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Dunbar and Smoke in the Pittsburgh Hills

Posted by Randy Lange on July 22, 2013 – 10:36 am

In part two of our four-part blog visiting with some of the Jets’ assistant coaches on their training camp memories, I chatted with Karl Dunbar recently. And before Dunbar was a top-notch defensive line coach, he was a decent defensive lineman himself — a standout DT at LSU and a three-year pro with one season in New Orleans and two in Arizona.

But his first NFL exposure was as an eighth-round pick by Pittsburgh, and Dunbar remembers that first training camp experience at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., like it was yesterday.

“Mean Joe Greene was my defensive line coach and Chuck Noll was my head coach,” Dunbar recalled. “At camp, we’d have to run the hills in the morning, and the strength and position coaches would be out there along the trail.

“You always knew where Mean Joe was, even if he was behind a tree, because he’d always smoke a cigar. As you were running steep hills, through trees and brush, you’d suddenly smell the cigar smoke coming from the trees and you’d say, ‘Mean Joe’s right around the corner.’ “

Even though Dunbar didn’t stay with the Steelers, he said he had no doubt that summer was an important one for him as a player and then as an NFL coach.

“I’ll never forget that first year coming out,” he said. “Running the hills, working your quads and glutes, no question that got us ready. And I’ll never forget my first year coming out of college, playing defensive line under Mean Joe. That all made us better players.”


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Guard Thread: Faneca to Colon to Winters

Posted by Randy Lange on June 17, 2013 – 4:35 pm

Updated, 6:25 p.m. ET

Time distortion is an Einsteinian thing. But it can be an NFL-ish phenomenon as well.

How long ago was it that Alan Faneca started at left guard for the Jets? Three centuries ago? Three decades? Of course it was only 3½ seasons ago that the perennial Pro Bowler started his last game in green and white, in the 2009 AFC Championship Game at Indianapolis.

Yet a sturdy thread stretches from Faneca through the Jets’ current free-for-all at both guard spots heading toward the coming season.

Before Faneca became a Jet in ’08, he was a Pittsburgh Steeler. And before Willie Colon became a candidate to claim one of the Jets’ starting guard jobs in ’13, he too was a Steeler. Needless to say, he and Faneca were black-and-gold-tight.

“I know Alan really well and I know a lot about him. Back then, I was always tugging on him and Jeff Hartings for knowledge,” said Colon, the Bronx native who’s returned home after spending his first seven pro seasons with Pittsburgh. “And I think the biggest for any guy who’s still around, still able to play the game, is the sense of urgency — you can only play this game for so long.”

“If you care about the game, if you care about the team, the worst thing you can do is not share information with the guys that are coming up.”

Faneca made such an impact on Colon that choosing a uniform number as a Jet was easy. His 74 with the Steelers has been claimed since 2006, when a rookie named Nick Mangold came to the Jets.

“When I got here, it was a question of which number did I want, 75 or 66?” Colon said. It took him a little longer than a blink of an eye decide on 66, which was the number Faneca made famous as a Steeler and for his two years as a Jet.

“I felt where I wanted to be, where I wanted to finish my career is on the same level that Alan finished his career,” he said. “I thought it would only be right to honor him and his number, show respect, and play my tail off like he did.”

Yet while Colon is doing that, he’ll be extending the thread to young men on the Jets’ O-line such as third-round rookie guard Brian Winters.

“Alan and Jeff, those guys did that for me. They saw I had a lot of upside. They paid attention to me, they cared about me,” he said. “And when I messed up or I wasn’t on my game, they were there for me to lean on and also to give me help and tools that made me a better ballplayer. So it’s only right that I can do that for Winters or Austin Howard or anybody that’s coming in that has a fair shot of being an impact player on this team.”

Winters appreciates the help and, as young as he is — he turns 22 next month — appreciates getting it from something of an idol of his, and possibly extending this thread even farther into the Jets’ future.

“I remember growing up and watching Willie play for the Steelers,” said Winters, who grew up in northern Ohio outside of Cleveland and not far from Pittsburgh. “My stepmom was a big Steelers fan, and I was from a Browns background, so watching him was great. I love the way he played the game.

“And to come in here and him kind of taking me under his wing is awesome. The coaches are there to help me, but when there’s specific things for that position that he can see, he teaches me and helps me on that. He doesn’t have to do that, but he wants to make me a better player.”

Colon said he’s impressed and inspired by Winters’ attitude.

“I remember not too long ago I was in his shoes and I just wanted to make it and I just wanted to fight and I just wanted to be out there and have a chance to crack the lineup,” he said. “And he’s right now in that position. I won’t be surprised if somehow he cracks that lineup. He’s extremely athletic and he has a lot of upside.”

Colon’s not the only one to see that. Head coach Rex Ryan talked about his guards on the last day of last week’s full-squad minicamp.

“Nick’s going to have two new guards playing with him so that certainly will be a challenge,” Ryan said. “But I’ve really been impressed with Willie, and the same thing with [Stephen] Peterman. We’re flipping all those guards, Winters as well. I’m expecting big things from this young man. So I feel pretty good about where we are with those guys.

“Sometimes there’s a comfort level. The offensive line immediately wants to say, ‘I’m the right guard,’ ‘I’m the left guard’ or whatever, but we’re not there yet. It’s about the competition. The best two will be out there and we’ll see who that is. But do I see good competition there? I absolutely do.”

During the minicamp, Winters was in the left guard cat-bird’s seat between Mangold and LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson. With him, Colon, Peterman, returnee Vlad Ducasse and sixth-round rookie Will Campbell in the mix, the competition is lively. The one thing we know today is that with the departure of Brandon Moore and Matt Slauson, the Jets will have two new guard starters for the first time since 2004.

