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Ryan QB Call Decision to Come Later This Week

Posted by Randy Lange on December 3, 2012 – 4:37 pm

Rex Ryan, emulating the late, great Orson Welles, will name no quarterback before its time. And today wasn’t the time for the Jets head coach to designate his starter for Jacksonville on Sunday.

“I’ll definitely need a little more time to make that decision,” Ryan said one day after Greg McElroy replaced Mark Sanchez, with Tim Tebow sidelined, and rescued the Jets’ 7-6 win over Arizona with a touchdown drive and a clock-draining final drive to the Cardinals’ 1-yard line. “I’m comfortable and confident with all three quarterbacks. I think all three guys now have proven they can win — Greg at the end of the game, Mark’s history here, and the way Tim has played.

“We have three guys I’m confident in and I’ll make that decision as the week goes on.”

So does that mean any of the three QBs on the Jets’ roster has a chance to start against the Jaguars? We’ll leave that odds box for sports editors with time on their hands to pitch to their beatwriters for tomorrow’s sports sections. But it may a measure of the decision ahead for Ryan that there are pros and cons for him to name any one of the three as his fire-starter for the Jags.

To help him in formulating his call this week, Ryan said he might turn to his confidantes in the coaching fraternity for some guidance, but more than likely it will be a decision formulated solely behind the walls of the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center.

“I want to make sure I talk to Tony [Sparano], Matt [Cavanaugh] and everybody, make sure I get a sense of what will be the right decision,” he said. “I think I’ll just lean on the guys in here. Again, the decision will be made based on our situation and our football team, on what ultimately I feel will give us the best opportunity to win.”

The opportunity to win means Jacksonville, of course, but also Tennessee, San Diego and Buffalo after the Jags, and conceivably there are considerations for even beyond this season.

“A lot of things go into every decision you make,” Ryan said. “There are three priorities — the team, the team and the team. If you follow that, the decision’s always easier. You’ve got to take away personal feelings outside of it because it’s bigger than just me or this person or that person.”

“Never Let ‘Em See You Sweat”

However it shakes out, McElroy made a statement in his first pro action. Not every Jets QB guides his offense to a touchdown in his first full drive in green and white. Vinny Testaverde did in Game 3 of the 1998 season against then-rookie Peyton Manning and the Colts. Chad Pennington did, too, if you count the last drive of the blowout Sunday night loss at Oakland in 2000. But Sanchez didn’t, nor did Ken O’Brien, nor did Richard Todd, nor did Joe Namath.

It’s not an achievement you put high up on the NFL résumé. On the other hand, it was a TD drive that the Jets needed quickly, and in more ways than one, and McElroy helped deliver.

Then the Jets’ final drive secured the victory as it melted the final 7:55 off the clock. That was the fourth-longest game-ending drive by time since 1990, trailing Kellen Clemens’ monster 11:09 final drive in the rout of St, Louis in 2008, O’Brien’s 9:13 march at Indianapolis in 1991, and Neil O’Donnell’s 8:47 closer in the wind-aided shutout of Tampa Bay in 1997. Fifth on the list was then-rookie Sanchez’s 7:20 deal-sealer in his and Ryan’s first game with the Jets at Houston in ’09. None of those games was as close as this one was.

McElroy explained his rising to the moment on a conference call with reporters this afternoon.

“That thing, confident bordering on cocky, I would like to think its leaning a little bit more towards confident,” he chuckled. “But yeah, basically one thing that I’ve always tried to learn, one thing I’ve always tried to approach this game with, is you just never let them see you sweat. And that includes the players in your huddle, the players in the opposite huddle, the players on the opposite sideline, on your sideline. Regardless of the situation, always stay with an even keel, always have a positive mindset, and good things will happen. And that’s been the case up to this point.”

Tebow also spoke with reporters on this “Victory Monday” and said he’s “not sure” how close he is to playing. “I feel like I’m healing up and getting there,” he said. He shrugged off all the questions about if he could have played Sunday, if he’ll start this weekend — in his hometown of Jacksonville, no less — and the unfairness and controversy of it all.

“Obviously, Jacksonville is where I grew up and it will always be a special place for me. It doesn’t matter how many family members or friends are going to be there. You just have to look at it as another game,” he said, adding of his opportunities this season: “I’m thankful for every one I am given. I think you just try and handle every situation the best you can and I’ve tried to handle every situation this year the best way I know how and make the most of every situation.”

Odds and Ends

The Jets defense against Arizona set, well, if not an NFL record at least a milestone for other big, bad defenses to try and pass as they ride roughshod over struggling offenses. The Elias Sports Bureau revealed that by blanking the Cardinals on 15 third-down conversion attempts, the Jets posted the first 0-for-15 in the NFL since the 1970 merger. The previous oh-fir mark was 0-for-14, set by Denver against San Diego in 1975 and equaled by the Jets at Tampa in 2009.

