The Jets left behind fan-filled bleachers of Hofstra University and Weeb Ewbank Hall Sunday morning as Head Coach Eric Mangini opted to try a new approach to practice for a day, taking his team to Jack Coffey Field at Fordham University for a full length intersquad scrimmage.
With General Manager Mike Tannenbaum watching from the press box and Mangini watching from the sideline, the Jets split up all 86 players on their roster into two teams. The Green Team was comprised of the Jets first-string offense and second-string defense, and the White Team included the second-string offensive unit and the first-team defense. Reserves were divided between the two teams.
The only significant variation from the NFL rule book was that the scrimmage was primarily non-contact, taking on the feel of an extremely organized game of touch football. But make no mistake - the ban on hard hits didn't detract from the game's competitiveness in the least bit.
In the end it was the White Team that came out on top, 24-21, as backup-QB Kellen Clemens threw two touchdown passes to WR Justin McCareins, including the game-winning 39-yard touchdown strike. The Green Team had a chance to tie the game and send it into overtime, but K Mike Nugent’s last-prayer, 65-yard field goal attempt fell just short of the crossbar as the game clock reached zero.
“We split the team up Green and White. We were able to simulate the game. We had a full officiating staff,” Mangini said. “Today we saw all the things that go into a typical Sunday and see how the team functions. I thought it was great work. I thought we saw it all.”
It was a slow start for the Green Team's offense, as the Jets' first-string offense was held scoreless in the first quarter while their backups put points up on the board. The White Team opened the scoring early into the game as Clemens found McCareins wide open down the left sideline. Clemens hit McCareins perfectly, leading to a 66-yard touchdown reception. Nugent nailed kick, making it 7-0 in favor of White.
“It is credited to Justin McCareins and the offensive line," Clemens said about the touchdown pass. "Justin made a great route and I just threw it up to him, and if you give him the ball in the open field with his type of speed, no one is going to catch him.”
The Green Team would even the score, but it was third-string QB Marques Tuiasosopo and rookie-RB Alvin Banks - not first-stringers QB Chad Pennington and RB Thomas Jones - making it happen. On a drive that started at the Green 30-yard line, Tuiasosopo drove his team 70 yards in a 10-play drive that concluded with Tuiasosopo throwing nine-yard touchdown pass to Banks.
The Green Team scored the next points, too. After getting great field position, Tuiasosopo used another long drive (7 plays, 2:17) to eventually set up a 26-yard field goal attempt for Nugent, which he drained to make it 10-7, Green.
But the White Team managed to send the game into the half as a tie. On their last possession of the half, Special Teams Coordinator Mike Westhoff (Head Coach of the White Team) decided to pull QB Brett Ratliff and chose to put in QB/WR Brad Smith as quarterback. Smith went 3-for-3 passing, gaining 25 yards and helping to set up a 53-yard, game-tying field goal by Nugent before the half.
As the second half started, each team's first unit went back to work. The White Team received the second half kickoff and Clemens, who really looked sharp today, lead his team on a nine-play drive (which was helped along by S Ray Ventrone's 15-yard personal foul) that ended with RB Leon Washington running it in from one-yard line.
The score remained at 17-10 until the start of the fourth quarter. The White Team forced the Green Team into a three-and-out, but on the ensuing White possession, Clemens wound up making a mistake that nearly lost the game for his team. Although it was the only mistake he made on the day, Clemens' attempt to hit McCareins with a pass similar to the one that yielded their first half touchdown was a doozie. Unlike earlier, this pass was into tight coverage, and CB Andre Dyson made the defensive play of the game by taking it out of of McCareins' hands for the interception.
Dyson returned ball to the White Team's 47-yard line. Pennington, who up to that point had been very shaky all day, continued to falter. Fortunately, he was at least able to put his team in field goal range, and Nugent came through once again, hitting from 48 yards out.
With the score 17-13, still in favor of the White Team, Mangini and Westhoff must have been wondering how the interception would affect Clemens. He answered their concerns quickly, reboundeding on the next drive and throwing a 39-yard strike to McCareins that would turn into the game winner.