It’s all good in the OL room, said Colon.

“You’ve got five guys who love the game and just go out there and get it done,” he said. “There’s no egos on this line. I’m not surprised but at the same time it’s a blessing. Some guys who are paid or have some type of credentials, you may get a jerk along the line. But all our guys are proud to go to work and take pride in their job and become good at it.”

And that encourages this new band of OL brothers to pay it forward — and to have a firm grip on that thread reaching back into the past as they power into the future.

Long-Snapper Released

The Jets announced this afternoon they have released long-snapper Travis Tripucka, the long-snapper out of the University of Massachusetts who was signed to a reserve-future contract early this offseason.

Also, for those scoring at home, Tripucka’s uniform No. 44 became available for a second before undrafted rookie TE Chris Pantale shifted from 81 to 44.

And Kellen Winslow, who wore 49 for his tryout at last week’s mandatory full-squad minicamp, then signed with the Jets the next day, will now be wearing No. 81. Winslow wore 80 with the Browns and 82 with the Buccaneers and Patriots.


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Jets’ Toughest Quarter of ’13? Games 5-8

Posted by Randy Lange on June 12, 2013 – 7:21 am

As promised, two weeks after we broke out a blog on the first quarter of the Jets’ 2013 regular-season schedule, it’s time to post up some tweet-sized bullet points for each game on the slate in the second quarter of the season, Games 5-8.

Game 5 — @ Atlanta, Georgia Dome, Monday, Oct. 7, 8:40 p.m.

■ Jets trail series 6-4. Last win vs Falcons: 28-3 in Meadowlands in 1998. Last road win: 28-14 at Atlanta-Fulton Co. Stadium in ’86.

■ In teams’ last game in ATL, in ’05, Jets QB was Vinny Testaverde, Falcons QB Michael Vick, who ran for pair of TDs in 27-14 MON night win.

■ In teams’ last meeting in ’09, Falcons prevailed 10-7 on 6-yd TD pass from Matt Ryan to TE Tony Gonzalez with 1:38 to play.

■ This is scheduled to be Jets’ only MON night game, last primetime game of season. Last time they played fewer than 3 in primetime: 2008.

Game 6 — vs. PITTSBURGH, MetLife Stadium, Sunday, Oct. 13, 1 p.m.

■ Jets trail series 16-4 but have won 2 of last 4 and last 2 at home: ’03 Curtis Martin snow game by 6-0, ’07 game after bye 19-16 in OT.

■ ’07 win set up by Leon Washington’s 33-yd OT punt return, Mike Nugent’s 38-yard FG. Jets should see Leon, Mike in 2 following weeks.

■ Ben Roethlisberger career vs Jets: 98-for-168 (58.3%) for 1192 yds, 5 TDs, 7 INTS, 18 sacks for 72.8 passer rating, 4-2 record.

■ WR Santonio Holmes, PIT’s 1st-round pick in ’06, vs his former team in 3 games w/ Jets (incl POs): 11 catches, 129 yds (11.7 avg), 2 TDs.

Game 7 — vs. NEW ENGLAND, MetLife Stadium, Sunday, Oct. 20, 1 p.m.

■ Jets lead series at home 27-25, despite losing last 2, both in primetime (37-16, SUN night, 2011; 49-19, Thanksgiving night last yr).

■ This will be the first time Jets have played NE twice in season’s first 7 weeks since 2000, when they were 2-0 vs. Pats after Game 6.

■ Tom Brady in Meadowlands vs Jets since 2001: 223-for-356 (62.6%) for 2702 yds, 20 TDs, 6 INTs, 97.6 passer rating, 9-2 record.

■ Leon Washington w/ Jets (’06-09) vs. w/ SEA (’10-12): rush avg. 4.7 to 4.2; receiving avg. 7.9-6.9, PR avg. 9.4-10.3, KR avg. 25.5-26.2.

Game 8 — @ Cincinnati, Paul Brown Stadium, Sunday, Oct. 27, 4:05 p.m.

■ Jets lead series 15-7 after winning last 3 at home (last: 26-10, Thanksgiving night ’10) and most recent game at PBS (24-14, ’09 AFC WC Game).

■ Rex Ryan, DL coach under DC Marvin Lewis on Ravens from 1999-2001, is 3-0 vs Lewis as HC, and Jets are 5-1 overall vs Lewis’ CIN teams.

■ Among Bengals they’re expected to face: K Mike Nugent. His first 4 NFL seasons w/ Jets he was 75-for-92 (81.5%) on FGs. Last 3 yrs w/ CIN he’s 67-for-80 (83.8%).

■ Second 4 games of 2013 schedule is the Jets’ toughest quarter. In ’12 ATL, PIT, NE & CIN combined for 43-21 record (.672) and 3 PO berths.


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Revis Declares After Practice: ‘I’m Playing Sunday’

Posted by Randy Lange on September 20, 2012 – 2:18 pm

Updated postpractice, 4:12 p.m. ET

Five words uttered at the top of Rex Ryan’s news conference today were music to Jets fans’ ears:

“Revis is cleared for contact.”

And five more words (two in a contraction) offered by Darrelle Revis at his locker after practice made the music sweeter still:

“I’ll be playing Sunday.”

However, as the Jets head coach cautioned inquiring minds in the media room here at the Atlantic Health Training Center, Revis’ availability to start on the corner at Miami on Sunday is still not a fait accompli.

