A hollow horn echoes in steady intervals, and the players comply,folding seamless, into and out of constantly evolving formations. Thus begins training camp, and for the New York Jets, summer stationed in the remote rural outpost of Cortland, these mark the initial steps of an intriguing campaign.
Mystery abounds, the primary focus split. There’s the boisterous first time coach, his father a legendary defensive mind and his own credentials impressive, and a hyped rookie quarterback, a charismatic figure who could be the city’s first true celebrity quarterback sinceNamath. Lending any credence to Mark Sanchez’s first day would prove
most futile. In porous conditions, his play was justifiably inconsistent.
As for the coach however, well, with early season optimism high as always, this first impression was worth delving into.
The sky is a deep shade of a gray and dropping plenty of precipitation, yet, the fans perched in and around the bleachers, surveying Cortland’s State University Field, remain enthusiastic. Thedrizzle switches frequently, between a light smatter and a raw
downpour. ‘You’re the man Shonn Greene!” shouts one denizen, in a tone equal parts devotion and desperation. He wants to be acknowledged, but, more than that, he wants to believe.
Both the crowd and players appear lively, despite the poor weather. The pleasant vibes began flowing immediately when Leon Washington, embroiled in a contract dispute with the front office, eschewed missing the opening of training camp, even though his monetary conflict remained unsettled.
The game clock, hanging at the bottom left-hand corner of a modest scoreboard, is etched with a “25” as drills begin in earnest. Kerry Rhodes, the Jets’ # 25, waves toward the sideline, before loping after a looping spiral thrown by a coach, toward midfield. Rhodes’ outstanding agility is noticeable even at this less than frenetic pace. He is a popular player among the fan-base, by and large, a defensive playmaker seemingly held back by a conservative scheme in recent seasons.
Rhodes, and the measure of individual performance, is precisely the topic halfway through Rex Ryan’s first training camp presser. To this point, it’s been an entertaining affair, further exemplifying the polar opposites in style employed by the Jets’ new coach, and the staid predecessor. Indeed, the jokes had been many, Ryan poking fun at his weight, flashing a disarming sensibility. He seemed to be truly enjoying himself, and yet, when the topic of the talented Rhodes came up, an insight into his evaluation of players became apparent. “I just want Kerry to be part of a great unit,” he said emphatically.
“Not to get on you guys or anything, but everyone, you know, looks atstatistics to try to determine if a player’s playing well.” Ryan motioned his hand as if to indicate a miscommunication, “This guy only had one interception… well, Ed Reed had one interception last season,after eight or nine games. Doesn’t mean a guy isn’t playing well. Ithink Ed ended up with ten or eleven…” a broad smile returned to
Ryan’s face, absent as he made his point. “Ed played pretty well,” he
deadpanned, to more laughs.
Ryan went on to emphasize the importance of team unity, over
individual performance. He implied that the new defensive system
allows everyone a chance to contribute, specifically singling out
Dwight Lowery as a potential X factor, despite his reserve role.
“There’ll be packages where a guy is a starter, he’s a starter in that
package.” Ryan said this excitedly.
This coach speak, of course, is welcomed by the kind of die-hard fan
willing to shriek the name of a rookie running back amid a steady
rain, ready, willing, and wanting to buy into whatever the franchise
is selling. There is always optimism in the beginning, and why not?
For this serene moment in time, every Rex Ryan joke is funny. “I was
at 300 at the end of last season,” he said regarding his weight,
before pausing for effect and dropping, “OK, 310.” Solid comedic
timing, indeed… Whether the laughs keep coming, whether those
testaments about all-inclusive schemes become prophetic or empty, will
be determined by a journey beginning on a rainy day in July. So it is,
and shall be.
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