The storylines have been aplenty this week as we inch towards Monday night’s opener between the Jets and the Ravens. With so much to get to and so little time, let’s empty out the notebook.
Seven current Jets — five coaches and two players — are former Ravens. Safety Jim Leonhard, who signed with New York’s AFC representative on March 3, 2009, experienced his professional breakthrough in Baltimore in 2008 when he started 13 times. But the Ravens didn’t fight to keep him last spring and were content to move on with Dawan Landry to play opposite Ed Reed.
“A lot of great memories back in Baltimore, but now being a Jet, it’s like going back and playing your family, your brother — you never want to lose,” Jimmy told me. “I’m looking forward to seeing those guys on the field and talking to them a little bit and going out there and beating them. There’s nothing better than that.”
Reed, Leonhard’s former S partner on the Ravens’ Reserve/PUP list with a hip injury, will not be available for game action until Week 7. And while Tom Zbikowski, an excellent special teams player for the Ravens in his third season, is a solid replacement, he’s no Ed Reed.
Leonhard will team up with a new starting safety in 2010. Kerry Rhodes was shipped to Arizona and the Jets signed Brodney Pool in free agency. Pool has been slowed by an ankle injury this week, but he practiced limited today and the Jets are hopeful he’ll be ready for Monday. If not, Leonhard will pair up with Eric Smith.
“You love games like this,” Leonhard said. “They don’t come around that often and to play on Monday night is special and to open the season on Monday night is obviously a good thing for your organization.”
Can’t Let Rice Cook
Another Jets safety — James Ihedigbo — is friendly with Ravens RB Ray Rice. In fact, the two hosted a free football camp in Puerto Rico back in July.
“My best friend I went to college with actually went to high school with Ray [at New Rochelle HS] and we ended up linking up, all three of us,” said Ihedigbo. “We have the same marketing team and agents, so it all kind of ended up connecting the dots.”
The Jets recipe for winning includes a starch-free diet. Last year Rice joined Titans RB Chris Johnson as one of only two players in the league to gain 2,000 yards from scrimmage. The 5’8”, 212-pound Rice, a Rutgers product set to start his third season, ran for 1,339 yards while averaging 5.3 yards per carry in 2009.
“He brings versatility to the game, his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and his ability to run the ball very well,” Dig said. “For his size, don’t be mistaken, he’s a fierce running back. He’s one of the top in the league and went to the Pro Bowl last year. Anyone of his caliber and the type of offense that revolves around him, you have to respect that.”
Rice can do damage in the passing game as he led the Ravens with 78 receptions last season. Small in stature, he is a big-time offensive weapon.
“He can see you coming before you can see him. Him being kind of small, he can sneak his way out of there, and once he gets going, it’s hard to stop him,” Ihedigbo said. “You have to get your hands on him early and make sure you keep your eyes on him.”
Dig, a valuable special teams performer and key reserve, is a punisher and he won’t be thinking good things about Rice come Week 1.
“Ray’s a good friend of mine, but Monday night not so much.”
The Jets’ starting offense scored two touchdowns on 18 preseason possessions, so there is some external concern about a unit that will be missing Santonio Holmes for the first quartet of games. But WR Jerricho Cotchery, not known for his outlandish statements, told me the Jets were vanilla and then some in summer play.
“We didn’t show anything in the preseason,” he said flatly. “That’s the thing about it. We’ve installed a lot of packages this offseason, so we weren’t able to use any of those. It was good we weren’t able to show them, so now we can bring out everything finally because the regular season is here.”
So expect to see a multitude of shifts, motions and personnel packages and keep an eye out there for No. 16. Brad Smith is not only the Jets’ top kickoff return man and third receiver, but he can do damage from the QB position as well.
Even though the Ravens are banged up in the secondary (Chris Carr is slotted to start in Domonique Foxworth’s LCB spot), Cotchery has respect for a changed backfield that finished tied for eighth against the pass in ’09.
“They’ve always been able to plug guys into their secondary,” he said. “Obviously those guys up front can get after it, so they’ve been able to have guys come into the back end and be able to hold up throughout the season. They get after the quarterback, so you have to get open pretty fast.”
Last season, the Ravens finished fourth in turnover margin (plus-10) and the Green & White were 17th (plus-1). The Jets know they have to take care of the rock this week or they’ll be 0-1 facing a short week to prepare for Tom Brady and company.
“One thing you can’t do against a team like this is you can’t turn the football over,” said FB Tony Richardson. “You have to have positive yards on first down because if you get in third-and-long situations with as many things as they do, it’s going to be a tough day for us. The biggest thing is keep on track, stay on rhythm on offense and you can’t turn the football over. Their record is unbelievable when they get turnovers.”
“The turnover battle — Rex showed us some stats that were eye-opening,” added RT Damien Woody. “When they win the turnover battle, they pretty much never lose. We have to be conscientious of that, holding on to the football and do what we do. That’s the most important thing.”
The Jets MasterCard Kickoff Rally kicks off at 5 p.m. today at Manhattan’s South Street Seaport — Pier 17.
Steve Overmyer will emcee the event that will be attended by a few current Jets players and the Flight Crew cheerleaders. Five lucky fans will win tickets to Monday Night’s game and the popular band Good Charlotte will rock out on stage at 5:30.
Tags: Bart Scott, Brad Smith, Damien Woody, Ed Reed, James Ihedigbo, Jerricho Cotchery, Jimmy Leonhard, Ray Rice
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