“I don’t want to be saying something that isn’t true,” Ryan said when asked if being cleared for contact is the final hurdle for No. 24’s returning to action. “I’m going to be leaning on the doctors and trainers. Hopefully, he’ll play, but I guess we’ll see. … I can say I expect him to play, but again, I’m going to lean on the doctors and trainers.”

The one thing Ryan would say is that Revis would practice full today, and he did. That was the first time he practiced full since Bart Scott accidentally kicked him in the back of the helmet late in the Buffalo opener. He didn’t participate in the first two practices after suffering a mild concussion, then was limited the Friday before Pittsburgh and for Wednesday’s practice, all while trying to clear the hurdles of the NFL’s concussion protocol.

“I felt yesterday I could practice full contact, but it’s still protocol … I couldn’t hit anybody yesterday, nobody could touch me,” he said. “Usually when you’re injured, you have to wear the red jersey. I told them I didn’t want to wear it. I felt like I could play full-contact.

“But today it felt good. I actually got a little press in on some guys. … Contact actually feels good today, hitting guys and guys hitting you back.”

Ryan wasn’t going to give a premature game status for Revis, but he did allow that he’s happy that he’d been cleared for contact.

“Without question I’m happy about that, for his sake,” the coach said. “He loves to play, and he’s healthy. I think that’s a big thing. If he’s not the premier defensive player in the league, he’s certainly up there, and having him, as a player, as a player, you’re happy for that also.”

The Dolphins’ happiness was perhaps in inverse proportion to the Jets’. As rookie QB Ryan Tannehill said Wednesday about the prospect of making his first visit to Revis Island: “He’s a great player. You can’t put it any other way. He has good ball skills, good speed, plays tight coverage, man-to-man pretty much the whole game. He’s an All-Pro corner for a reason. We have to have a game plan for it and find ways to attack him.”

Revis was asked if he could be a boost to the Jets’ defense for the important divisional matchup.

“I’m just one guy,” he said. “We have tremendous guys there on defense. I’m just happy to be back. I’m ready to do my job and that’s to compete and play.”

The Rest of the I-Reports

Other tentative pluses for the Jets’ injury report: TE Dustin Keller (hamstring) and S Eric Smith (hip/knee), both not participating yesterday, were limited in today’s practice.

On the tentative minus side, the Jets added one more player to their now 20-player list and downgraded another.

Rex said CB Ellis Lankster “has a low back issue. He hurt it during practice yesterday. So we’ll keep him out of practice and hopefully get him back later in the week.” Lankster, who saw extended action as the Jets’ third DB at Pittsburgh, was limited Wednesday by the mid-practice back strain and is a DNP today.

Rookie DT Quinton Coples (illness) also didn’t participating today. Neither did FB John Conner (knee), LB Bryan Thomas (hamstring) and S LaRon Landry, who’s been sidelined for the third Thursday this season to help his ongoing recovery from his heel issue.

The Dolphins have added starting OLB Kevin Burnett (foot) to their list as not participating today. Also, WR Marlon Moore (hamstring) was downgraded from limited to DNP. The rest of their 10-man report remains the same as the day before.

Heavy Hitters

LaRon Landry followed up his late hit out of bounds on C.J. Spiller in the opener (offset by a Bills holding) with calls of a late hit on Emmanuel Sanders and a horsecollar tackle on Antonio Brown on Sunday.

Ryan said it’s “human nature” for officials to want to keep on eye on Landry during games, but the coach said while his veteran safety hits hard, he hits legal.

“I love the fact that LaRon’s got a reputation as a huge hitter,” he said. “There’s not anybody who’s going to say he’s not a clean player. He’s a clean player. But he’s a hitter. Yeremiah Bell is a hitter, too, but they’re going to do it within the rules.”

Rex cited LB Calvin Pace as an example of that as well, when he had several hard but textbook and legal hits of Ryan Fitzpatrick in the opener.

“You can tell our players are very mindful of that,” he said of hitting with their shoulders and not leading with their helmets. “We’re trying to be as physical a team as we can with in the confinements of the rules. We’re not trying to injure anybody, but we’re trying to hit and be physical.”

Another Long Conversion

A Revis return wouldn’t hurt the Jets defense, which considers itself better than many of its mid-to-low NFL rankings after two weeks of games. One thing the “D” really want to avoid is what happened on the Ben Roethlisberger-to-Mike Wallace touchdown pass in front of CB Antonio Cromartie: opponents’ third-and-long conversions. The 37-yard TD strike, after all, came on third-and-16.

Last year you’ll recall the Jets allowed eight conversions on third or fourth down with 11-plus yards to go. In 2010 they allowed 13 such plays (including two on Roethlisberger passes and one on a Big Ben run in the two meetings with the Steelers). That’s the most allowed in back-to-back seasons since the 22 third/fourth-and-long conversions in 1979-80 (19 in ’79 alone). In the 20 seasons from 1980-2009, the Jets allowed about six of those conversions a season, about the same rate as the Jets offense converted.

Talk about your backbreaking plays. Cutting way back on these unlikely chain-movers would do a lot to help the Jets defense return to top-10 form.


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A Few Other Factors Affecting the Pass at PIT?

Posted by Randy Lange on September 17, 2012 – 2:43 pm

Updated, 5:34 p.m. ET

What happened to the Jets’ passing game after the first quarter Sunday in Pittsburgh? “Throwing and catching,” as Mark Sanchez said. But maybe there were a  few other things.

