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MINICAMP 2008: Rookies Take The Field
By Doug Bonjour
Jets Insider.com Staff Writer
May 2nd, 2008
Rookie QB Erik Ainge took his first snaps as a pro today. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Rookie QB Erik Ainge took his first snaps as a pro today. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
The Jets rookies took to the practice field for the first time this afternoon and were looking to make first impressions with the coaching staff while 35 players who were invited to try out were hoping to leave with an NFL contract.

Day One of practice at the New York Jets’ rookie minicamp is complete, and for Jets head coach Eric Mangini, “it’s a great time of year.” After a long offseason, the Jets’ coaching staff found themselves on the field again. But rather than watching Laveranues Coles haul in passes from Chad Pennington and Thomas Jones shifting his way through holes generated by the revamped offensive line, players by the names of Vernon Gholston, Erik Ainge and Danny Woodhead became the center of attention. For the first time, today’s practice at Hofstra University gave the coaching staff a chance to watch their rookie transactions run around the field as members of the Jets.

“All the hard work we put in and the organization put in to the draft and so many people working on it for the whole offseason and really the whole year…to get all these guys on the field and to start working on football again is always an exciting time,” Mangini said following the practice.

The Jets welcomed 57 players to this weekend’s minicamp, as the team’s six draft choices, ten undrafted free agents, 34 non-signed tryout players, and even seven returnees from last year’s roster all suited up for today’s practice.

While the team will surely look forward to watching Gholston’s special combination of speed and strength and Keller’s soft hands over the next few days, much of the attention will placed on those who went undrafted last weekend. Mangini knows that for all the new players, statistics generated in the past are history and it is now a process of determining roles for certain players.

“They’ve gone from being the most successful person on their team to most people don’t even know their name, can’t recognize them and they need to figure out how to fit in our organization and how to help us win," Mangini said. “It doesn’t matter what they’ve done. Even though you respect those things, they don’t matter anymore.” But after one day, Mangini knows that he can only evaluate what the team has to an extent.

“It’s really early and usually over the course of the weekend, someone will stand out, one way or the other, positively or negatively,” he said. “What I talk about with a lot of the players is the important thing is that they’re in the room and the important thing is that they’ve had this opportunity.”

For all the players who Mangini has said “defied the odds” by just making an NFL camp, the coaching staff gives the rookies examples on how they can succeed. However, such examples do not come from just the practice field.

“We go through [with the rookies] the top-round guys who haven’t had very successful NFL careers and the undrafted free agents that have had really successful NFL careers,” Mangini said.

On this year’s roster, Mangini cited newly-acquired fullback Tony Richardson as one who went undrafted, but continues to excel in the league at a high level. After being passed up by every team in the 1994 draft, Richardson’s career is highlighted with two All-Pro selections (1994, 1997) and four Pro Bowl selections (2003, 2004, 2005, 2007).

As the Jets continue their rookie minicamp for the next few days, Mangini will be looking for an unproven player to make an impact. For any rookie, this weekend’s minicamp proves challenging, especially after a long offseason in which most players last saw game action in January.

“It’s a shock to the system,” Mangini said.

PHOTO GALLERY: For exclusive Jets Insider.com Minicamp photos CLICK HERE

The rookies return to the practice field tomorrow so be sure to check back to JI often for complete coverage.