QB Jay Fiedler, now a Buccaneer, hopes his time in Tampa is more successful than it was in NY.
When the Jets take the field on the road Friday against the Buccaneers in their preseason opener, all eyes won’t be focused on the rookie head coach making the calls, but rather the mystery man taking the first snaps.
With QB Chad Pennington recovering from the second rotator-cuff surgery of his career, Coach Mangini has openly declared that the position of starting quarterback is up for grabs, and that whoever performs best will win the spot.
“What I’m looking for is a person to step up and show that they should be the starter,” said Mangini when asked about the quarterback situation. “It’s a consistent theme but it’s something I really believe in. Someone has to win that spot. Someone has to win each of these spots [referring to competitions at other positions]. As soon as somebody does, then that’s the point where we will make a decision. Until then it’s going to be open.”
Mangini, who has faced criticism for withholding information on players’ progress with media and fans alike, would not even go so far as to state that Friday’s starter is necessarily the quarterback currently leading the competition, calling the preseason “just an extension of where we are in terms of the competition.”
Still, it is likely that Friday’s starter is a frontrunner for the position of starting quarterback since whoever is going to start on opening day needs to get in as much in-game experience as possible. Should this theory prove correct, look either Chad Pennington or Patrick Ramsey to get the start.
Pennington, a six-year veteran of the NFL, was drafted by the Jets in 2000 out of Marshall University and has been dominant for years as the team’s starter. He led his team to the postseason in 2002 and 2004, and in 2003 played phenomenally in the final ten games of the season after returning from a preseason wrist injury.
However, Pennington has been plagued in recent years by shoulder injuries. After missing the final three regular-season games in 2004, Pennington returned to lead the team to a postseason victory and a near-victory in the second round which was lost on a series of missed field goals by K Doug Brien. After the team’s run ended, Pennington had surgery to repair a torn rotator-cuff in his throwing arm.
After a long rehabilitation process, Pennington returned as the team’s starter in 2005, only to suffer a similar injury in the third game of the season that required yet another surgery.
Past injuries aside, Pennington has been making a strong case during training camp for why he should start under center on opening day. After appearing weary of testing his surgically-repaired shoulder during the first two days of practice, Pennington has shown a significant gain in velocity, accuracy, and most important, confidence.
“I think I am getting better with the mental part of this offense,” Pennington told the media when asked about his progress. “I have really enjoyed learning under Coach Schottenheimer and trying to learn this offense, so that I can keep getting better mentally and keep getting better physically.” He later addressed the issue of confidence directly, stating, “I do have confidence and my confidence is growing.”
Ramsey, on the other hand, appears to be struggling with issues of confidence as camp has progressed, which is negatively impacting his physical game.
The Jets acquired Ramsey during the off-season in a trade that sent the team’s sixth-round draft pick in the 2006 draft to the Washington Redskins. Ramsey, a career backup for the Redskins, began training camp with consecutive days where he threw the ball long, accurate, and with a kind of power that Jet fans never saw from Chad Pennington – even when he was in good health. He had up-days and down-days like every other player in camp, but all-in-all, his first week was marked by the confidence he seemed to exude every time he touched the ball.
When the Newark Star-Ledger published an article claiming that Pennington had been named the starting quarterback just one week into camp, Ramsey brushed it off with a standard, diplomatic answer. “Nothing has changed,” he said, adding, “We are going to continue the way we have been doing things.”
Only Ramsey has not continued to do things the way he had been prior to the release of that story. His practices since then have been average at best, with a higher number of interceptions thrown and many mental lapses. At the session that followed Ramsey’s comments, Ramsey had his worst day at camp. He threw multiple interceptions, overthrew nearly every receiver, and accrued five false-starts and a delay-of-game penalty during a two-minute drill in which he failed to score.
The other two quarterbacks in “contention” for the Jets starting quarterback job are four-year veteran Brooks Bollinger and rookie Kellen Clemens. Bollinger, the Jets third-string quarterback last season who took over following injuries to Pennington, Jay Fiedler, and Vinny Testaverde, does not have a strong arm and has a questionable presence running the Jets' offense. While he's quick, he has had trouble throwing accurately on the move thus far in training camp, and his weak leadership at the helm may prove even more harmful given the addition of rookie D’Brickashaw Ferguson at left tackle. Clemens looks to have promising strength and poise on the field, but his talents are still raw and he continues to make rookie mistakes.
QB Jay Fiedler, who suffered a devastating shoulder injury behind the Jets’ weak offensive line last year in the same game that Pennington was injured, will be suited up in a Buccaneers uniform for the game. Fiedler signed with the Bucs as a free agent in the off-season. He was inked even though his shoulder still is not 100%. Fiedler's won't play against his former team this week and he won't even start full practices with the team until later in August.
Some interesting players to look out for in the Jets secondary include free-agent acquisition CB Andre Dyson, third-year CB Justin Miller, and the return of fan favorite nickelback Ray Mickens. Expect the play to be inspired and the competition fierce, especially with the news that S Erik Coleman, who is recovering from an appendectomy, will have to earn his spot back. Rookie S Eric Smith, a third round pick out of Michigan State, is considered a frontrunner to challenge Coleman for his job. No Ty Law means that some younger guys are going to have to step up and take control.
