Archive for July, 2012

Ricky Sapp’s Road to Redemption

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Ricky Sapp’s road to the New York Jets has been paved with perseverance and dedication. In a career that started out with certainty of NFL fame and fortune, Sapp, a former track star, would have to hurdle obstacles of adversity just to continue living out his dream.

“People really don’t have any idea what it’s been like. It’s been tough. I was down and out,” he said.

Following a hellish three-year introduction to the National Football League, which included seeing his stock slip from potential first-round pick to fifth-round after thought, a grueling rehabilitation with his right ACL and having his heart questioned, Sapp has found a home in New York.

“I’m glad I made it through the storm and playing with a great group of guys.”

Once a 5-star recruit from Bamberg-Ehrhardt High School (SC), the freakish talent tallied 152 tackles and 22 sacks in his junior and senior seasons. The three-sport letterman was a speed rusher with a knack for a burst off the line of scrimmage. He was rated the number one weakside linebacker in the country out of high school and had many offers from some of the nation’s top collegiate programs including  Clemson, Oklahoma, NC State, Florida State and Georgia.

Backing up Gaines Adams in Clemson, Sapp played in every game his freshman year before being named the starter his sophomore season. With his junior year filled with expectations of greatness, he suffered a torn right ACL — never fully re-cuperating from the injury. He admitted to playing through his senior season at sixty percent and his draft stock suffered because of it.

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Is Ricky Sapp this year's Aaron Maybin (above)? (JetsInsider.com Photo).

The Philadelphia Eagles selected him in the fifth round in the 2010 NFL Draft, in a move that was considered by many draft experts as a steal. The only thing that was stolen, however, was Sapp’s time in the pros. He re-injured his right knee during preseason and missed his entire rookie campaign. The following season Sapp was released from the Eagles after continuing to have problems with his right knee. Reports were swirling around the team that he had “quit” on his teammates after not showing up to training camp. Sapp denied those reports.

“I would never in my life just quit,” he told BleedingGreenNation.com, an Eagles blog. “I’ve just been dealing with this knee for a long time and I bust my behind to get it back right and it just gives me more problems.”

The Jets, who have a marked propensity for plucking “unwanted” players and turning them around, signed Sapp to their practice squad on October 31, 2011. He’d be cut and re-signed before eventually making the active roster for good on December 29, 2011.

Sapp was candid in reminiscing about his long road to where he currently stands.

“It was definitely a hit to me mentally – it was a long fall down. But, like I said, I had to re-focus. I had to get back to being healthy. It’s been a long road. I’ve been blessed to be around a great group of people and great organization,” he said.

Now fully healthy, the battle-tested edge rusher has the pieces in place for a breakout 2012 campaign with the Gang Green. One of those pieces is training camp roommate and traveler of a similar path, Aaron Maybin, a Penn State standout and first-round pick by the Bills only to be hampered by a series of bad timing and unfortunate events.

“We have a great relationship. Learning from him and seeing what he did last year, he’s been a great help. He’s always helping me out,” Sapp said.

Maybin, looking for an increased role after breaking out with the Jets in the second half of last season, sees a little bit of himself in Sapp.

“When you look at us, from a body-type standpoint we’re almost exactly the same type of guys – height, weight and speed in particular. He’s got a chip on his shoulder just like I do. He’s had to prove himself his whole career. We really identify with each other. I’m one of his biggest fans,” Maybin said. \

With Rex Ryan stating the expected possibility of Maybin’s role increasing in 2012, Sapp seems poised to assume the role of Ryan’s vaunted DPR (designated pass rusher). Since the team has opened camp at SUNY Cortland’s facilities, he has been nothing short of impressive — consistently putting pressure and collapsing the pocket on the second unit.

For Sapp, who has yet to make an impact in an NFL game, he humbily relishes the opportunity to fulfill the dream he had since high school.

“I’m still trying to get better. I just want to help out where ever I can.”

DAY 2 THOUGHTS: Sanchez, others shine in rain

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

CORTLAND, N.Y. – The heavens opened up on the second day of training camp for the Jets at SUNY Cortland, and not just because Tim Tebow was present. On the first day that practice was made open to the public, thousands of fans — a few of whom were actually bashing the Florida Gator product — stayed to see what’s in store for their team as the 2012 season approaches.

