Questions Loom

By Mark Cannizzaro
Jets Head Writer
September 9th, 2005
Thankfully, Opening Day is upon the Jets. It's been a long offseason, painful at times with many thoughts of what if one of those Doug Brien field goals went through the uprights last January in Pittsburgh flitting through many an idle mind.

Now, though, we can truly marvel in the things the Jets are going to do well and excite us with and we, too, can truly question their shortcomings.

There are sure to be many of each, though the prediction here is rather positive.

As the Jets embark on Kansas City, a tough place to play, to face the Chiefs in their 2005 season opener, they bring with them a litany of questions _ enough to make you wonder how good they really will be.

The top question on everyone's mind is Chad Pennington.

It's no longer as much about whether his shoulder is all right after offseason surgery as it is about Pennington restoring the shine. Because of the fact that he's been unable to play a full season yet as a pro has tarnished the shine that glowed from his being following the magical 2002 run that he orchestrated after taking over for Vinny Testaverde.

It's too early in Pennington's career to call this a crossroads year, but it is one of major significance. He is, after all, the $64 million face, future and now of the franchise. And him playing a full 16-game season while being productive, of course, will be paramount in the organization's confidence in him.

Pennington knows this. Staying healthy while being productive is of serious importance to him, too.

One thing you should know for sure, the head coach is very much in Pennington's corner. Herman Edwards, recognizing both Pennington's talents and smarts along with the importance of the head coach-starting quarterback relationship, has stood firmly behind his man. He will either win with Pennington or go down with him.

The thought here is that Pennington is going to be just fine; that we've scrutinized him much too much in training camp practices and preseason appearances.

Pennington is a noted gamer, dating back at least to his collegiate days at Marshall. When the game is on, his arm is plenty strong enough to make the throws Mike Heimerdinger wants him to make.

And, let's not forget Laveranues Coles, Pennington's safety blanket. These two will rekindle their symbiotic relationship on the field. Not only that, but with Coles, Justin McCareins in his second season here, a healthier Wayne Chrebet and an up-and-coming Jerricho Cotchery, this is the best receiving corps Pennington has had.

Part of the problem Pennington has faced is that everyone wants it to be 2002 again. They forget that, with a torn rotator cuff, he still got the Jets to within two makeable field goals in Pittsburgh away from getting to the AFC Championship.

Imagine what he could have done with a fully-healthy arm?

"What happened with Chad is he was so successful in 2002 people just took it for granted,'' Edwards said. "He did a lot of great things, but when you looked at the 2002 season this whole team did a lot of good things.”

"The whole team played well and he helped orchestrate some of that the way he played.

From there he's been a guy that has been a little nicked, now he was nicked again last year, played through adverse situations with half an arm trying to play quarterback and then he missed all the offseason. He's just coming back, so he's a guy that I still say is a young quarterback, and I don't lose site of that. He's a young quarterback. You can't lose site of that. I just think the more he plays the better he's going to become and that's all it takes. He has to go play. One thing about him when he plays he learns something every time he plays for us. I think at that position it's true because that's part of playing that position you have to go in there and play.''

Pennington, in the long run, with a better supporting cast and a more dynamic offensive coordinator, is going to be better than he was in 2002.

Hopefully, that'll start with this season.

That starts, of course with Sunday.

"I think he will react fine,'' Edwards predicted. "I look at it like this: It's the same kind of atmosphere that you are going to get in San Diego when we were out there to play in the Playoff game, same atmosphere you are going to get when we were involved in Pittsburgh. I mean in a Playoff game, it's going to be that type of atmosphere.“

"Our team has to have the mindset of that and understand that in the first quarter you don't want to look at the scoreboard all of a sudden it's 14-0 (Chiefs). Then they're climbing uphill with roller skates and that's not very good, because you are not going to climb very far. You have to play smart early in order to do that.”

"The crowd will be there, the anxiety of players is going to be there, but that's all overall. You just want to make sure you get through the first quarter of the football game and let it settle down and you don't want all of a sudden fireworks go out and they start drumming and playing the Chiefs' song early. “

"You have got issues, you got big issues then because they get going, I know, I was there (as an assistant), and they get going. It seems like you are playing against 15 guys all of a sudden. You don't want to do that. That's your mindset when you go on the road. So we have been in that atmosphere. Now, whether we can handle it we'll find out. We handled it in the past. Now that doesn't mean we have won every game, but we have understood that. I think that's what we have to understand when we go to there and play.''

