Rex Ryan seems to enjoy this time of the NFL year quite a bit. The first practice of rookie minicamp gives the Jets head coach a chance to impress on his young charges the adaptations that will have to take place for them all too succeed at the pro level, while at the same time allowing him to admire some of the skills of the individual players who have taken the Jets practice field for the first time.
Today’s first practice of the 2013 rookie minicamp was no different.
“I always like to challenge guys mentally when they get here,” Rex opened his news conference this afternoon, “to let them know the process speeds up quite a bit. Wow! We made a few busts today on both sides of the ball. Either way, we’ve got a long way to go.”
But as far as the talent on hand? Wow again. Ryan was first asked about second-round QB Geno Smith.
“I liked the way Geno threw the ball. He looked pretty impressive to me,” the coach said. “He can really spin it, no surprise there. … But you kind of listen to the huddle and all that kind of stuff. Some guys can’t spit it out. He certainly can. The way he conducts himself, eyes up and all that stuff. And you want to see the ball come out with some kind of rhythm.
“Obviously a lot of things have to get better, but for the most part I thought he did throw the ball on rhythm pretty well and he was fairly accurate with it, so it was good.”
Smith spoke in the locker room earlier (we’ll provide a transcript of his remarks later this afternoon) and wasn’t saying he aced his first exam.
“My first goal is to prove myself to the team here,” he said before a large group of pads and pens, microphones and cameras. “I’ll let the coaches do the grading. If I was giving myself a mark, I’m a tough grader so I’d say an F. I need to get better every day.”
The Jets’ pair of first-rounders were also around. The top pick of the draft, CB Dee Milliner, stayed on the sideline or on the stationary bike due to his shoulder.
“It’s not all the way, 100 percent, healed,” he said. “It’s a couple of months’ process before you get back to normal. I just know to listen to what the trainers tell me, go out there and do what they tell me to do. Until they clear me to get out there, I’m going to be over there doing rehab.”
But. he was adamant that he’d be on the field in full pads sooner rather than later. Will he be ready to roll by the start of training camp? “Yeah,” he said, “I’ll be ready.”
Ryan wasn’t worried that the player considered the top corner on most everyone’s draft big board might fall behind.
“Dee’s got to nail down the mental part of it because he’s not going to get out there right away physically and do it,” the coach said. “Clearly he showed in college that he’s familiar with a lot of coverages. Several of the coverages Alabama plays are our coverages, too.”
The other first-rounder is Missouri DT Sheldon Richardson, and here Ryan’s eyes lit up.
“Sheldon was good. I don’t want to put expectations to high, but he was impressive, to say the least,” Ryan said. “We move them around, we can have a guy at nose, 3-technique, 5-technique, but there’s several different things he can do. One thing we saw today was his explosiveness, another is his effort to the football. He loves to play, you can already tell that. You could’ve doubled that practice and he’d’ve been fine.”
Richardson explained that his 6’3″, 294-pound size helped turn him into the football personality he is today.
“I was always the chubby kid in class that everybody picked on,” he said, “and I played with a chip on my shoulder. I still feel like I’m the same kid. I like to do what skinny guys do. Dunk a basketball? I want to jump as high as him and dunk a basketball. I happen to be able to dunk a basketball because of it. I have fun. I’m a kid out there.”
Ryan will have more comments on all his players over the coming weeks and months, but he singled out a few more players today for different reasons.
“One guy who stood out was the receiver from Tennessee, Zach Rogers,” the coach said of the undrafted FA. “He caught a lot of balls out there, he was a slot receiver, you saw him return punts. And he did a good job in the special teams drills.”
Ryan also gave some kudos to free-agent center Dalton Freeman — “That All-American from Clemson looked really impressive to me” — and even touted a tryout player, former Rutgers CB Mason Robinson — “He was playing some nickel. The coaches at Rutgers said nobody wanted to fight this guy. That’s pretty good for a little [5'10", 185] corner.”
The Jets rookies will conduct the second day of their “swimming lessons” on Saturday with a schedule very similar to today’s before conducting a closed third and final day of camp on Sunday and then heading home or to the phones to call home and wish their moms Happy Mother’s Day.
Tags: Dalton Freeman, Dee Milliner, Geno Smith, Mason Robinson, Rex Ryan, rookie minicamp, Sheldon Richardson, Zach Rogers
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