QUARTERBACK “BATTLE”:

As the rain poured down fans cheered as players like Mark Sanchez, Aaron Maybin and Ricky Sapp shined despite the sloppy field conditions. In the team’s 7-on-7’s and 11-on-11’s drills Sanchez and Tebow traded snaps. And for each completed pass by either player a separate part of the crowd roared. As the drills continued it was easy to tell the team was responding to the faithfully boisterous crowd.

“We got some of the best fans in the world. You guys saw the conditions out here, it was raining, thundering. I definitely didn’t see anyone go anywhere. The fans were still energetic and loud for the entire practice. Stuff like that doesn’t just keep us into it but raises the overall tempo of practice. We’re out here feeding off the energy of our fans,” Maybin said.

Tebow, a player who’s developed a reputation as a poor practice player in Denver, struggled in the rain. As the team worked on corner fade routes, Tebow routinely threw weak balls — receivers had to slow up and wait for the ball. Sanchez, however, continually threw to an area on the field where the receiver was going to be — something that has plagued the USC product in his career.

DEFENSIVE STOPPERS:

On the defensive side of the ball Maybin and Sapp highlighted the linebackers unit, as well as the newly acquired Yeremiah Bell. A team leader and defensive mainstay in Miami, Bell nearly picked up two passes — making two very athletic break-ups in the process. He’s seemed to fit and blend in with this team right away, not missing a beat filling the hole left by Jim Leonhard.

Jeremy Kerley (above) was out of practice with a hamstring injury and called out by Rex Ryan. (JetsInsider.com Photo).

As for Maybin and Sapp, the two speedy outside linebackers wreaked havoc on the edge all morning long. According to Rex Ryan, Maybin’s been a standout early on. With a full off-season under his belt he will be in a bigger role as an outside linebacker, but don’t be surprised to see him on special teams as well. Mike Westhoff loves his speed and his “hidden depth” so much that he was being used as the right gunner on the team’s punt unit. Sapp has a history of injuries, but his speed rush mentality is reminiscent of Maybin’s skill set and could play the role he played last season. Sapp regularly bull-rushed back-up right tackle Stephen Heyer and applied pressure on the quarterback.

KERLEY’S INSULT TO INJURY:

Perhaps the biggest story of the day was the news that second-year wideout Jeremy Kerley is officially in Ryan’s dog house. Ryan said in his press conference following the wet practice that Kerley needed to “step it up” and that he wasn’t happy with him this off-season. Kerley missed practice today with a hamstring tweak, but Ryan hinted towards the former Horned Frog having trouble adjusting to Sparano’s new offensive scheme.

INTERESTING TIDBITS:

Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone was in attendance today. The Orange head coach was a former offensive line coach during the Herm Edwards regime. His team will be playing at MetLife Stadium against the USC Trojans on September 8th, just a day before the Jets open up their season at home against the Buffalo Bills.

A team source told me that when you think a kicker shanked a kick in practice, it may have been on purpose. Often during practices, kickers have accuracy drills where they try and kick either upright. That tidbit made me wonder if Josh Brown’s two misses of 40+ yards are something to be aware of or pass of as just another team drill.

ODDS & ENDS:

An odd sighting to end practice, as reporters huddled underneath the interview tents during the downpour Tebow wasn’t going to let a little rain stop him from strutting his stuff. He ran from the practice field – shirtless — to the locker room past reporters and cameramen who all seemed puzzled yet surprised by the noteworthy passerby. The reason he was shirtless? No one knows for sure.

Jets Worth the Weight

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

CORTLAND, N.Y. – In Tony Sparano’s first offensive meeting with his new team, he had one word written on the white board as the players filed in and took their seats: “PHYSICAL”. The one-word message was simple: be the most physical team on the field for 60 minutes and don’t let up.

“That has been one of Coach Sparano’s main points for us this season. He wants us to be a physically intimidating team,” second-year quarterback Greg McElroy said Saturday.