The Steelers got much credit for their press coverage on the Jets receivers and that certainly was in play as the game wore on. But the press wasn’t in evidence on the Jets’ first drive, when Sanchez hit four of his first five passes. Santonio Holmes had two catches on the drive, including his TD, Jeremy Kerley one and Clyde Gates his first reception as a Jet. All got into their routes unbumped by the dropping Pittsburgh DBs.

What else happened? Before Sanchez threw his sixth official pass of the game, he took a helmet-to-helmet shot from LB Lawrence Timmons early in the second quarter.

Rex Ryan was asked at his news conference today back at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center if he thought the hit was malicious.

“No,” the head coach said. “It was a helmet-to-helmet hit. It should have been flagged, and it was.”

Sanchez said the same after the game.

“I was kind of on the move. He got a good shot at me,” the QB said. “That’s the way it goes. It’s a physical game. It was a good shot, no doubt about that. Stuff happens. It’s part of the game.”

It’s interesting to note that in Sanchez’s first five quarters of the season his passing line was 23-for-32 for 346 yards, four TDs, one INT and a 133.6 rating. From the head shot on, his line is 6-for-22, 58 yards, no TDs, no INTs, 39.6 rating.

We’ll see later this week if Timmons gets a league fine for the high hit. Meanwhile, Sanchez needs to shake off the cobwebs and try to regain that magic touch. The return of TE Dustin Keller would help, although Ryan had no update on Keller’s hamstring. The Dolphins also could cooperate — their passing defense has yielded 313.5 net yards per game, tied for 30th in the NFL.

Mac Attack

Garrett McIntyre played perhaps the game of his career vs. the Steelers, and that would of course include his two years of games in the Arena League and two more seasons in the CFL. Getting the start for Bryan Thomas (ankle), Mac was in on the first two sacks of his NFL career and also was credited with 2.5 tackles for loss on three Pitt running plays.

“It was bittersweet because, obviously, of the outcome,” he said. “But it’s been a long road for me. I had a pretty good feeling before the game, just one of those gut things, that I was going to get my first one. I was happy to do so. And the second one, that’s just icing on the cake. But it’s never as good when you lose.”

“It’s just that he plays hard,” Ryan said today. “He’s one of those guys that we always say plays like a jet. That first sack, he did a tremendous job, ran the stunt perfectly, ran over the center, redirected, made the sack. I thought it was tremendous. He’s a guy who keeps going. Every single play he’s going to give you everything he’s got. He’s probably not the best space player of all time, playing in space like a Calvin Pace, but there’s very few like that. But he can play. He’s a ball of energy and I think that’s good for us.”

Rex Cetera

Ryan wasn’t leaning one way or the other publicly about Darrelle Revis’ return to action from his mild concussion for the Dolphins. Asked about such a return, he said today, “I don’t think you can assume that. He has to be up to the NFL standards, he has to pass those tests. Right now he looks to be doing well, so hopefully he’ll be playing.”

Ryan also didn’t have updates on Keller, on RB Shonn Greene’s head injury (although Greene came back at the start of the second half), or on FB John Conner (ankle). “I know he was limping around pretty good after the game,” he said of “Concrete.”

Vlad Ducasse got in 10 snaps at LG for Matt Slauson at Pittsburgh. “We’re giving Vlad an opportunity to play,” Ryan said. “It’s the same on defense. You’ll see Demario Davis, Josh Mauga in there. If you have a good football player, you should use him. Vlad’s earned the right to play some.” Said Ducasse: “I felt pretty confident. A couple of plays I could’ve done better at, but that’s thing, keep getting better.”

After two weeks, the Jets’ defense is in the middle and even the back half of the NFL pack when it comes to rankings. With tonight’s Denver-Atlanta game ending Week 2, the Jets are 16th in total yards allowed, 22nd vs. the run, 15th vs. the pass, 31st in third-down efficiency, and tied for 22nd in points allowed. His advice to critics: “Hey, bet against us. That’s all I’m saying. We’ll see where it ends up.”

“Inside the Jets”

D-linemen Sione Po‘uha and Muhammad Wilkerson are the players appearing on tonight’s “Inside the Jets” radio show on ESPN 98.7 FM broadcast from the Grasshopper in Morristown, N.J., from 7-8 p.m.


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Revis, Keller, Thomas Ruled Out for Pittsburgh

Posted by Randy Lange on September 14, 2012 – 2:47 pm

Rex Ryan didn’t wait until gametime Sunday, or Saturday before the team’s flight, or for the first question to be asked today. The Jets head coach said at the top of his afternoon news conference that CB Darrelle Revis, along with TE Dustin Keller and LB Bryan Thomas, will not travel with the team and so those three starters will not play Sunday when the Jets take on the Steelers at Heinz Field.

“We’re just following NFL protocol,” Ryan said about Revis’ mild concussion suffered late in the opener against Buffalo. “Darrelle’s been cleared for non-contact, but he hasn’t been cleared for contact.

“We say it all the time. It’s really about the decal on the side of the helmet. We say guys who step up to replace a guy, they have to play as well, maybe a little better. In this case, we’ll take a little less.”

Kyle Wilson, the Jets’ first-round draft choice in 2010, is the player who will be stepping into Revis’ shoes as a starting corner opposite Antonio Cromartie. Wilson, who made the third interception of his career vs. the Bills, has started 12 games as a pro, but in 10 of them he was a slot corner. In only two games in 2010, in Game 3 at Miami and Game 16 vs. Buffalo, did he start on the outside.

Ryan said the Jets have faith in him to handle this next starting assignment against the heavy hitters in the Pittsburgh wideout corps.

