Jets brass and Fans alike will be holding their breath as franchise QB Chad Pennington make his first start following shoulder surgery this Friday against Minnesota. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
If you're still concerned about Chad Pennington and how his right shoulder is, watch closely out for something in particular Friday night when he plays in a game for the first time since last Jan. 15 when the Jets play the Vikings at Giants Stadium:
Watch for Pennington to take a hit, any hit. Hopefully, he won't be sacked or slammed to the turf. But watch for any adversity, such as a knock down or a shove from an opposing defensive lineman or linebacker.
Watch how Pennington reacts _ or doesn't react.
If he bounces right back up off the turf and then comes out the next play and throws a completion, you'll undoubtedly breathe easier, as will the Jets collectively.
"I'm really excited to get into game action and be in the huddle with my teammates and go through what a game experience is like all over again,'' Pennington said this week. "It's been awhile and a long road, so this is kind of the first step to ending the recovery phase and just moving on, playing quarterback and trying to lead this team where we want to go.
"I feel good about it,'' Pennington said. "I don't think anything (bad) is going to happen out there at all. I've done a really good job of strengthening my shoulder and doing all of the necessary things to give it endurance and strength to be able to take a beating. I feel like I'm as strong as I ever was. I actually think I have more muscle mass than I used to.
"I feel pretty good about that and I'm looking forward to it. I want to play football and that's what football is about. It's a contact sport.''
Pennington's teammates can sense his anticipation as he nears this critical phase of the recovery process.
"I can tell he's very anxious,'' Jets' receiver Justin McCareins said. "He will not show it too much, but he's fighting the trainers on how many reps he can take and how often he can throw passes on the field. I know he'll be ready. I trust him. He's smart enough to know how to protect his body and take care of himself, and the trainers are doing a good job.
"He's looking better every day. He's getting stronger and I can tell that he's throwing the ball with more confidence.''
Herman Edwards has felt Pennington's anxiety to get out there and play, particularly after holding him out of the Lions game last Friday.
"He was antsy last week, but we spoke in the summer when we were out at my camp and we talked about what we were going to do when we go to (training) camp,'' Edwards said. "We had a plan and this week he'll go in to play and we'll see how he feels. I'll say something to him like I always do before the game. He'll be fine.
"Once he gets in the flow of the game and gets playing we'll find out how sharp he is. He won't be as sharp as he will on opening day, but he has to go through it now and get his timing and stuff down.
"I think he'll be inspired,'' Edwards went on. "He'll be excited. He'll throw some high balls, some low balls, and he'll throw some real good. It's good. It's practice. It's a practice game. It's a game where we want to do some things better than we did last week. And that's what you do. You evaluate the game after the game is over with and you try to improve on all the things that you need to.''
Pennington will likely play into the second quarter, depending on how the early series go.
"He'll be in there with the starters and we'll see how he progresses and how the game goes,'' Edwards said.
Asked if he'll be nervous when Pennington takes his first hit, Edwards said, "No, because if we were to think he hasn't prepared to play then we wouldn't put him out there. Football is football. You can't sit there and worry about if someone is going to get hit or not. They get hit. That's why you have to be a tough guy to play quarterback.''
Because this is next huge step for Pennington, the anticipation for this game is much more heightened then that of a regular preseason game.
"Well, I think he's anxious and I think our whole team is anxious in the fact that he hadn't participated in a game,'' Edwards said. "In the spring he didn't participate and now he's starting to practice more and I think he just wants to get in the mode of playing. Like I said earlier he's going to have some high throws, some low throws and he'll make some good ones too. That's what's good about it. He needs to be in these types of ball games before the season starts.''
INSIDER EXTRA POINTS
REMEMBER RAY You've probably already forgotten about him, because he's been gone for more than a week now. But let's not forget what Ray Mickens brought to the Jets for nine hard-fought seasons.
Mickens, who was released when the Jets signed Ty Law, will be missed in the Jets' locker room as a classy, level-headed steadying influence to his teammates.