Finally, at 24-13, Pennington and first-string offense woke up. Pennington led a flawless seven-play, two-minute drive down the field that was capped off by a Jerricho Cotchery 20-yard touchdown catch. After RB Thomas Jones converted on a highly-controversial two-point conversion attempt (the call on the field was that Jones failed to break the line, but was overturned after much deliberation), the score was 24-21.
The Green Team had chances to tie the game. White got the ball back twice and both times the Green Team forced them into three-and-out situations, leading to punts. Nugent had a chance to tie the game for the Green team with 10 seconds left in the game, but his 65-yard field goal attempt fell just short and the White Team prevailed.
Mangini and Westhoff used Sunday’s scrimmage to experiment with who the regular punt-returner will be for Gang Green. Brad Smith, Jerricho Cotchery, Leon Washington, Justin Miller and Chansi Stuckey all fielded punts Sunday afternoon. Cotchery and Washington had the best days returning punts of the group. Miller was only put back to field one punt and Smith dropped one.
Nugent kicking away any doubts
Coming into this season, some people might have doubted Jets K Mike Nugent. Despite connecting on his last 18 kicks last season many expressed doubts about his leg strength and, specifically, his ability to place kickoffs deep in the opponent's endzone.
Nugent used Sunday to answer that question. Despite missing a 65-yard field goal attempt, Nugent hit three others (26, 48 and 53) and also showed his strength on kickoffs as he had three touchbacks. One other kick went deep into the end zone, but RB Leon Washington returned it anyway.
“Yes, it does help confidence a lot,” Nugent said. “This is as close to a game situation as you can get outside from an actual preseason game.”
It's only make-believe
While many of the players knew this game was a simulation, you could have fooled DE Michael Haynes. Haynes, who is usually upbeat after practice and always gives the media a good interview, had this to say about Sunday happenings.
“It really surprised me they had a P.A. guy here. I thought it was a recording. It really surprised me that the refs were calling everything. It’s kind of surprising for scrimmage,” Haynes said. “But obviously coach wants it as real as possible.”
Punt, punt, punt
One Jet who had a busy day was P Ben Graham. Graham attempted 19 punts and totaled 940 yards. His longest punt was 60 yards (he actually had two that were each 60 yards), and he had three punts that were downed inside the 20 yard line.
Plays that didn’t count but weren’t forgotten
CB David Barrett thought he had Chad Pennington intercepted. Pennington was looking for WR Laveranues Coles on the sidelines, but severely under threw it. Barrett did a great job maintaining possession and getting both feet inbounds, but it was called back as the referee deemed that the quarterback was already sacked.
Since there was no real contact allowed, if a defensive player was arms length next to the quarterback, the play would be blown dead and it would count as a sack.
“I thought I had a good interception,” Barrett said.
Safety Kerry Rhodes also thought he had an interception and touchdown against Pennington. Rhodes stepped in front of an out route and was already in the endzone when the play was brought back.
DE Bobby Hamilton thought he had a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Tuiasosopo was dropping back to pass and just as he was about to let go of the football Hamilton knocked the ball out of his hands and covered it. But much to the chagrin of the White Team, it was only a sack.
Eric Smith misses scrimmage
Safety Eric Smith, who has had an impressive training camp so far, did not dress for Sunday afternoon’s scrimmage. Smith appeared to get injured during the final moments of Saturday’s practice. He was seen on the ground in some pain towards the end of practice, but he did manage to walk off the field under his own power. With Smith being out of action, S Rashad Washington saw a lot of time in the defensive backfield.
Many Jets Fans must be wondering why Gang Green chose to practice at Fordham University. Well, it was simply because since the Meadowlands were hosting the reunion tour for The Police tonight, making the venue unavailable.
Mangini wanted the scrimmage for this time in the afternoon and the football field at Fordham has same field turf they practice on at Hofstra.
Victory tastes oh so sweet
Since the White Team won, they got to eat Famous Dave’s BBQ on the way back to Long Island, while the Green Team received boxed lunches, something sort of similar to what people get to eat on airplanes.
The Jets will not practice on Monday. Mangini and Co. return to the field Tuesday for a morning practice and another in the late afternoon. The morning practice begins at 8:45 a.m. and the afternoon session begins at 5:45 p.m.