“We have a lot of confidence that Kyle will step up in the starting role,” the coach said. “He’s a guy who over the last two years spent time with Darrelle in the offseason, training with him, learning football from him. I think that tells you about Kyle’s commitment. He wants to be a great player. Why not learn from the best?”

For the first time this week, Revis participated in practice, putting on his helmet and jogging out to participate in position drills and also getting in limited work during team drills.

At TE, Ryan said of Keller’s sore hamstring that “he kind of tweaked it a little bit Wednesday. It’s just best that he sit out, miss this game, and be ready to go next week.”\

Jeff Cumberland, the third-year man who had career highs of three catches and 33 yards off the bench on Sunday, is in line to make his first NFL start for Keller, the Jets’ leading pass-catcher the previous two seasons. Konrad Reuland, the first-year waiver pickup who saw action in more than 20 plays vs. the Bills, also will play, and the Jets re-signed Dedrick Epps off the Bears practice squad to their active roster to also help with the TE depth.

Reporter John Holt will have a Q&A with Cumberland that will be posted a little later this afternoon.

Thomas, who started vs. Buffalo after missing the final 12 games last season with a torn left Achilles tendon, suffered a left ankle injury vs. the Bills that he said is unrelated to the Achilles issue. But he was rehabbing furiously this week to get on the field for the Steelers.

“I’ve been in there getting treatment four times a day to give them the confidence to say that I can go out there and play,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s a trainers decision, a doctors decision, but I want to prove to them that I can go out there and do it, no matter what. Especially coming off the injury from last year. I missed some games and that was tough last year. I don’t want to miss any this year.”

However, B.T. will miss at least one, with Garrett McIntyre, who started three consecutive games last season at Denver, vs. Buffalo and at Washington, in line to get this start. Aaron Maybin may also see his snaps go up.

The Rest of the Report

On the flip side of the injury list, Ryan did report that 11 of his listed players practiced full during team drills today and are all probable for the Steelers, including DT Sione Po‘uha and S Eric Smith, who both sat out the Jets’ opener against the Bills. Also full/probable were Cromartie, DT Mike DeVito, WR Stephen Hill, WR Jeremy Kerley, S LaRon Landry, LB Josh Mauga, G Brandon Moore and WR Chaz Schilens. Limited in practice and questionable for the game are FB John Conner (knee) and CB Isaiah Trufant (ankle).

The Steelers’ Friday report lists LB James Harrison (knee) and S Troy Polamalu (calf) as questionable after not participating in team drills today, while RB Rashard Mendenhall (knee) is listed as doubtful.

Another Tebow Rumor Put to Rest

Tim Tebow spoke with reporters again today and predictably, he was asked about a story early in the week in which an unnamed NFL source said the backup QB will be looking to move on from the Jets after this season if he doesn’t become a starter. Tebow found the report amusing.

“That’s what these guys told me about a little bit ago. I find that pretty funny,” he said. “It’s about as true as me living in Hoboken, I think. I guess it’s just part of what you have to deal with, rumors and stuff like that, I don’t know. All I can say is I love being here as a Jet, I’m thankful for it and I want to be here for a long time. I guess you just have to put up with stuff like that.”

That was an earlier rumor, that Tebow had set up shopt in the New Jersey city of Hoboken. He was asked if he had anything against the town.

“Nothing,” he replied, “except everybody says I live there, still to this day.”


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Encore? Hill Focuses on Making Progress at PIT

Posted by Randy Lange on September 13, 2012 – 5:24 pm

Updated, 6:15 p.m. ET

It’s too early to declare Stephen Hill a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate, but in his NFL debut on Sunday the Jets’ first-year man gave some hints that he may already be beyond rookiedom.

Take Hill’s response today to a question about the Steelers’ press coverage, which may be a little more physical than the Bills’ presence at the line of scrimmage.

“Oh, definitely, you look forward to all types of coverages,” Hill said. “When somebody’s coming up to you, you can get a little physical with them, see where their head is. I’m definitely looking forward to that when they come up in press.”

That’s more than youthful yammering. Watch Hill’s first catch as a Jet, the third play of the game. He drove fellow rookie Stephon Gilmore off with a forceful forearm off the line, which gave him the separation he needed to latch onto Mark Sanchez’s short throw without distraction for the first of his five receptions and the first of his three third-down conversions. It won’t always be that easy, perhaps a lot harder Sunday against Pitt corners Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis. Still, his physicality was impressive.

Then there’s his response to his new-found fame in the big city. I mentioned another name he’d probably never heard of today, the name of Al Dorow. Why do Dorow and Hill belong in the same sentence? Because until Hill had his two touchdown catches vs. the Bills, only one player in franchise history had ever scored two TDs of any kind in his Jets/Titans debut regardless of position and experience. That was Dorow, who ran for the first two TDs in franchise history in the Titans’ inaugural game in 1960.

So Hill accomplished something that is roughly a once-in-52-years occurrence.

He smiled politely as I unfolded that blast from the past, even repeated a little of what he’d heard about the Jets’ migration from the AFL to the AFC in 1970. But he declined to be dazzled by his own brilliance.

“This is a week that I’m trying to make more a stride with all of my physical abilities, putting more stuff into my game,” he said. “Now I’m playing veteran veterans, ninth-year-type guys. [Taylor's in his 10th year.] Even going against Cromartie and Revis, they’re still young guys. I’m going against some old heads now. I’m just trying to play my part and do whatever Coach asks me to do.”

It’s early. But the signs from Hill are all pointing up.

Money Toes

Santonio Holmes, who nearly had another one of his impossible touchdown catches on Sunday to go with Super Bowl XLIII and the 2010 AFC Divisional win at New England, explained the thought process he goes through while making such boundary plays.

