As the Jets welcomed their legendary gunslinger to New York last month, wide receiver Laveranues Coles’ silence proved to be no secret for how he felt about the release of his good buddy Chad Pennington. While Coles’ teammates boasted about Brett Favre’s rocket-arm and imposing figure, Coles remained silent, out of respect for Pennington. Then again, the wide receiver did not want to create a storm during the sunny days of Favre's arrival.
"I didn't think there was any need for me to say anything that could cause any more disruption or strife," Coles explained today at the team's Florham Park, N.J. facility. "At that point there was really nothing positive that could come out of it."
Now as Pennington calls signals in Miami for the arch-rival Dolphins, Coles finds himself embroiled with a test, one which he so beautifully mastered during his seven years with Pennington. Coles' two most productive seasons as a Jet came in 2002 (89 catches, 1,264 yards, five TD) and 2006 (91 catches, 1098 yards, six TD) the only two seasons Pennington played at least 15 games.
Coles explained that he and Pennington developed a special chemistry the "day we walked in the door" in 2000 as rookies and that their relationship currently extends "deeper than just football." But now with the two diverged, Coles knows his test will be more difficult this time around. Despite having been limited in practice and during the preseason with a thigh injury, Coles is attempting to develop a rapport with Favre. However, even with a Hall of Fame quarterback under center, doing so is easier said than done.
“I never expect to have the same relationship with anybody as I had with [Chad]. It’s just one of those things, we had that special chemistry. We never sat and watched film together, we just knew," Coles explained.
What Coles and Pennington knew was the route to success. Coles was the recipient on 18 of Pennington’s 82 career touchdown passes heading into this season, more than any other receiver.
The first part of Coles' test came in last Sunday's season opening win over the Dolphins and the wide receiver started slow, catching just one pass for five yards. Coles did have the opportunity to be on the receiving end of Favre's first touchdown pass as a Jet as he stood open in the endzone during the first quarter, but the two were unable to connect.
While Jets head coach Eric Mangini did not label the incompletion as a result of unfamiliarity between the two starters, he remains hopeful that the pair will be in-sync next time around.
“I think you’d like to say that you definitely would hit it if you practice more, but I think there’s two good players there and Laveranues will get open again and I’m sure Brett will get him the ball,” Mangini said.
While Coles remains intent on developing the all-so-important rapport with Favre, he knows his focus extends beyond the relationship. He is focused on simply "picking up" offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's scheme.
“It's just one of those things whenever you get introduced to a new quarterback you don't have a feel for each other, period," Coles said. "For me, it's one of those things where [Favre] doesn't have a feel for me, I don't have a feel for him. You deal with it."
Although Favre's presence combined with the season-ending injury to Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady have given the Jets a golden opportunity to jump ahead of their arch-rivals, Coles knew the Jets had potential to compete for the division title even before the legendary quarterback stepped into the Meadowlands.
"I thought that from the beginning," Coles noted. "Not because [Favre's] here but I felt that way before he came."
Favre now provides the Jets with the rocket arm that so many teams covet. Even though Pennington compiled a 65.6 completion percentage during his nine-year stay in New York, it was no secret that his weakness was throwing the deep ball. Deep passes means the opportunity for long completions, but Coles knows all that matters is the standings.
"You hope for the best, but again, it’s not about me, it’s about this team. It’s not about him, it’s about this team. It’s not about any individual. Whether he has success with me, he has success with Jerricho, he has success with [Chansi] Stuckey, whoever it is, as long as the team is successful," Coles explained.
On Sunday, Coles and Favre will get the chance to test their rapport on the field with a tougher task at hand, as they will battle the Patriots. While the Patriots will be without Brady, their talented defense remains intact. In fact, minus Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel, they return the same defense which finished third in the AFC last season in total yards allowed (4613 yards).
The Jets can only hope Coles and Favre develop their rapport sooner rather than later.
