TRAINING CAMP 2009: TALKING RECEIVERS
By Matt Waters
Jets Insider.com Staff Writer
August 1st, 2009
And than that happened
No doubt about it, Kellen Clemens was having a great morning. He looked comfortable in the pocket and was dispersing the ball superbly between his receivers and running backs. The two high notes were a perfect fade thrown to a diving Dustin Keller near the sideline as pressure clamped the pocket, and a long completion to Jerricho Cotchery, beating double coverage on the play. Unfortunately for Clemens, his performance was sullied by two interceptions as the session concluded. The second turnover could be credited to offseason signee Jim Leonhard. “Jim’s great at disguising coverage,” said Rex Ryan afterward, in defense of Clemens, who he praised for having excellent rhythm and tempo.
The Sanchez Chronicles
It was another inconsistent day for Mark Sanchez, who continues to force passes into tight coverage, especially in the middle of the field. Rex Ryan commented afterward it was only logical that his competition, Kellen Clemens, would be exhibiting a finer grasp of the offensive system, being that he’s operated within it since his rookieseason. That can’t be counted against Sanchez, who is sure to progress through training camp and into the regular season. Even still, Clemens’ advanced acclimation represents a major point in his favor. Had the Jets cut ties with Clemens after drafting Sanchez and bought in a veteran unfamiliar with the intricacies of Brian Schottenheimer’s game plan, this variable would not have benefited the rookie’s opponent. As it stands, if Clemens wins the job, this factor could be a major reason why.
The Jets ran two plays out of the Wildcat today, both resulting in Thomas Jones drops, as he attempted to field wobbly passes on the move from Leon Washington. One wonders if this formation will see the light of day in the regular season. Not that there isn’t potential…there always is when Washington has the ball in his hands.
Shonn Greene has an engine. Rex Ryan singled him out, crediting the rookie running back for absorbing some wicked hits in the exercise he jokingly dubbed “the run-over” drill. Greene kept battling, which Ryan admired.
“I think it’s a great coaching staff and the players are great. Everybody looks after one another. It’s like a brotherhood.” – Greene on being a Jet.
Jim Leonhard may have denoted the Jets’ new defensive philosophy after his interception in the morning practice. After nabbing the turnover, Leonhard pitched the ball backward to corner Lito Sheppard. It was a play that may have boiled the blood of many coaches, but one that Rex Ryan endorsed whole-heartedly. “I don’t know if Jets fans have seenthat. I’ve played with Ed [Ravens’ safety Ed Reed] for a year and we’re going to put it in the end zone however we can. We have a lot of fun, especially in practice… you might see that on Sunday. It’s a little Ed Reed… now I know Lito has the hands, so I have one guy to pitch it too. “
Chansi Stuckey is an interesting case. A quick, diminutive pass catcher, he’s your typical flea, perfect for causing chaos out of the slot. Two years ago, Stuckey was a sleeper coming into camp, a seventh round gamble who had a distinguished career at Clemson. Unfortunately, a foot injury placed him on injured reserve on September 12th, rendering his rookie campaign barely a pro baptism. These difficult circumstances have sent many a young receiver with a similar profile into permanent purgatory, waiver wire fodder. But Chansi persevered, overcoming his injuries to become a threat, grabbing 32 passes and scoring three touchdowns. It was a welcome development to be sure, but now, the Jets may be asking for more. And should they continue with the gambit, forgoing options like Matt Jones, they could be asking for too much.
After the Jets and Laveranues Coles divorced for the second time this past offseason, they left themselves without a proven number two receiver on the depth chart. [Coles entered 2008 as option A. but had clearly ceded that role to Jerricho Cotchery by December] They will attempt flanking their new number one with a cast that will undoubtedly condemn him to double-coverage. The Jets will leave this task to good stories, like Stuckey, projects with tantalizing talent, such as Brad Smith, and cult heroes of preseason’s past, like David Clowney. Each of them must realize that this training camp may represent the best chance they ever get to establish themselves as starting caliber players. Stuckey, for one, isn’t changing his approach. When queries about his mind-set amid what will surely be a heated competition, “Nah,” Stuckey said, “I’m just going to go out and make plays.” He reiterated this point often, “Just make plays.” Someone will have to.
Ultimately, this call will belong to Rex Ryan. Cotchery is the absolute essential factor in this equation, but even he may be a bit of a mystery to the mainstream segment of the football population. This fact wasn’t lost on Ryan. “He’s had a thousand yard seasons. I saw him up close and personal in Baltimore, when he almost beat us by himself. We couldn’t cover him. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t boast or brag…” Really though, Cotchery’s star status is an immaterial concern for the Jets. The coaching staff is aware of his importance, and, should he shine with a limited supporting staff, perhaps a few endorsements will come around too.
The real questions concern Stuckey and company. “Stuckey’s great in the slot,” said Ryan, before smiling and deadpanning, “Well, why move him out of the slot?” Perfect reasoning of course, but that still leaves a hole across from Cotchery.
“Brad Smith could be the number two guy,” said Ryan. “He’s a tough guy, real tough guy. He can catch. Has size. He really has everything. So why can’t he play?” Indeed, Smith possesses all the measurable qualities, capable of feats for the highlight reels, his jumping, swirling, juggling grab against the Titans on the Opening Sunday of the 2006 season particularly memorable. Smith’s development has been a long-term venture, not a shock considering he was a quarterback during his celebrated collegian career. Smith is now entering his fourth season however, and is still defined by momentary flashes.
Perhaps the Jets are hoping for an ascension similar to Cotchery’s, who was notoriously underutilized byHerm Edwards in favor of the disappointing Justin McCareins. When Mangini took over, one of his first maneuvers was to install the heretofore-unknown Cotchery as a starter. Mangini remarked, almost nonplussed, that Cotchery always looked great on tape, and was surprised he had not been given a chance to shine. As Rex Ryan spoke of Smith, his tone was similar. With a coach who truly believes in him and consistent reps, perhaps Brad Smith could finally breakout.
Ryan eventually moved on to discuss Wallace Wright, his stock seemingly falling after a rough first day. “Wallace had a great minicamp. Sometimes you have to step back to step forward.” Whether the Jets’ receiving depth can step-up could determine their season.
The best catch of the morning practice belonged to Jerricho Cotchery. Kellen Clemens found him streaking down the sideline. Cotchery caught it in stride, a noteworthy play because he was well covered by two defensive backs. This image may become familiar.
Jets LB Vernon Gholston has been watched very carfeully by the media these first two days of camp. Throttled in the spotlight due to the suspension of Calvin Pace for the first four games, Gholston has been annointed the starter by Ryan. Does he feel the heat? If he is, you can't tell. he was cool as a cucumber answering questions from the media today.
Gholston said today his focus is learning the system and really that has been his biggest challenge since he was drafted the #6 player in last year's draft. Even though he had an extremely disappointing rookie season where he had just 5 tackles and no sacks and at one point he didn't even dress for a game, he fell under the radar last season mostly due to the Brett Favre hoopla. However, this season everyone will be watching very carefully to see if this physical specimen can live up to his hype of 2008.
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