“I honestly didn’t think twice that my hand touched the ground before my feet did,” he said of his second-quarter near-miss. “My main focus was if I could get this back foot down before I hit the ground, then I would get in.

“It’s all according to working on your mechanics. Most people probably wouldn’t have thought twice to get a back foot down, but I know that’s where all the money is made, by getting two feet down in the back of the end zone. That’s been my focus since joining the NFL.”

How does one exactly practice that kind of impossible skill?

“I think you just travel it through your mind,” he said. “Every day we work on sideline catches and just dragging the toe. It becomes a second-nature thing, where once you’re in the back of the end zone, the only thing that matters is the catch and two feet touching down. You have to know your boundaries. You have to use your peripheral vision to know when you’re leaving you’re feet, how much ground you have, where the sideline is. All those things really factor into playing wide receiver.”

Rex Cetera

Reporter John Holt will have more on Darrelle Revis, who spoke with reporters after this afternoon’s practice, Head coach Rex Ryan’s update on No. 24’s mild concussion wasn’t much different today than Wednesday: “His status remains the same. He’s been cleared to resume physical activity,” Rex said, adding that Revis will probably not be a gametime decision. “I think you wouldn’t put him on a plane if the guy had a concussion. So I think by Saturday [before the Jets leave for Pittsburgh] we would have an answer.”

Ryan also said he thinks another Game 1 Jets star, Jeremy Kerley (low back), will be available for the Steelers. “I’ve been wrong in the past,” Rex said, “but I think he’ll be ready to play.”

Officially, Kerley and FB John Conner (knee) stepped up from DNP to being limited in team drills today, while S LaRon Landry (heel), TE Dustin Keller (hamstring) and CB Isaiah Trufant (ankle) all didn’t participate today after some team activities Wednesday, while Bryan Thomas (hamstring) remained sidelined.

Pittsburgh’s health improved with RB Jonathan Dwyer (foot) joining RB Rashard Mendenhall (knee) as practicing full in the Steelers’ team drills. But coach Mike Tomlin also added T Max Starks to his I-list as not participating today due to illness.

Landry’s crushing hits inspired a question for Ryan about if he likes to develop a “fear factor” on his defenses. “I always look at it this way,” the coach said. “I always want to have as many guys on my team that you wouldn’t want your kid playing against.’

One more note on the win over the Bills: The Jets’ first three touchdowns of the game came in a span of 8:22 on the gameclock. That’s the fastest they’ve scored three TDs in a season opener since the 1970 merger. The previous fastest was 8:34, which they achieved in 1972 en route to their 41-24 win over the Bills at War Memorial Stadium.

Catch Up with Chrebet

Speaking of celebrated Jets wide receivers, Wayne Chrebet will be appearing at a public signing on Saturday. No. 80 will be at The Steiner Sports Store at the Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City, N.Y., from 12:30-2 p.m.


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Lots to Like About Mark’s Metrics in the Opener

Posted by Randy Lange on September 10, 2012 – 2:32 pm

One of the main storylines to Sunday’s season-opening success against the Bills was the accuracy of the quarterback’s throws. And the secret to Mark Sanchez’s day was really no secret.

“Fundamentally, Mark had great confidence in his protection,” head coach Rex Ryan said this midday at his day-after-the-game news conference. “When guys did come open, he was ale to step up and make throws. He was very accurate with the football. There were probably a couple of throws he wishes he had back, but overall I thought he did a tremendous job.

“I just saw that confidence. I saw it in the pregame. I’m not so sure I’ve ever seen that before. I’ve seen him have some great games, but he was bouncing around, zipping it. I sensed he was really feeling it.”

Sanchez said as much following the 48-28 verdict.

“Just having the time to throw is the most important thing,” he said after his efficient 19-for-27, 266-yard, three-TD, one-INT game. “We’re putting a lot of pressure on those guys up front to give me more time and they did a great job doing that. Then the wideouts made great plays. They’re not all perfect. The balls aren’t all perfect, but our guys found a way to catch them and get some yards after the catch, which is nice.”

Yes, we can caution that Sanchez beat up on a young secondary, going over the top of second-year man Aaron Williams and first-round pick Stephon Gilmore on the corners and that he’ll need to ace tougher tests ahead, beginning with the Steelers at Pittsburgh on Sunday.

But while many of the criticisms Mark’s heard in his first three seasons are valid, some of his shortcomings came against imperfect defenses like the Bills. Today Sanchez deserves his kudos for trusting his line as it kept the Buffalo D-line herd out of his pasture and getting Sunday’s job done.

■ Sanchez’s 70.4% completion rate was just what fans and reporters have been clamoring for. It was the fifth-best of his career, behind the 76.5% (13-for-17) vs. Carolina and 80% (12-for-15) at Cincinnati in the playoffs in ’09, and 70.8% (17-for-24) vs. Jacksonville  and 71.4% at Buffalo last year.

■ No one was beating him up more than he was for that too-hard, too-inaccurate shovel for Jeff Cumberland that turned into his only giveaway of the game. But while it’s not statistically honest to lop off that first drive from his passing numbers for the day, it may be revealing to at least note that after the interception, Sanchez was 17-for-23 for 248 yards and his three scoring strikes. The 148.2 rating for that line would have been the highest of his career if it had been his line for the entire game.