On their way to back-to-back AFC Championship appearances, the Jets prided themselves as being ‘bullies’, popping off at the mouth and then popping helmets afterwards. But as the Jets lethargically finished the season with a blase 8-8 record, missing the playoffs for the first time in the Rex Ryan era, the fourth-year head coach knew he needed to bring back the nasty.

“We’re staying on the same formula. This is what we had as a blueprint for our team. I want to play like a Jet. I want guys to understand what that means. We want [the opposing] team at halftime being down and deflated,” Ryan said Friday from SUNY Cortland’s Hall of Fame room.

Aaron Maybin, in his first off-season with the team, credits strength coach Bill Hughan's program for his jump in weight. (JetsInsider.com Photo).

Before the Jets can deflate an opposing team, first they had to inflate their endurance, strength and speed. The guy who has had a big role in the team’s re-dedication to the weight room is none other than strength and conditioning coach Bill Hughan — who’s received praise from multiple players about his off-season conditioning program.

“We talked about in the off-season really putting the emphasis on putting on a little more muscle mass. Just making sure that I maintain the weight in my nutrition and workout regiments has been huge. I’ve been talking with Coach Hughan a lot, who put us through a great off-season,” Sanchez, who’s upped his weight from 218 lbs. to 230 lbs, said Thursday.

According to McElroy, Hughan’s approach is not just to go in and be a gym rat, but to go about it the right way. Before players can even lift a dumbbell, they must go through correctives —  a series of stretches that loosen up hips, joints, muscles all to avoid potential injury.

Players like Muhammed Wilkerson think Hughan’s program has been the difference for a bigger, stronger, faster Jets team in 2012.

“Bill’s helped everyone improve in the off-season. Guys came in here bigger, stronger and faster – that just goes to show his system in place has been huge,” he said.

During the team’s off-season, Ryan was proud to report a 98% attendance rate during the team’s voluntary work-outs prior to mini-camp in May. The results were evident. Guys’ numbers shot up, and body fat shot down according to Aaron Maybin, who’s upped his weight from 229 to 243 pounds.

“Look at guys like myself, Kenrick [Ellis], Bart [Scott] – guys that really made strides this off-season in their physique and boosted our weight room numbers. That’s a tribute not only to how hard guys are working, but the program Bill has us on,” Maybin said.

Hughan’s program, who was unavailable for comment, is the groundwork for Ryan’s blueprint of getting back to a physically imposing and intimidating team.

“When you talk about getting back to the basics of Jets football that’s part of what our M.O. is. We want to have that tag of being a bully team. We want to be a physically imposing team and carry that scary aspect to opposing teams. When you look at it, intimidation is a hug part of everything and just being physically prepared and physically stronger than the other team,” Maybin said.

“You want to go out there and be dominant. You want to dominant every play,” Wilkerson said.

With Bill Hughan’s best laid plan carried out, transitioning back to that smash-mouth, physical style of play will be worth the wait until September.

Westhoff Divulges Details from Leg Injury

Friday, July 27th, 2012

CORTLAND, N.Y. — Everyone knows Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff is one tough son of a gun; cancer survivor, specials teams innovator, master talent evaluator, cursing enthusiast. Yesterday at the team’s check-in day on the SUNY Cortland campus, however, his tough guy reputation grew a little bigger.

For Westhoff, it was his first public appearance with the team since recovering from a gruesome knee injury in late May. He missed the majority of the Jets’ rookie and mini-camps after surgery on his left leg — the same leg that a titanium prosthesis was placed in 2008.

A bone marrow cancer survivor — a malignant tumor was found on the same leg in 1988, Westhoff heard a clicking sound while visiting his son in Indianpolis. The sound was enough to have the special teams innovator go to a local hospital for x-rays. While in the hospital, awaiting to take those very same x-rays, Westhoff slipped in the bathroom and the “really thick” custom-made prosthetic snapped. He would have surgery afterwards, an occurrence that’s happened several times since the cancer scare.

“I was shocked. I don’t know how it happened,” he said. “The doctors didn’t know how it happened.”

Sidelined and bed-ridden for a short-period of time, he handed the special teams duties over to assistant Ben Kotwica, whom he spoke with everyday. He stayed in touch with the unit to know there was still a lot of sloppiness, according to him.