The Jets achieved a rarity by getting Sunday’s win despite a minus-3 turnover margin. The last time they won with a minus-3 was Game 7 in 2008, the 28-24 comeback win over Kansas City with Brett Favre at the controls. The Jets all-time are 5-56-3 when they have three more turnovers in a game, 5-105-4 when they have three or more TOs.

Sanchez’s interception on the Jets’ first play from scrimmage was not his first time. He also threw a pick on the opening play vs. Jacksonville in Game 9 of 2009. Interestingly, he’s at least in good company. Vinny Testaverde threw interceptions on the Jets’ first plays in back-to-back games in 1998, against Buffalo in Game 9 (win) and at Indy in Game 10 (loss).

Ryan said of the two injured offensive players that TE Dustin Keller’s ankle injury “doesn’t look like a high ankle sprain” but that he “has some swelling,” and that RB-KR Joe McKnight has a rib injury but that tests “were negative as far as broken ribs or anything.”


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Still Seeking Ways to Tap into Tebow Potential

Posted by Randy Lange on October 4, 2012 – 7:11 pm

Tim Tebow was happy to hear again today about his expert blocking on Sunday against the 49ers.

“They said I did well,” Tebow said with a laugh. “I got ‘em down, man, I got ;em down.”

Indeed he did. Perhaps it was the Jets coaches, or maybe the Fox broadcast team of Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa, that he was referring to as “they said.”

On his first play at fullback with 13½ minutes left in the second quarter, Tebow — in effect Mark Sanchez’s personal protector in the alignment — lined up right, went left and rolled through Niners LB Aldon Smith.

“Tim Tebow did a nice job,” Goose crowed as he watched the replay. “He throws a nice little block.”

“That’s real nice,” added Moose, who’d been around the block a few times in his career. “Getting Aldon Smith’s hands down … he’s going to catch some heat in the film room on Monday. ‘Is that a quarterback that took you down, Aldon?’ “

Tebow left the field for a play, then returned in a similar role, this time lining up to Sanchez’s left, going right at the snap, and picking up LB Ahmad Brooks.

“Now Aldon Smith’s got company,” Johnston said, “because he comes across the formation and gets Ahmad Brooks and gets his hands down.”

That’s a nice little sidebar underscoring Tebow’s personal philosophy of “I definitely want to help the team, whatever they ask me to do.” But something tells us this is not what reporters and fans have in mind when they ask questions and make statements this week about wanting to see No. 15 on the field more.

This week’s theme, of course, is about Mark Sanchez’s job security. Rex Ryan said as late as today’s news conference, “I think Mark is an excellent quarterback” and “I think it takes a special guy to be a quarterback in this city and I think Mark has that, even that charisma, to play in this city.” Sanchez continued to answer questions about his performances the past three games and his 49.2% completion rate.

And Tebow continued to deflect this week’s battery of questions to probe his psyche about his role(s) so far with the Jets.

Is it frustrating not to be playing much?

“No … yeah,” he began. A personal revelation about to come, perhaps? “Well, you get frustrated when you lose football games. Other than that, I’m just trying to work hard and get better. We’re 2-2. The season’s not over yet.”

And how about the latest “sources close to Tebow” who say, yes, this fine young man really isn’t happy with his jobs as punt-team personal protector, split end, tight end, now fullback, and infrequent Wildcat QB?

“I haven’t talked to anybody or said anything,” he said. “You all are the only ones I’ve talked to.”

Is he OK with being the backup because of the less pressure that comes with that gig?

 “That’s not how I view it at all,” he said, about as strong a rebuke as any report or reporter will get from TT.

About the strongest Tebow will get about playing time is a wish today that “we could’ve in the past few games broken out a few times and had some bigger plays, yeah.”

That is the sidebar to any QB controversy that may or may not be brewing. After the first quarter of Tebow’s first season with the Jets, the numbers have been tame. Broken down several ways:

When Tebow is on the field: 31 plays, 98 yards, 3.2-yard average, 4 first downs.

When Tebow is triggering the Wildcat: 18 plays, 57 yards, 3.2 average, 2 first downs.

When Tebow carries or throws the ball or has it thrown to him: 13 plays, 46 yards, 3.5 average, 2 first downs.

Nothing to write home about yet. But whether Ryan and OC Tony Sparano use him a lot or a little against Houston on Monday night, they still will draw from the Tebow well to get the Jets’ offense and team ready to ride.