■ One of the Jets’ aims for this game was to control third down, and at least offensively they got that done. Their 71.4% third-down conversion rate was their best in a game since late 2004, when they converted 11 of 14 (78.6%) against Seattle. They converted their first six third downs, all on Sanchez completions, the best from the start of a game since they hit their first seven in the “Win And We’re In” game vs. the Bengals in ’09. And Sanchez’s passing line (8-for-10, 92 yards, one TD, 138.3 rating) was one of the best of his career.

“I think he’s got a great grasp of this system even though it’s a new system,” Ryan said today. “He knows the opponents, he now knows what it takes to play in this league. He said when he came in as a rookie that one of these days he was going to be a strength of our team. You look at it now, he certainly is.”

And Rex, Mark, Tony Sparano, the line and the entire offense know that in six days it’ll be “What have you done for us lately?” Let’s see if Sanchez and company can string two together.

Revis’ Head

Ryan confirmed that CB Darrelle Revis suffered a “slight concussion” in the fourth quarter, when he extended to trip up RB C.J. Spiller and got a Bart Scott foot to the back of his helmet.

“I know the NFL protocol. I’ll always lean on our trainers and doctors,” Rex said about the early prognosis for Revis to play the Steelers back in his hometown. “Anything with any injury at all but especially a head injury of any kind, I’m going to err on the side of caution, so we’ll see how he progresses during the week.”

The coach had no updates on the hamstrings of LB Bryan Thomas and WR Patrick Turner, injured during the game, and TE Dustin Keller, who had one catch for 7 yards in his limited action due to his sore hamstring from the Carolina preseason game.

Corrections Ahead

Not all was perfection vs. the Bills. Ryan mentioned that “we have some things to correct, and we look forward to getting on the practice field to getting that done.”

One was the defense’s run tackling. Credit surely goes to C.J. Spiller for making a number of Jets miss as he rolled to 169 yards on 14 carries, including his 56-yard TD run and his 49-yard run to the 2-yard line to set up another score.

“The tackling was poor, to say the least,” Ryan said. “Sometimes when you get up like that, you can’t have any kind of lapse, and I kind of felt we did. I’m not taking anything away from Buffalo. They certainly did a good job on offense.”

So good that their 7.5 yards per carry was the 11th-highest average by an opponent in Jets history and the second-highest in the last 10 years. The only opponent better in that span was the Bengals with their 7.8 in the Jets’ ’09 playoff win.

Also mentioned by the coach: RB Shonn Greene’s “uncharacteristic” two fumbles, both recovered by the Jets, one by Greene at the Bills 43 in the second quarter, the other by D’Brickashaw Ferguson in the end zone inside the final two minutes, with the ball going back to the Buffalo 1. And Rex said “I never want to see Yeremiah [Bell] pitch that ball, either,” on the Bell recovery of the LaRon Landry force against Spiller.

“Inside the Jets” Returns

“Inside the Jets,” hosted by Bob Wischusen, is back on the air tonight from 7-8 p.m. at the Grasshopper in Morristown. ESPN New York 98.7 will broadcast the show, whose guests are expected to be WR Stephen Hill and T Austin Howard.

Yessss!

Marv Albert and Rich Gannon were in the CBS booth for the game. It was the 98th Jets game Marv has called in his illustrious career, and it was the 11th Jets opener he worked — but the first since 1995 at Miami for NBC.


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Dr. O, Ron Erhardt, Passes Away at 81

Posted by Randy Lange on March 21, 2012 – 6:03 pm

We have sad news to report today on the death of Ron Erhardt, the Jets’ offensive coordinator in 1996 and their quarterbacks coach in Bill Parcells’ first year at the Green & White helm in 1997. Erhardt, 81, passed away this morning in Boca Raton, Fla.

His Jets stop was the final one in a strong career as an NFL assistant coach who had a knack for coaching in Super Bowls and an impressive nickname for his work with several offenses: Dr. O.

His first two championship games came as Parcells’ offensive coordinator for the Giants. Parcells, who had been Erhardt’s linebackers coach when Ron was the Patriots’ head coach for three seasons. Both Parcells and Erhardt were on Ray Perkins’ staff in ’82.

When Perkins departed for Alabama, Parcells became the Giants’ HC and Erhardt his OC. The two were on the staffs that guided the Giants to Super Bowl victories after the 1986 and ’90 seasons.

Erhardt left for Pittsburgh in ’92 and ran Bill Cowher’s offense for four seasons. The Steelers were a top-10 offense in three of those four years, led the NFL in rushing in 1994, and played in Super Bowl XXX.

In 1996 Rich Kotite brought Erhardt to the Jets and the offense was one of the few bright spots in the 1-15 season, tying for 12th in total yards and coming in 10th in passing yards despite having to transition at QB from an injured Neil O’Donnell to Frank Reich to Glenn Foley by season’s end.

Parcells returned to the metropolitan area to guide the Jets in ’97 and retained Erhardt for one more year. Then Ron left Bergen County for Florida, where he polished his golf game during the day before he and his wife, Anita, enjoyed the Boca night life and had the kids, sons Rob and Jim and daughters Jan and Jill, down as often as they could on the weekends.

In ’81, New England owner Billy Sullivan dismissed Erhardt two days after the Pats finished 2-14, reportedly saying, “Ron’s just too nice a guy.” I can attest to Ron’s niceness and decency and I also can say that he felt the Patriots gave him a short hook at the end of an injury-plagued season after his Pats went 19-13 in his first two seasons.

But Ron was a football lifer and he moved on to his next gig and the one after that. The former head coach at two North Dakota parochial high schools and North Dakota State never got another head-coaching nod, but he didn’t need one to leave a strong pro legacy.