In terms of changes in the defense, the biggest adjustment for many Jets players is the switch to a 3-4 defensive scheme under Coach Mangini. The 3-4 calls for just three men anchoring the defensive line with four linebackers playing varying roles behind them. This could prove to be a very important move for the team, since their defensive line has been plagued by injuries lately. Unconfirmed reports indicate that rising star DT Sione Pouha may be lost for an extended period of time or even the year after undergoing knee surgery, which makes having just three men on the defensive line less of a choice than a necessity. DT Dewayne Robertson could play a key role in the success (or lack thereof) of the defense.
Should the Jets’ new defensive line falter against Tampa Bay, Jets fans could be looking at the familiar sight of FB Jerald Sowell busting through the middle for a gain. The only difference is that he won’t be wearing green. Sowell signed with the Buccaneers as an unrestricted free agent on April 25th, ending his nine-year tenure with the Jets.
Meanwhile, LB Jonathan Vilma seems to be striving in the 3-4, putting himself in position to make numerous interceptions on top of the unreal amounts of tackles he amasses. Even those who despise comparisons between players will quickly realize that he’s looking more and more like Ray Lewis by the day in this new scheme.
Mangini reminded the media that starting in a preseason game does not necessarily mean that a player is the even the frontrunner for their position. “I’ve been around some experiences where we had a plan for the starters, they went out and they played really poorly, so we pulled the starters and we put the next group in…”
Nonetheless, in this new tight-lipped regime, seeing who starts at each position will be the first true indicator to fans, media, and players alike of who has been standing out to the coaching staff.
When asked how much feedback the players get on their standing in the race for a particular roster spot, WR Jerricho Cotchery replied, “You’ve got to evaluate yourself. Of course you’re getting evaluated by the coaches, you know, and they’ll tell you things you need to work on, but obviously you have to take that time and effort to evaluate yourself and try to get better individually so you can help the team out.”
Cotchery was quick to jump on the opportunity to evaluate his improvements since last year, stating emphatically, “I think I am a lot better.” He attributed his improvement as a wide receiver to being fortunate enough to learn from talented veterans such as Laveranues Coles, Tim Dwight, and Justin McCareins. Ironically, it is McCareins job as the number two receiver that Cotchery is threatening to steal thanks to a terrific off-season and training camp thus far.
There are many young players looking to establish major roles on the team besides Cotchery. At the running back position, a number of young backs are looking to excel during preseason match-ups, given the unknown availability of future Hall of Fame back Curtis Martin as he continues to recover from off-season knee surgery. While Cedric Houston and Derrick Blaylock look to be the front-runners for the job, don’t count out rookies Leon Washington and Nick Hartigan just yet.
The Jets drafted T D’Brickashaw Ferguson and C Nick Mangold in the first round of the 2006 NFL draft to add depth to a shoddy offensive line that allowed season-ending hits to Jets quarterbacks in consecutive years. Ferguson was expected to be a starter from day one, but Mangold was slated to back up veteran C Trey Teague, who the team added in the off-season after losing C Kevin Mawae as a cap casualty. Teague is on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list with a broken ankle suffered in mini-camp, however, thrusting Mangold into the starting role.
Both Mangold and Ferguson have looked solid at training camp so far, but there is no saying how they will fare against players who aren’t wearing the green and white. In pass rushing drills, both have stood their ground amicably along with veteran T Adrian Jones, but it is hard to say whether that can be attributed to their solid play or the uninspired and weak sack-attempts put forth by a shallow defensive line that is playing without star DE John Abraham for the first time in years. Abraham was traded to the Atlanta Falcons in the off-season.
A lot is still up in the air for the Jets, but regardless of how this year’s team performs, the new Jets regime clearly has the franchise heading in the right direction. When asked if he was nervous for his first game as an NFL head coach, Coach Mangini had this to say:
“I’m excited about Friday. I’m really looking forward to it, just like I was looking forward to getting a simulated environment here. There was that phase where we had a lot of meetings and a lot of time in the building and now being out here with the players and coaching on the field and seeing it evolve and now moving into the team and the game phase, it’s all really exciting. I’m looking forward to it.”
-The preseason series between the Jets and Buccaneers is tied, 3-3. The Jets have won three out of the last four preseason meetings.
-Last preseason meeting was a 30-14 loss on August 2nd, 2003, in Tokyo, Japan. Running for the Buccaneers was Thomas Jones, a current member of the Chicago Bears and subject of many trade rumors involving the Jets. The Jets have reportedly been shopping around for a possible starting running back to trade for with the status of Curtis Martin’s surgically repaired knee still unknown. Jones rushed for a touchdown in the game.
-Vinny Testaverde started the first ever preseason match-up between the two teams in 1987 as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, leading the Bucs to a 29-27 win over the Jets. Testaverde went on to spend many years taking snaps for the Jets before an Achilles injury sent his career into decline.
-The last overall meeting between the two teams was a 14-12 win at the Meadowlands last season on October 9th. Leading the Jets to victory was none other than former Buccaneers quarterback Vinny Testaverde, who came out of retirement and returned to the team less than two weeks earlier following injuries to starter Chad Pennington and back-up Jay Fiedler. The win was Testaverde’s first appearance of the season.
-CB/KR Drew Coleman (knee): day to day
-TE Jason Pociask (shoulder): IR Out for Season
-RB Curtis Martin (knee): on PUP list
-C Trey Teague (ankle): on PUP list
-WR Dante Ridgeway (leg): day to day
-DT Tui Alailefaleula (leg): day to day
-DT Sione Pouha (leg): day to day
-CB Erik Coleman (illness): 1-2 weeks
-CB David Barrett (leg): day to day
Game time is at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The game will be shown in New York on CBS. Be sure to check back to Jets Insider.com for a complete recap as well as all of the latest NY Jets news!