“Tim likes the competitiveness of this group. He’s a competitive guy,” Ryan said. “I think when we talked to him about personal protector when we brought him in, this guy’s all for it. He’s not a guy, ‘I’m not going to do this, I only want to do this.’ He’s just the opposite. If I say right now we want you to line up and play defensive tackle, he’s like, ‘OK, let’s go.’ “

The one reserve that should and will be tapped now that the Jets are down two star players and heading into the teeth of their schedule is that competitiveness. Tebow was asked how the Broncos made it to the playoffs last year when they were 1-4 and he had yet to start his magical run as a starting QB.

“Believing. Believing in each other, showing signs of great things here and there, feeding off of that, then catching on to the momentum when it came,” he said. “The game when we play is so much about momentum, getting that momentum, believing in it, and when you have it, doing great things.”

A lot of times, he chuckled again, those plays didn’t come until the fourth quarter.

“But we were so close together as a team and then you just believe. Someone steps up to make a play and there’s the here-we-go-again-type attitude. That was our mindset.”

Injury Lists

Today’s first injury reports of the week show the Jets’ list growing even longer but at least this time the opponent has a list of its own that’s in the Green & White ballpark.

The Jets have 23 players on their list. CB Darrelle Revis (knee, out) still tops it. Six players did not participate in today’s practice: FB John Conner (hamstring), WR Stephen Hill (hamstring), TE Dustin Keller (hamstring), DT Sione Po’uha (back), LB Bart Scott (toe) and LB Bryan Thomas (hamstring).

Three more were limited: S LaRon Landry (heel), S Eric Smith (hip/knee) and just-signed CB Aaron Berry (ribs). Thirteen more were full-go, including three new listees: S/ST Josh Bush (shoulder), TE Jeff Cumberland (ribs) and WR/PR Jeremy Kerley (finger). You can find the Jets’ full list here.

For the Texans, three were DNPs at today’s practice in Houston: S Quintin Demps (thumb/forearm), WR Lestar Jean (knee) and RB Ben Tate (toe). Six were limited: G Antoine Caldwell (ankle/knee), DT Shaun Cody (back), TE Owen Daniels (thigh), WR Andre Johnson (groin), S Shiloh Keo (neck) and DE Antonio Smith (ankle). And six were full: LB Bryan Braman (hamstring/neck), LB Tim Dobbins (hamstring), RB Arian Foster (hamstring), LB Bradie James (thigh), C Chris Myers (back) and LB Jesse Nading (foot).

The final lists for the Monday night game plus the game status will be available Saturday afternoon.


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Reuland, Aaitui Now Try to Catch On as Jets

Posted by Randy Lange on September 4, 2012 – 5:41 pm

There is no telling how long the three newest Jets will stick around. But all three waiver acquisitions come with good character references on the Green & White payroll.

TE Konrad Reuland, as you may have heard, is pretty close with Mark Sanchez.

“We used to play AAU basketball together, in sixth grade. We were seventh at the nationals that year,” Reuland reminisced for reporters in front of his new locker in the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center on Monday evening. “I was a year behind him in high school [at Mission Viejo HS in California] and we finished second in the country when he was a senior and I was a junior.

“We still both go back to the same place in the offseason, we throw together in the offseason. I think the timing’s there.”

Sanchez’s input was solicited by the Jets, but Mike Tannenbaum, Scott Cohen and the Jets’ pro personnel people made the waiver claim for other reasons as well. With Josh Baker’s season-ending knee injury, Hayden Smith’s continued seasoning on the practice squad, Dustin Keller’s squeaky hammy and Jeff Cumberland coming off a concussion, another tight end on the roster doesn’t hurt.

And at 6’4″, 260, Reuland’s got Cumberland’s size and it is hoped he’ll be throw a few effective blocks on the perimeter for the Jets’ ground game.

Have the Jets told him how he fits into the offensive scheme?

“It’s so early, my first day, so I’m not really 100 percent sure,” he said. “I’ve always tried to be a guy that can do everything. I don’t like to be categorized as a blocking tight end or a receiving tight end. It’s what I strive for.”

San Fran liked Reuland’s striving enough that Jim Harbaugh, his coach at Stanford, brought him to the 49ers as an undrafted free agent after last year’s lockout. He’s been a Niners final cut twice. Last season they brought him back to the practice squad for the whole season. This year he said there was a possibility of another return but “I wasn’t holding my breath.”

The other two waiver pickups had the Sparano/Miami connection. Clyde Gates was profiled Monday by reporter John Holt. And Isaako Aaitui, is more than just the letters in a couple of bad Scrabble racks. He is the other ex-Dolphin, a 6’4″, 315-pound DT, who said he was reeling just a bit from his release by the ‘Fins, who signed him to their practice squad for a week last season, when Sparano was their head coach, then re-signed him on Jan. 30 before making him a final cut on Friday.

“It’s been a shocking moment, still,” the UNLV product said. “The good part for me is that I’ve got another opportunity and I’ve got to take advantage of it.”

