After a greuling practice on Saturday lasting nearly two-and-a-half hours in dreadfully hot weather, Head Coach Eric Mangini would have probably liked to see a better performance from his troops, especially after giving the team yesterday off. The huge crowd in attendance didn't mind, however, and enjoyed a lengthy autograph session with the entire team after the hot and humid practice session.
The Jets spent most of their Saturday afternoon concentrating situational plays while also getting familiar with the rule changes for this season. Before Saturday’s practice head linesman Tom Stabile met with Mangini and members of the media to discuss the rule changes for this season and the major points of emphasis referees will be looking at this season.
Some of those points of emphasis will be ten second run offs, illegal contact and defensive holding, taunting, making sure players chin straps are on, roughing the quarterback (hits to the head), and most importantly protecting sliding quarterbacks.
For the most part, the beginning of the session went pretty well. The music was blasting, the bleachers were packed with fans, and the Jets were even able to welcome back DE Bobby Hamilton to the practice field. Hamilton was injured during Wednesday’s practice and was held out of drills on Thursday.
The team began practice by working on special teams, mostly kickoff and punt coverages. Kickoffs remain a huge question mark for the Jets during traing camp, since Jets K Mike Nugent has shown over his first two NFL seasons that while 55-yard field goals appear to be chip shots for the star kicker, he simply doesn't have the strength to put kickoffs in the endzone on a consistent basis. With that in mind, P Ben Graham has been working on his kickoff mechanics during practices. Graham was unable to make the adjustment mid-season in 2006 after coaches advised he wait until the offseason.
Even though Mangini is exploring other options for kickoffs, Nugent has shown improvements in the area lately, landing some of them in the back of the endzone. To go along with those improvements on kickoffs, his field goal kicking has been as consistent as ever over the past week. Nugent, who struggled early last season before putting together an impressive streak of consecutive field goals made that will continue into the 2007 season, has hit field goals as long as 57 yards in practice.
“At this level, you can get every kicker together on a day like today and everybody will be hitting balls like crazy,” Nugent said. “The difference is what you can do when it actually counts. The talent is unbelievable that you face and see everyday, but when it all counts, that’s when it makes the biggest difference.”
As practice continued, Mangini and Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer worked with the offense on situational plays. During these 7-on-7 drills QB Chad Pennington found his favorite receiver, Laveranues Coles, on crossing routes and their trademark fade to the back corner of the end zone on what was being called a 3rd-and-goal play.
Another player who caught a touchdown pass during this drill was WR Wallace Wright. Wright, along fellow wide receivers Frisman Jackson and Chansi Stuckey, have made the offensive coaches look constantly in their direction with their dazzling play. With two open roster spots at receiver it will certainly be a battle between those three. All three players also play major roles on special teams. Stuckey is the one who has worked on returning kicks on regular basis, a role he excelled at with Clemson.
But towards the end of practice, Mangini might have wanted to turn his head. As the last part of practice, Mangini had his starters and back-ups scrimmage against each other. The scrimmage started well as the backup QB Kellen Clemens started the scoring with a quick fade pass to WR Justin McCareins, who made an astounding catch in the back of the end zone. After converting on a two-point conversion the “score” was 17-10 in favor of the back-ups.
Pennington led the starters down the field as the score tied up on touchdown pass to Coles which was similar to one they had earlier in the day. With a chance to score the go-ahead score on the following drive, Clemens missed his first two passes, then connected with QB/WR Brad Smith - but the pass was only good for nine yards.
With a fourth-and-one coming up, Special Teams Coach Mike Westhoff called for the punt team. Now, on the ensuing drive, Pennington had to be the chance to be the hero, but it was not meant to be. On a third down situation and 20 seconds on the clock, the Jets starters had some miscommunication on the field which caused a ruckus.
Unable to organize everything at the line, Pennington was called for a delay of game penalty and ten seconds were run off the clock. After speaking to the referees, and undoubtedly his team, earlier in the day, that was the last Mangini wanted to see from his star quarterback.
With 10 seconds left, Pennington and Co. only had time for one last play. With the defense playing deep - the closest defender was playing ten yards back - Pennington called a draw play to RB Thomas Jones. Jones threw a lateral to Coles, who flipped it to Cotchery before having the play whistled dead.
After all the shenanigans the fans in attendance gave Gang Green a nice round of applause, something that Mangini might not have done after seeing the last 10 minutes of practice. Not surprisingly, the post-practice meeting between the coaches and players in the center of the practice field lasted much longer than usual.
Rice Speaks, Jets Listen
The Jets, even though they were given the day off, still had to show up for a team meeting on Friday. But the players had no idea that they were about to meet one the NFL’s greatest wide receivers in the game come speak to them. Friday, the Jets went to listen to - and watch the movie “300” with - Hall of Famer Jerry Rice.
Rice spoke about his approach to the game, specifically focussing on the preparation he would go through to be ready for a season or different scenarios in a game. But to Mangini and the rest of his players it was his selflessness that rubbed off on them.
“It did not matter how many accolades he won; didn’t matter how many Super Bowls he won; he’d sit in on all the special teams meetings just so those guys knew how important field position was,” Mangini said. “He wasn’t going to play on special teams, but he wanted guys to know... how important their role was to the team.”
Seeing Rice would have been enough for some the Jets, but hearing him speak and talking with him made some of the players feel like children again.
“Early on, that’s who I watched. Even though when I was younger I played a different position, that’s who I learned to play wide receiver from,” said Jets WR Jerricho Cotchery. “It meant a lot. He was saying things he liked about me. He liked the way I played and to hear that coming from Jerry Rice, the same guy that I watched and emulated growing up meant a lot.”
The Jets front office wasn’t off on Friday. General Manager Mike Tannenbaum made two roster moves. Tannenbaum announced that the team waived LB Mark Zalewski and signed LB Jerry Mackey.
Zalewski, who was a three-year starter at Wisconsin, was on his second stint with the Jets. He signed on May 12 and waived on May 15 before resigning on July 27.
Mackey, who played four years as a member of the Syracuse Orangemen, recorded 202 tackles (106 solo), three sacks, one interception and one fumble recovery. Mackey is the great nephew of NFL Hall of Famer John Mackey. Mackey is from Freeport, the same hometown as Jets offensive lineman D’Brickashaw Ferguson.
There is still no new news on the Darrelle Revis situation or the Pete Kendall situation. Revis is one five first-round draft picks that are still unsigned.
MacIntyre and Wise
If you ever come to Jets training camp, you will always see two Jets coaches being particularly verbal with their players. Secondary Coach Mike MacIntyre and Offensive Line Coach Tony Wise are two of the loudest coaches on the Jets staff. Saturday both coaches caught the attention of the fans in attendance.
Just after CB Justin Miller got beat by McCareins; MacIntyre pulled Miller to side to work with him one-on-one. Wise woke up the crowd, as newly signed offensive tackle Nick Smith got called for false start penalty in a red zone drill. After the flag thrown, Wise had plenty to say to Smith before he ran his lap around the field.
Let’s hit the road
The Jets will take camp on the road tomorrow. Mangini will take his troops to Jack Coffey Field at Fordham University for a 1 p.m. practice which is closed to the public. But stay logged on to JI.com for all the latest Jets coverage from Fordham.