At the risk of repeating myself from my profile on new Jets offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo from two weeks ago, he said he never met Erhardt but was benefitting from Dr. O’s work from many two decades before.

“People say this is Parcells’ system, but really, it’s Ron’s,” DeGuglielmo told me then. “Every offensive system has a way of calling things, identifying players and routes, things like that. This system has a very distinct way of calling plays and formations. It’s a traditional, professional, two-back, play-action type of offense, but it easily adapts to more open offenses. If you can use the term old-school, this system has old-school qualities with the flexibility to be new-school. The way we call it, you can go from traditional to spread out with ease.”

It would be a fitting tribute if the Jets of Rex Ryan, coordinator Tony Sparano and DeGuglielmo among others can take the system that Ron Erhardt helped shape and knock some aces into the cup in his honor this season.


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The Jets and the Playoff Picture, Unofficially

Posted by Randy Lange on December 25, 2011 – 11:08 am

Updated, Wednesday, 1:05 p.m. ET

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. And the same goes for the Jets, who will need several presents from their distant relatives next weekend to feel better about the holidays and reach the playoff wonderland for the third time under head coach Rex Ryan.

Here are the different scenarios with explanations to help you get through today and head into the coming week’s preparation for the Dolphins:

First of all, the Jets have to win and the Bengals have to lose. In addition, if the 9-7 teams vying for the sixth seed are …

1. JETS and CIN only (TEN loses and either DEN or OAK loses)

The Jets are in as the AFC’s sixth seed.

The Jets’ conference record would improve to 7-5 with a win at MIA, while the Bengals’ conference record would fall to 6-6 with a home loss to BAL.

Will the Ravens have something to play for? You betcha. A BAL loss and a PIT win at CLE gives the AFC North title to the Steelers at 12-4 and the Ravens would go in as the fifth seed, on the road for Wild Card Week. A BAL win OR a PIT loss gives the Ravens the 2-seed, a bye week and a home game at M&T Bank Stadium, where they just finished their 8-0 regular season.

2. JETS, CIN and TEN (either DEN or OAK loses)

Jets are out.

CIN beat TEN in Week 9 but that washes out because the Jets didn’t play either team. In Scenario 1 above, CIN falls away due to conference record, but Jets and TEN, with a win at HOU, would both be at 7-5. Next tiebreaker is common opponents. Titans win, 4-1 to 3-2.

Does Houston have something to play for? No. Their AFC South title and first-ever playoff appearance is locked up. But even with a win to go to 11-5 and BAL and PIT losses to drop both to 11-5, the Texans cannot get the 2-seed because BAL would win the AFC North and the Texans lost to the Ravens in Week 6. This is not a good scenario for the Jets.

3. JETS, CIN and OAK (TEN loses, DEN wins)

Jets are out

The only way OAK gets into a wild-card tiebreaker scenario is if the Raiders, vs. SD, and the Broncos, vs. KC, both win. DEN wins the AFC West based on a better common-opponents mark than OAK, 8-6 to 7-7. The Broncos can’t be in a tiebreaker scenario with the Jets. Either they win the West at 9-7 or they finish second at 8-8.

CIN didn’t play OAK so the Raiders’ Week 3 win over the Jets doesn’t matter … yet. Next tiebreaker is conference record, with CIN again falling out at 6-6 to the Jets’ and Raiders’ 7-5. Then the Jets and OAK revert to the first tiebreaker, head-to-head. This is where the Raiders’ 34-24 win over the Green & White comes in and why the Jets go bye-bye.

4. JETS, CIN, TEN and OAK

Jets are out.

Originally (and as we mentioned, unofficially) we saw a possibility of the Jets being able to make up a strength of victory deficit to OAK and TEN, but upon further review, that can’t happen.

CIN again is a quick elimination based on conference record. Then it’s the Jets, Titans and Raiders in a tiebreaker steel-cage match. TEN and OAK didn’t play so head-to-head-to-head is out. Conference records would be identical 7-5’s. Common opponents requires a minimum of four games and these three combined only have three games each against common foes, so that’s out. On to strength of victory.

Based on current records plus the assumed wins or losses by teams to force this four-way tie, the Raiders’ strength of victory is now 62-78, the Titans’ 57-81 and the Jets’ 52-87. The Jets can make up only five wins (if DAL, JAX, WAS and BUF also win, with the Bills counting twice because the Jets beat them twice), not enough to catch the Raiders.

One final note: If the Jets do get in as the sixth seed, their first game would be at Houston vs. the third-seeded Texans.

These scenarios are not official, so if you see or hear something amiss above or just want to make a comment, come on down. We’ll be open (an hour here, an hour there) for Christmas.

Plays and Drives at Jets-Giants

The Jets’ 89 offensive plays Saturday was the sixth-most in a game in franchise history, the second-most in a non-overtime game, and the most in a home non-OT game. The only regulation match with more Jets plays were their 91 snaps, coincidentally on Christmas Eve, in the 34-20 loss to the Ravens (with Rex Ryan as their DL coach) to end the 2000 season.

The 64 dropbacks by Sanchez (59 passes, five sacks) was tied for third-most in a game in Green & White annals. The only games with more dropbacks were that ’00 Ravens game (70) and vs. the Baltimore Colts at home in 1970 (65).

Victor Cruz’s 99-yard catch-and-run from Eli Manning was not only the longest play from scrimmage by an opponent in Jets franchise history but also equaled the longest opponent drive by yards in Jets history. In the last quarter century there have been only three other 99-yard drives — at Buffalo in ’99, vs. the Ravens at home in ’98 and at Miami in ’89.


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