It’s now T-minus three weeks and counting before the team buses pull out of the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center and, hopefully, three hours and change later, pull off of Interstate 81 and shortly after into the parking lot of the dorms at SUNY Cortland.
One who says he can’t wait is Mark Sanchez. And why not have that anticipation. The fourth-year starter was a Cortland camper in 2009 and ’10, and at the end of both those seasons, he was quarterbacking the Jets in the AFC Championship Game.
“Cortland never hurts. I think it can only help us, especially with all the off-the-field stuff,” Sanchez said during the Jets’ mid-June minicamp. Then, reflecting on his experience “up north,” he said:
“My rookie year, I was pretty anxious. I didn’t know what to expect. I think now I’ve been as anxious as past years, but I have a little better understanding each year of what’s coming. I know what the dorms look like. I know what Cortland’s going to be like. I know where to eat when we get our day off and all that. So I’ve got that routine planned in my head.”
Many Jets employees, including yours truly, weren’t quite sure what we’d find in this tiny town located 25 miles to the northeast of Ithaca and 35 miles to the south of Syracuse. But while Cortland is isolated — exactly what head coach Rex Ryan was looking for when he was searching for a summer home away from home in ’09 — it’s a cozy place with enough amenities, and the college, the townsfolk plus the influx of Jets fans from all over have turned the Jets into happy campers their first two years there.
“It sounds pretty dismal, but it’s actually a good time, it really is,” Sanchez said. “You figure out stuff to do. You figure it in those quick, short breaks from meetings when there’s time to goof around and have fun.
“Then you’d better be ready to snap back and get your focus for Coach Sparano.”
Sanchez’s improvements over his first three seasons at the controls are a hot topic among fans and reporters. But one element of his game that has undeniably improved and should continue to impress new OC Tony Sparano as well as the fans beginning with the first practice open to the public on Saturday, July 28, is his hard count.
I’ve mentioned it before, his ability to bark out his calls so forcefully that he causes would-be pass rushers to twitch their way over the line of scrimmage and have yellow flags thrown in their direction. And needless to say it’s not exactly a “chunk play” of the kind Sparano wants to see helping move drives down the field. But a strong hard count as part of an improved package of skills is a good thing.
Consider that unofficially Sanchez drew 16 penalties for offsides and encroachments last season, an average of one a game. In 2010 he drew only one hard-count flag on opponents all season. As a rookie, he drew two, both in the “Win And We’re In” Game 16 against the Bengals.
I talked with Mark before the start of OTAs and he was happy to reflect on where his hard count had been and where it’s going in Year 4.
“It’s funny, you have an unsuccessful season and a stat like that doesn’t come out. You go to the playoffs on a deep run, that’s part of the reason. It got buried,” Sanchez said, adding about his backup,. “I think Mark Brunell was part of the reason for that. He gave a hard count out at practice and you could hear it in Morristown.
“You try to rep it at practice, make it sound the same as your regular count. It’s getting the guys up on the line quicker to make it look real. That success is a credit to all the guys on offense. It’s just 5 yards at a time but it’s huge.”
Sanchez mentioned a few other things he wanted to really work on through the camp and into the Sept. 9 season opener vs. the Bills and beyond. One is mastering the new cadence under Sparano, which he started on at the OTAs and minicamp.
“Other than that, I want to come back mechanically sound. I know I will,” he said. “Really work on my pocket presence, avoiding the rush, keeping my eyes downfield, game-like reactions, keeping two hands on the football. When there’s just so much going on these are all the little things that you can’t let slip.”
Sanchez knows there is no room for slippage in 2012. We’ll see how ready he and his teammates are in just several short weeks. No. 6’s message from June: “It’s going to be a good year for us. We’re just ready to get started.”
Here’s to the Fans
Jets fans will as always be a big part of Cortland and training camp and the coming season. Here are two recent measures of how large a role they are playing for the Green & White this offseason.
Mashable.com reports that Socialcam pegs the New York Jets at No. 4 in its list of top 10 brands on the relatively new but increasingly popular video-sharing platform. Mashable says the Jets, with 682,305 followers, “use Socialcam to showcase moments with players, practice highlights and even an idea of what the locker room looks like.”
Then there’s the Jets’ Twitter page, which continues to impress. We cleared 400,000 followers last week, have already just about reached 404,000 and are headed toward a half million. Crazy numbers when I think back to the morning of April 17, 2009, when Eric Allen and I started to tweet updates on Rex Ryan’s first veteran minicamp as Jets head coach in Florham Park, N.J., we had a mere 74 followers.
The Jets want to thank their fans for their tremendous support on these platforms and others. In return the team remains committed to bringing fans closer to the team as 2012 comes roaring around the corner.
Tags: hard count, Mark Brunell, Mark Sanchez, Mashable.com, Socialcam, SUNY Cortland, training camp, Twitter
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