To stay the course with last Thursday’s practice, the Jets worked out in light pads and shorts this afternoon. After opening the session with some light stretching, Favre carried the starting offense into an 11-on-11 drill. Facing the first-team defense, Favre connected on a five-yard touchdown strike to Stuckey, who broke free from cornerback Drew Coleman. On the next snap, Favre attempted to hit Coles in the left corner of the endzone, but cornerback Dwight Lowery swatted away Favre’s pass. Following Favre’s reps, quarterback Kellen Clemens stepped into the huddle with the second-team offense and was intercepted by linebacker Cody Spencer on a pass intended for tight end Bubba Franks.
Last season’s Jets-Patriots battle at the Meadowlands concluded with a 38-14 New England victory and Spygate accusations, which further escalated the feud between Mangini and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. Mangini insists that his relationship with the Patriots' organization has not changed.
“I’d say it’s the same as it has been,” Mangini deadpanned. “Respect for all of the people there, the staff there, Bill [Belichick], really the same feelings I’ve always had. Just a good experience there for me personally and my family while we were a part of the organization.”
As for Spygate, Mangini stayed mum on the issue.
“With Spygate, we’ve been down that road so many times, and there’s really nothing to add from everything I’ve said leading up to this point,” Mangini said.
Patriots, Team to Beat?
Yesterday wide receiver Randy Moss maintained his belief that the Patriots are the team to beat, even with the inexperienced Matt Cassel leading the offense and Brady forced to the sidelines with a torn ACL and MCL. Today, Mangini concurred.
“They have won six out of the last seven division championships, were 16-0 last year and again, can’t minimize the impact that Tom [Brady] has had but he doesn’t stop the run defensively, he doesn’t cover kicks, he doesn’t return kicks and those groups are deep, they are good, they are experienced, they are seasoned," he said.
The Master of Improvisation
Following Sunday’s win against Miami-Favre’s first regular season game as a Jet-Favre explained that he needed to improvise at times on the field. With the tough Patriots defense sure to present a stricter test for Favre, Mangini has no worries about his quarterback’s learning curve.
“I think Brett did some improvising ten, 15 years into Green Bay. I think that’s kind of his DNA,” Mangini explained. “So whether he’s here two or three weeks or two or three years, I anticipate him probably adjusting a little on the fly.”
Cotchery's Work Ethic a Model Art
Mangini knows that Cotchery is a special football player, what he also knows is that Cotchery's work ethic stands second to none.
"It's better than solid," Mangini said. "It's an example of a work ethic, as opposed to just sort of a general classification. He's a great role model.
Jets kicker Mike Nugent (thigh) did not practice for the second consecutive day after injuring himself in the season opening win over Miami. Jay Feely, who was 21-for-23 on field goal attempts with the Dolphins last season, will handle kicking duties Sunday. Feely is no stranger to Giants Stadium, as he spent the 2005 and 2006 seasons as a member of the Giants. He was successful on 58-of-69 field goal attempts over that span. Mangini knows that Feely’s familiarity with the swirling winds of Giants Stadium is a plus.
“Jay has done a good job over the course of his career and he’s kicked in [Giants Stadium]. He’s got familiarity with the weather conditions, the way things can shift, and I think that’s a real bonus,” Mangini said.
As for today’s injury report released by the Jets, wide receiver David Clowney (shoulder) will not play this Sunday, while cornerback David Barrett (shoulder), Coles (thigh), defensive end Shaun Ellis (hand), wide receiver Marcus Henry (calf) and cornerback Justin Miller (foot) were all limited in practice but are expected to face the Patriots.
For the Patriots, wide receiver Sam Aiken (knee) and tight end Ben Watson (knee) did not practice. Linebacker Eric Alexander (calf), wide receiver Jabar Gaffney (knee), cornerback Ellis Hobbs (shoulder), Moss (back)and cornerback Lewis Sanders (head) all were limited in practice.