One might think for a football lifer like Westhoff, being away from the game would be painful. He said Thursday, however, that it “wasn’t as bad as you might think”. “I had no choice,” he said, “so it was easy that way.”

Now back with the team as they embark on the Jets 2012 pilgrimage to the Lombardi Trophy he’s accompanied by a cane, but that won’t slow him down.

“I’m looking forward to getting back to football.”

After describing his knee as “being held together by tissue” he would later state that the whole experience “not being as difficult as you’d think”.

Tough times don’t last, Mike Westhoff does.

JETS 2012 ARRIVAL: Cortland Cure-all?

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

CORTLAND, N.Y. — Come Hell or high water, the Jets 2012 season is off and running. Not thunder, not rain and not even an incumbent tornado could stop the Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow and — yes, even Darrelle Revis, albeit fashionably late — from getting to the team’s training camp grounds of the SUNY Cortland campus.

The Cortland campus, a community littered with red but surrounded by green, has been a happy home for the Gang Green, who went to two straight AFC Championship games since moving their training camp from Hofstra University in 2009. And last season’s 8-8 debacle where the Jets missed the playoffs? The team practiced at their season facility in Florham Park, N.J.

Players and coaches alike both acknowledge the “magic” the Cortland campus held in seasons past and are excited for the bond that’s created because of it.

“The drive in was exciting,” guard Brandon Moore said Thursday as the team arrived for player check-in, “just the anticipation of overcoming the past.”

Of course much has been made for the in-house feuding and late-season dramatics that seemed more reminiscent of the cast of the “Jersey Shore” than the team that calls Jersey home. Fellow linemate D’Brickashaw Ferguson agreed that their time in Cortland will be a great aid in putting the 2011 season further behind them.

“Time cures all, the more we practice the better off we’ll be. This will be a time for better focus on team goals and just center everything around football,” Ferguson said.

Is it Jets Training Camp or Tebow Training Camp? (JetsInsider.com Photo)

Shortly after the team’s 2:30 p.m. EST check-in time, Sanchez arrived with receivers Scotty McKnight and Patrick Turner — yoga mat in hand and big screen TV getting hauled in behind him. Despite lacking the “roughing it” mentality, the fourth-year starter is mentally and physically prepared for what lies ahead.

“I think setting the right example is the most important thing. We’ve got our work cut out for ourselves, but it’s my job to lead these guys,” Sanchez said, who gained 12 pounds of muscle this past off-season, upping his playing weight from 218 to 230 pounds.

His quarterback counterpart, Tim Tebow, showed up not long after Sanchez’s arrival with Australian rugby star turned tight end Hayden Smith — who is also his roommate. In his first training camp with the Jets, Tebow is not willing to believe the hype that surrounds him or his new team.

“I think they’re a lot of great players on this team, but I think for a team to be great we have to come together, play for one cause and play for each other. I don’t think there’s any team that’s done that yet. It all starts tomorrow in practice. Hopefully we’ll get there,” Tebow said in reference to Ferguson’s statement of seeing ‘greatness’ on this team.

As the rest of the players came in off the bus or arrived on their own, all eyes were fixated on the team’s most shining star, All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis. Revis has not spent much time in Cortland having held out in 2010 due to a highly publicized contract dispute and the team skipping out on the trip due to the lockout last year. In fact, Revis has only spent two of his five seasons in training camp. (He held out for his rookie contract as well).

Much was made whether Revis would hold out again, as he hinted toward the possibility during mini-camp back in June. He kept the mystery going as we all were forced to wait until the 5 pm EST deadline for players to report until hopping out of his Mini Cooper. When made available to the media, his contract — and not the upcoming season — dominated the conversation.

He told reporters he didn’t tell anyone he was arriving and that he made his decision “a couple days ago”, but reiterated his statement from mini-camp that he wants to be a Jet for life, “but if management doesn’t see it we’ll part ways”. He also stated that general manager Mike Tannenbaum told him they would “deal with it later” but also said that he doesn’t think any player “would turn down meeting with their GM at anytime”.

Certainly last season rocked the boat in a sea of drama, but as the storm rolled into Cortland — lightning and tornadoes and all — it can only be an omen, good or bad, for what lies ahead for the Jets 2012 season.