Pennington is the key to all of that. He's the quarterback, the leader. This is his team. How he goes the team goes.

So one of the things he must guard against is being too hard on himself when things don't go well.

"He's very hard on himself because that is how he's accomplished what he's accomplished,'' Edwards said. "That's part of his makeup. You know that. I think there's a quiet moment when you just have to tell him, 'Hey look,' and then he gets it. He understands. You've always got to remind him of that.''


Not to suggest that there's a lack of confidence in the Jets' defense, but a highly-placed team insider this week spoke about the fact that he believed the team needed to score 30 points to beat the Chiefs Sunday. The theory there was that Kansas City, with its prolific offense, would score at least three touchdowns.

We're not sure if fiery defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson concurred with that thought, but it was a fair one anyway considering Kansas City averaged 30 points per game last season and is particularly explosive at home.

Everyone is anxious to see drastic changes in the Jets' offense under new offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger. Don't hold your breath.

Heimerdinger himself said this week that, "to the fan in the stands'' the Jets are going to look a lot like they did last year on offense in terms of the plays that are called and what they do.

That simply means a lot of Curtis Martin, which should be the case, and other calls that Pennington is comfortable with.

Because former coordinator Paul Hackett took such abuse here and was thought of to be the one bad seed in the organization, the part that kept the Jets out of ther elite, there's a lot of pressure on Heimerdinger. But he knows that, said he understands "that comes with the territory.''

We need to sit back and allow his philosophy to take shape with this team instead of judging it on a series to series basis. Otherwise, eventually you're going to hear someone near you in your section wonder aloud, "Isn't this what we used to do when Hackett was here?''

Give Heimerdinger some time. He's going to be a great fit with Edwards and the Jets.

There is particular pressure on Heimerdinger's offense to produce Sunday considering if the Jets need to get into a shootout with Kansas City.

"When you play Kansas City, Indianapolis or one of the great offenses, the best thing we can do is make first downs and keep the ball, because Trent (Green, the Chiefs' QB) is not as good a quarterback if he's standing next to Dick (Vermeil) on sideline,'' Heimerdinger said. "We can't have a bunch of three-and-outs and give them a bunch of chances.''

Interestingly, Heimerdinger did say that "in round about way we've been practicing for Kansas City since I got here.''

"As I installed stuff in the summer, I watched a lot of Kansas City film this and tried to give the players reps that I thought would be good against Kansas City,'' he said.

Jets' right guard Pete Kendall said he believes the Jets' red zone production will be the key against the Chiefs.

"If we can get to the red zone there will be more urgency to score a touchdown,'' Kendall said. "I don't think 13 points offensively is going to be enough to win this game, I'll be bold enough to predict that.''


Some things to look forward to as we await kickoff :

> Rookie kicker Mike Nugent's first field goal, but more importantly, his first field goal of pressure magnitude. Nugent looks like a really cool customer and someone Jets fans are going to grow to embrace. He could become that Adam Vinatieri weapon the Jets drafted him to be.

> Rookie punter Ben Graham's first booming end-over-end, hard-to-handle punt to Chiefs returner Dante Hall. Virtually everyone has had trouble fielding Graham's punts, so it'll be compelling to see if Hall, the best in the game, is bitten by the Aussie Rules Football bug.

> John Abraham's first sack. We've been critical of Abraham for his decision to stay out of camp in the contract dispute that was never going to be solved because he had no leverage, but we root for Abraham. He's a good guy with a fun personality that people need to see. Prediction here is Abraham has two sacks Sunday.

> Ty Law's first interception. It'll be a relief to all when Law shows everyone he's still the same shut-down corner he's always been.

> Curtis Martin's first 100-yard game. Backup Derrick Blaylock, the former Chief, making a big play against his former mates.

> Dewayne Robertson's first stuff of a running back up the middle for a loss of yardage.

> Wayne Chrebet over the middle for 12 yards on third-and-11.

> Pennington to Coles. Again.

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