins, whose health could determine whether this defense is compared with contemporary units, or among more legendary company. [Well, his health and the return of a certain missing cornerback] “It was a nice, physical practice,” said Ryan, before adding, “Big Jenk was wrecking things in there… he’s doing really well.”

Unsurprisingly, Ryan was practically in a state of reverie while discussing the vagaries of goal-line practice, hardly discouraged by the tempest. Quite the opposite actually, the Head Coach seemed positively emboldened by the convulsion. “The only way you can practice goal-line is to go full [contact]… It actually worked out great… if you’re going to have this kind of weather, who cares? Put it down there and let’s see what happens. Because there’s no hiding in the goal line… You’re either a hitter or you’re not, guys are going at it, somebody’s going to get knocked back or you’re going to get knocked back.”

It’s no secret to Jets fans, or any other football connoisseurs for that matter, that New York possesses one of the deepest and most talented receiving corps in the league. The savvy reacquisition of Laveranues Coles, to pick up the slack for temporarily suspended newcomer Santonio Holmes, only strengthens the unit. Ryan is certainly appreciative of the talent compiled by free wheeling General Manager Mike Tannenbaum, who has totally reconstructed the receiving depth chart since last season. “This is a deep, deep group,” said Ryan, “and clearly we are going to throw the ball effectively… but our philosophy is ground and pound, so if you want to put more guys to cover our wide-outs because of the kind of talent we have, then we’re going to run the ball at you.  If you want to come down and put nine guys down there… we’re going to beat you quick with the pass.”

No real news on the Revis front, but Ryan did defend his tendency to exalt his players before the press.“I’ve stated all along the kind of player I think Darrelle is… people want to throw it in our face, ‘you shouldn’t say it.’ The tape doesn’t lie.”

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Linebacker Bart Scott didn’t have any rainy day blues. “I love it,” said Scott. “Football is an all weather game. Whenever you can play on the muddy field in the rain, it takes you back to your Pee Wee days.” Scott was in total agreement with his coach about the importance of the goal line drill.  “I love it. That’s where a man comes out. You can really point out the non-physical guys on your team and get rid of them. This is all about dropping the sack and who’s bigger.”

"Meet your tutor, Bart."

He also shared extremely interesting analysis of key rookie lineman Vladimir Ducasse, who may replace departed veteran Alan Faneca. “You just have to light his young (expletive) up,” said Scott regarding Ducasse. “You teach him by making him break.  You tell him things like whenever he was pulling, he would sit off the ball.  His weight was (on) his heals.  That’s an indication that he is doing that to clear himself so he won’t run into the center (to) pull.  Those types of things, after you defeat him and smack him around a little bit, you send it to him in a text message,” finished Scott with a laugh. Tough lessons in training camp…*

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* You just know I wanted to throw in a “Hard Knocks” pun right there. Cringe! Got to love it.

Brad Smith: The Specialist

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

CORTLAND, NY – “You’re just running with it,” says Brad Smith. He’d just been asked a question regarding the complicated art of returning kicks in the National Football League. The answer may seem like a simplification. Not so.

After further discussions regarding this highly specialized task, where only the fleet and fearless qualify, it becomes clear that the return game is one of those rare peculiarities in life where hundreds of different details collide over the course of mere moments, occurring with such rapidity that the people participating are left with similar impressions as detached observers. What just happened? Who knows? The return man pivoted right to set up a blocker for an onrushing gunner who was leaning left which could have blown up the play which could be a big one if said return man can somehow dance left after the aforementioned block occurs, an action that must happen immediately for the next four blocks to line up perfectly, and oh yeah, the kicker’s lurking back there somewhere ready to sprawl out like a human speed-bump. So sure, “just running with it,” saves everybody a great deal of time.

Smith was a College Star at Missouri, but has been a survivor at the Pro Level. Converted to a jack of all offensive trades after being drafted in 2006, he has hung on long enough to finally exhibit his considerable talents on the professional level. Playing for a team with fanatical fans in the largest city in the world, Smith seems primed to breakout, especially after establishing himself as a legitimate threat to radically alter games toward the end of last season.

In the penultimate contest of ’09, a critical victory against a compliant Colts team, Smith delivered a team record 106-yard kick return touchdown as the second half began. The longest play in Jets’ history, Smith’s feat sent New York sailing toward a key victory, before they thrashed Cincinnati at home one week later. Smith once again was the ringleader, embarrassing the Bengals’ defense, wreaking havoc out of the Wildcat formation. Indeed, the final act of ’09 places Smith at the doorstep of recognition few thought possible while he quietly collected experience at receiver, flashing the occasional glimmer of brilliance.  Certainly a capable a return man… which, as illustrated, says plenty.