He was a reporter's favorite because he was always stand-up in the best times and the worst, always available and always accountable. And believe me when I tell you that Mickens endured the worst of times with the Jets. Remember, he came in when Rich Kotite was coaching and endured those calamitous times.
He came in undersized and determined to be starter and always fought to the end before being slotted as a nickel back. When he finally realized he was a nickel back he became one of the best in the game.
Mickens can still play and now he's in Cleveland with Romeo Crennel and the Browns. He, too, has a lot to offer to a young team as a veteran locker room presence.
The shame is he should still be a Jet. But, because of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the ever-present salary cap, veterans like Mickens get screwed because the minimum salary they have to make prices them off rosters.
Mickens probably would have stayed a Jet for a lower salary.
Now the Jets move on to Derrick Strait, their 2004 third-round draft pick. It's time to see what he can do.
On Wednesday, Strait was very complimentary of the things Mickens left him before departing.
"There are so many little things that he teaches you,'' Strait said. "In a certain play, he'll tell you to watch out for this or be ready for that. He told me to get my study habits right. He teaches you a lot of things as far as being a pro and doing what you need to do. He taught me and I'm thankful for that.''
Asked what the last thing Mickens told him before leaving, Strait said, "He just told me to keep my head up and always believe in myself.''
That, of course, is exactly what Mickens did from the day he arrived to New York. He leaves as one of the classiest players ever to wear the uniform.
Even though Law is already wearing his uniform number and is sure to wear it well, that should never be forgotten.
PEEVED PUNTER In the get-over-yourself department, Jets' punter Micah Knorr has been blowing off reporters in recent days.
Though we don't know for sure why this is the case, it's believed that Knorr feels slighted by the attention his competitor for the job, former Australian Football player Ben Graham has been getting this summer.
It probably hasn't helped Knorr's agitated attitude that he got only one chance to punt in the preseason opener against the Lions compared to three punts for Graham, who averaged a whopping 54.7 yards gross and 41.3 yards net.
Because Graham has such a monster leg, the Jets would love for him to win the job, but his inexperience is an issue. He, too, is learning to hold for the kicker for the first time, too.
Should the Jets keep Graham, there'll be a lot of inexperience in the kicking game when you consider that rookie draft pick Mike Nugent is the kicker. That would mean a first-time kicker, holder and punter, which would probably equate to a lot of sleepless nights for Jets' special teams coach Mike Westhoff.
JORDAN JABS In the try-taking-the-high-road-for-a-change department, LaMont Jordan should concentrate on learning how to be a featured back for the first time in his career rather than lobbing pot shots toward his former team.
Now a tough-guy Raider, Jordan, earlier this offseason was quoted torching former Jets' kicker Doug Brien and placing the blame on him for the Jets' playoff loss to the Steelers.
Perhaps Jordan forgot that, two plays before Brien's first miss, a 47-yarder, he carried the ball for all of one yard when a few more yards might have been enough for Brien to make the field goal.
He obviously also forgot that, two plays before Brien's second miss, he carried the ball for a two-yard gain when a couple more yards might have made the difference between a Brien miss and a make.
Funny how these players forget their own shortcomings so quickly and remember everyone else's flaws.
The latest Jordan slap to the Jets was a quote he delivered to Sports Illustrated that was more ranting about how the Jets mis-used him.
"Oakland will be smart enough to do what the Jets didn't do and that's utilize me in the passing game," Jordan said. "They know I can catch the ball and I think I create match-up problems. Now it's up to the coaches to put me in the right positions."
Let us _ and perhaps Jordan _ remember a couple of things. Firstly, the Jets used Jordan enough to get him a five-year, $27.5 million contract and the chance to be a full-time starter. Secondly, using Jordan more instead of Curtis Martin, who had his most productive season as a pro last year, wouldn't have gotten the Jets one inch closer to the Super Bowl than they got.