Veteran WR Justin McCareins is the first Jets player publicly in Coach Mangini's doghouse by failing the mandatory conditioning test. He will sit out until he passes it. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Hope seemed to spring eternal on the first day of Jets training camp at Hofstra, as individual players and the team entered the afternoon practice with an optimistic outlook.
One of the mandates of the Eric Mangini era has been open competition at every single position. This was a sentiment that Mangini reiterated emphatically today.
“Every player must find a way to make the team and find out what they can do to help us win this season,” Mangini said, echoing his mini-camp press conferences.
Aside from the brewing battle royale for the role of starting quarterback, the two most open spots seem to be the second receiver slot and that of second running back. With both Justin McCareins and Curtis Martin on the Physically Unable to Perform list and Martin being an aging back, guys like Jerricho Cotchery, Cedric Houston, and possibly rookie Brad Smith could have a chance to snatch up a bigger role on this year’s squad.
Though he was no willing to admit frustration with McCareins, Mangini did seem disappointed that the veteran wide receiver was not able to pass the conditioning standards laid out by the team in order to be ready to practice despite the fact he has no injury. Cotchery and Smith could be ready to step up to fill McCareins shoes if he is unable to make his way back to being an effective offensive weapon.
Cotchery made a statement today as camp opened, catching several long balls including one diving reception that dazzled the few hundred Jets fans in attendance. As the third receiver last year, No. 89 would be the logical next choice for the second spot. However, Mangini also spoke glowingly of rookie Brad Smith, who is making the adjustment from college quarterback to NFL wideout.
“Brad is a guy who makes progress every single day,” Mangini said on Day 1 of camp. “Whether it’s his footwork or hand positioning, he improves every day.”
Even if he does not win the second wide receiver spot, Smith will likely make the team because his athleticism and versatility make him a useful player on special teams as well as giving the Jets an interesting wrinkle in their offense.
Cedric Houston, Derrick Blaylock, and rookie Leon Washington could also have an opportunity as Curtis Martin also starts training camp on the PUP and could see less carries than he has in previous years. It was Houston who seemed to make the loudest statement on Day One.
Houston, who was not badly injured in his April car accident and has made a full recovery, has showed up to camp this year looking to improve in his second year and earn some attention around the team.
“I’d like to show people that I’m not a rookie anymore and I know what I am doing out here,” Houston said. “I want to show the coaches and my teammates what I am capable of.”
With Brian Schottenheimer arriving from San Diego, Houston said he has watched tape of the Chargers’ all-pro running back LaDanian Tomlinson and tried mimic the things that have made Tomlinson successful. When asked if this was a lofty goal, the second-year back chuckled.
“I’m just studying his footwork and his reads,” Houston said. “The stuff after that, I think only LaDanian could do.”
Still Houston made it clear that he is not gunning for Martin’s job.
“I think Curtis will be fine. If this was a game-day Sunday I’m sure he would be ready to go,” Houston said of the veteran Martin. “I’m sure he’ll be out there in Tennessee on September 10th (opening day).”
Mangini is yet to acknowledge Martin’s situation, saying only that Martin would be back on the practice field as soon as he is able.
Though the question marks at such vital positions have raised some doubts about how competitive the team can be this year, there seems to be an air of optimism around the squad.
When asked how he felt about the Jets being taken lightly this year, veteran guard Pete Kendall said he was not aware that the team wasn’t getting respect around the league.
Coach Mangini is yet to speak of the expectations surrounding this year’s team except to say the team should improve everyday.
“The players have to realize there is no light at the end of the tunnel right now,” Mangini said referring to the month-long camp. “We have a ton of work left ahead of us. Everyone needs to focus and put their head down and work.”
-Coaches quickly proved in the afternoon practice that they are serious about the offense “playing fast.” On the very first play of the evening, the first team, led by Patrick Ramsey, was sent back to the huddle for not breaking with enough energy.
-There were no full contact drills in the afternoon session with the only real noise coming from the booming punts of Ben Graham. Graham improved greatly after shanking some punts early. The punts were fielded well by Tim Dwight, Dante Ridgeway, Jerricho Cotchery, and rookie Leon Washington, who had the lone fumble in the drill.
-Washington bounced back from his muffed punt and performed well in 11-on-11 drills, breaking several long runs against the Jets defense.
RB Curtis Martin (knee) on PUP list.
WR Justin McCareins (out of shape) on PUP list.
The Jets continue practice tonight at 5:30 at Hofstra University as part of the seven two a day practices scheduled for this training camp. Be sure to check back to Jets Insider.com for all the latest NY Jets news.
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