Is it possible that rookie CB Dwight Lowery will start the Jets first game in Miami this Sunday? (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Since the start of the June mini-camp, Jets head coach Eric Mangini has had his presents wrapped. A 4-12 struggle in 2007 led to a $140 million spending spree in 2008, pinpointed toward the team's most pressing needs. In stepped mammoth nose tackle Kris Jenkins (6-4, 349 pounds) to shore up a gaping hole in a defensive line which allowed an average of 134 rushing yards per game last season (29th in NFL). Behind him the Jets' welcomed outside linebacker Calvin Pace to improve a pass-rush which seemed non-existent last season, generating just 25 sacks. Guard Alan Faneca and right tackle Damien Woody were welcomed to solidify a offensive that appeared all too fragile in 2007. But it was not until last month when Mangini received his grand prize, quarterback Brett Favre.
Throughout the preseason, Mangini tinkered with his new toys, but with the final scores proving meaningless, the Jets' head coach only received a sneak peek at the additions in game-action.
“The nice thing about preseason is you get a chance to face different types of looks,” Mangini said. “You get to put guys into situations where you can get their initial response and then coach off of it.”
Just like a child on Christmas morning, Mangini can happily unwrap those gifts Sunday, when the Jets open their season against the Miami Dolphins.
“It’s the most exciting time of the year,” Mangini said. “You’ve been doing so much work to get to this point and you always want to start off in the best possible way. There’s new guys and you’re incorporating new coaches, and you want to see how those things work out.”
But with great power comes great responsibility and even higher hopes for a franchise that has craved a Super Bowl ever since its only NFL championship in 1969. Now with Favre at the center of the offseason overhaul, Mangini knows it will be important to get the season off to a running start.
“To me it’s get off on a good start any year,” Mangini said. “The fact that the [Jets] are playing a conference opponent to open it up, then going to another conference opponent, then staying in the AFC for the third game, all those things are really important.”
All will be revealed as the Jets battle the division-rival Dolphins, who went through an offseason overhaul of their own. Cam Cameron, who suffered through a dismal 1-15 season as head coach was fired and replaced with former Cowboys offensive line/assistant head coach Tony Sparano. Along with Sparano came personnel-guru Bill Parcells to tinker with the roster. With Parcells now the Dolphins' executive vice president of football operations, Mangini knows Miami will carry certain traits.
“They’re going to be in good shape, they’re going to be physical, they’re going to be tough, they’re going to be disciplined. Those are all really good traits to have as a football team. It’s something we’re all striving for, whether it’s head coaches, whether it’s general managers,” Mangini said.
While the opener can not come any sooner for Mangini, Jenkins has held his excitement. Perhaps the excitement reaches on different levels with the coaches and players. How much anticipation does the nose tackle have for his first game as a Jet? “None,” he said.
“It’s going to be here sooner than you think. I am at that point in my career where I relax, take it one day at a time and stay focused,” Jenkins said. “I am a professional, this is my job, I enjoy my job. [Anticipation] will come. I don’t need to force it. I’ll save my energy.”
Surely all that excitement will build as the Jets prepare to put a dismal 2007 season in the past.
With Sunday’s season opener against Miami fast approaching, the Jets practiced in light pads and shorts this afternoon. In the 35 minutes of practice the media were allowed to view, the Jets worked primarily on unit drills. While the quarterbacks tossed light passes to the receivers, the special teams unit practiced punt coverage under the direction of Mike Westhoff. As expected, Leon Washington was back returning kicks as Mangini stood close by and chatted with Washington in-between snaps. Following the punt drill, Favre and Clemens connected on 15-yard slants to the receivers, with no coverage.
While Kevin O’Dea still holds the title of special teams coordinator, there was again little doubt in today’s practice who is now directing the unit. As O’Dea observed each drill silently, Westhoff barked out orders. Linebacker Vernon Gholston drew Westhoff’s wrath on repeated snaps as he showed little push in the punt rush drills.
Franks Drops the Ball
Over a nine-year career, Bubba Franks has always been recognized as a hard-nosed blocking tight end. With each bruising block he deals, he has also dealt with a case of butterfingers. With Favre floating 20-yard passes to each receiver, Franks had Favre’s pass bounce off his fingertips twice.
Yesterday Mangini met with the Jets’ show-team to discuss the importance of watching film, so the unit can “give the most realistic look” of the upcoming opponent. He stressed how important it is for the players on the first and second units to “coach what the show team does” by identifying particular reads.
“We’re all in this together in terms of getting the best possible look,” Mangini explained.
Getting that “best look” is easier said than done.
“The one thing that’s tough with Miami is to simulate how physical they are. Both sides of the line are big, they’re physical and you simulate it the best way you can. But it’s one of those things that is different in the game with the speed picking up,” he said.
Mangini Remains Mum on Starting Cornerback
What remains certain for Sunday’s opener against Miami is that Darrelle Revis will be lined up at cornerback with the starting offense. However, what remains uncertain is who will line up aside from him. Rookie Dwight Lowery’s snaps with the first-team have increased in recent weeks, fueling speculation that he could start Sunday. In Mangini’s morning press conference, the Jets’ head coach did not reveal a starter.
“[Lowery] has been working with the ones and he’s not alone in that. David [Barrett] has been working there as well, Drew Coleman has been working there, so it’s not just him alone. But I would expect if he does play, he will do things that we’ve worked on all week in practice,” Mangini said. “I’ve liked his progress throughout training camp as well. I think he’s done a good job covering all different types of receivers. He’s got really good ball skills.”
Chad's Transition a "Whirlwind"
As Favre replaced Chad Pennington as the Jets' starting quarterback in August, both signal callers faced similar circumstances. The start of the regular season stood just three weeks away and each needed to learn a new offense. In speaking with the New York media through a conference call yesterday, Pennington described his transition into the Dolphins' system as a "whirlwind."
"There has been a lot of stuff going on as far as trying to get to know your new teammates, understanding how we do things here in Miami and also being able to familiarize yourself with the offense and the things you're required to do to help your offense be successful," Pennington explained. "It's a learning process for me everyday."
Hard Feelings for Chad?
Think Pennington has hard feelings for the team who released him? If so, think again. Pennington said "I would be remiss in saying that I'm emotionless," in regards to facing his former team. But the quarterback did not say that there is an added incentive in facing the Jets.
"All of us [players] have emotions, but my whole goal is to stay focused entirely on what I need to do to learn my responsibilities and what I need to do to help us win," Pennington explained.
The Jets escaped the preseason without a major hit on the injury front. Cornerback David Barrett (shoulder), wide receiver Laveranues Coles (thigh), defensive end Shaun Ellis (hand), wide receiver Marcus Henry (calf), cornerback Justin Miller (foot) and offensive tackle Damien Woody (shoulder) all were listed as were "limited" in today's practice, but are expected to play Sunday. Wide receiver David Clowney (shoulder) was walking around the locker room with his sling removed, but he remained unable to extend his arm. Linebacker Jason Trusnik (leg) remains on the reserve/PUP list and did not practice.
The Dolphins have no players listed on the injury report for this week.