Brad Smith has earned his shot to dazzle through a full season.

Smith couldn’t have conceived this route in his quarterbacking days. “Never would have thought,” he says when asked if he anticipated making contributions in the harsh realm of special teams. He reflected on his college days, “You score a touchdown… then you get another turn,” before sharing his current perspective, “It really makes you appreciate another aspect of the game.”

And how does it feel when flying downfield from the opposite end zone, like in Indy? “It feels good, kind of a relief. We had great blocks lined up, and I had to make one guy miss.” Smith has been instilled with a positive attitude from a lauded coach. “You expect it to be a big play… Coach Westhoff always stresses: don’t assume it’s going to be a bad play.” Obviously Smith must have a checklist of mental tasks committed to memory while dashing up field, but his eyes are usually focused on one area. “Mainly the blockers, you want to setup blocks, and look to setup defenders [to go] one way.”  And if there’s any fear Smith had to overcome in the face of all that speed and chaos, he isn’t letting it on. “Well you aren’t a slow eater,” he said, “You’re moving just as fast as them.”

As camp begins, McKnight rushes toward better days

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

CORTLAND, NY – April 30th, opening day for Jets rookie minicamp, is probably not a happy memory for Jets rookie running back Joe McKnight. The former U.S.C. standout endured a rough introduction to professional football, upchucking on the sidelines and dropping multiple passes. But nobody, least of all athletes, should be judged entirely by a single occasion of disappointing performance. So very few protested when the somewhat embarrassing occurrence was promptly swept into inconsequence by Head Coach Rex Ryan, who defended McKnight against a case of nerves, before amusingly remarking “I thought Joe McKnight looked good, when he wasn’t throwing up.”

After a poor start, rookie RB Joe McKnight is eager to prove himself. (JetsInsider.com Photo)

This was, of course, a player with an impressive resume, who New York identified as a very valuable fourth round selection, aggressively trading up for his services. As a Trojan, McKnight was burdened by inevitable comparisons to Reggie Bush, another multifaceted talent at tailback. Bush departed Southern California a venerable highlight reel hero, and casted a daunting shadow for his heir.  Unsurprisingly, McKnight couldn’t quite equal the feats of his predecessor, dogged by injuries and impossible expectations. But to deem his achievements unimpressive would be an unfair analysis. McKnight piled up just over a thousand yards in his final college season, and contributed an eye-popping 7.4 yards per carry in 2008 while battling nasty assorted maladies, such as turf toe.  Sure, any NFL team would be interested, but the Jets, possibly salivating at the possibility of a versatile threat complimenting the bulldozing Shonn Greene for years to come, leapt at the opportunity to nab a potentially highly undervalued asset. Sound reasoning leading to a high upside maneuver… and the very early returns? Not good.

For April’s temporary infamy would be reconsidered in light of another worrisome setback. Just days before the official launch of training camp, McKnight failed his conditioning run. Considering his early trials, this latest development was certainly surprising. Surely McKnight would have worked double-time to avoid any other blunders that could be easily perceived as poor harbingers. And yet, it took a second test for the rookie to pass.

Standing under a canopy following the morning foray, McKnight patiently outlined a personal interpretation of his recent struggles. “It was a bad day,” he said, later opining, “I burned myself out.” The rookie did not seem eager to banish the experience from his memory bank. “I’m not going to forget about it,” he said resolutely, later claiming to be unbothered by the opinions of others. “Once I’m on the field, I don’t care about people’s perceptions.” Most telling was McKnight’s admission that he “Never gave [himself] time to rest,” perhaps suggesting weariness accumulated from months of hard training.

McKnight’s defense is a plausible one. That he may have worked too hard. Or it could have been another bad day. Either way, both he and the Jets hope better ones are ahead, and soon. He did have an encouraging practice, absorbing a brutal collision early on with James Ihedigbo after rocketing through the line of scrimmage with a bolt-like burst.  McKnight was no worse for wear after the hit, eating another brutal shot in the secondary as the session wound down.  It was an active practice, and if repeated, the kind of display that could set all questioning aside. For now, the Jets could care less about McKnight approximating Bush. They’d gladly take Joe McKnight, the high-reward guy they traded up for.

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