Aaitui (his name is pronounced ee-sah-AH-ko ah-ah-TOO-ee), like Reuland, is a first-year player who has some versatility to him. In other words, he’s not just a backup at the now crowded nose tackle position that includes Sione Po‘uha, Kenrick Ellis and undrafted FA Damon Harrison.

“Right now they want me to learn both” DT and NT, Aaitui said. “It doesn’t really matter to me what they want me to be. I’m going to do everything they’re telling me to do and do it at a high level.”

Versatility, picking up the system quickly, plain old determination and just a dash of health and roster luck will be key for these players to stick around long enough to get past Buffalo and maybe get on the plane for Pittsburgh the week after.

Updated: 7:48PM ET

Two Late Cuts Announced

The Jets this evening announced two roster cuts and no signings. One signing is imminent, though, because one of the cuts was punter T.J. Conley. The team was working out some new players this afternoon, among whom was at least one punter, but no announcement has been made about the new kicker’s identity.

The other cut, as luck would have it, was Aaitui. We’ll leave the section about Isaako above in place just as a reminder of how fleeting a player’s stay on a team at this time of year can be.

Also, the Jets have not confirmed reports tonight that their new punter is former Charger Robert Malone.


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Pennington’s Back on Sidelines…Today Only

Posted by Randy Lange on August 14, 2012 – 12:19 pm

Updated, 1:45 p.m. ET

A familiar face, with that familiar body lean and that familiar touseled blond hair was recognizable on the Jets’ sidelines at today’s training camp practice at SUNY Cortland even without his familiar No. 10 jersey. Chad Pennington is here for a visit and perhaps a little quarterback consultation on the side.

“Coach Sparano, Coach Ryan and Mike asked me to come up for the day,” said Pennington, that old Southern drawl sounding as calm and reassuring as it always did in the early part of the new millennium. “I’m actually going to be making a corporate appearance at MetLife Stadium tomorrow, so it worked out perfectly to come up here, visit training camp and see some familiar faces and friends and watch practice.”

Pennington’s presence resonates on so many levels here today. Besides his ties as a former Jets first-round draft choice — a member of the “Four Aces” draft class of 2000 that then-assistant GM Mike Tannenbaum got signed in time for the ’00 training camp — and their starting signalcaller around those traumatic shoulder injuries from ’02 through ’07, he has that Aqua & Coral connection. When Brett Favre came in, Pennington went to the Dolphins. Who just happened to be led in ’08 by first-time head coach Tony Sparano. And who just happened to be running a little number known as the Wildcat, with Ronnie Brown in the ‘Cat-bird’s seat.

Rex Ryan invited Pennington in to talk to the team and Chad told my partner Eric Allen on newyorkjets.com that his theme was that the game of football is a players’ game.

“With all the analysis that goes on around the game of football, fantasy football, all the entertainment value to the game, it’s still a players’ game,” Pennington said. “That’s where the magic lies, when you take a group of players, mesh them together and go after one common purpose, one goal. That’s what makes the game great.”

Pennington also chatted with reporters today and the early questions were about all those topics, such as Mark Sanchez’s development and Tim Tebow’s arrival and Sparano’s input into this intriguing story of making the Wildcat a significant part of the Jets’ offensive approach for 2012.

For fans who want to hear Chad chatting about Jets football once again, he moved into the studio with my partner, Eric Allen, for today’s Jets Talk Live show on newyorkjets.com. Pennington stepped into the lineup for Mark Sanchez, who was originally scheduled for the show but couldn’t make it. The show began streaming around 12:45 p.m. ET, beginning with EA’s interview with Bart Scott, and will be archived on our site shortly.

For all the rest of you who can’t wait and want to get one more Chad fix, here’s a partial transcript of his impromptu news conference with reporters this morning:

On what he’s seen of Sanchez…

Pennington: I think from what I’ve seen from afar and now being here, Mark is throwing the ball better than I’ve ever seen him throw. He’s got excellent control with his throws and his ball placement, and also just his body language and how he’s carrying himself in and out of the huddle, I think he’s doing an outstanding job. I think he’s definitely gotten better over the offseason and really made a point to take it up to the next level. And kudos to him for doing that because that’s a decision that you have to make as a professional, to listen to the criticism and then do something about it, and he’s certainly done that.”

On his experience with the Wildcat and how it affects quarterbacks…

Pennington: Most of the time in the Wildcat, you’re still calling the play as the quarterback, you’re just lining up different. To me as a quarterback, what’s the difference in taking a snap and handing the ball off and lining up at receiver? There’s really no difference. You’re involved in the game, you’re involved in the playcalling, and really and truly, it’s about finding an edge as a team. And if this can provide a spark and provide an edge for this team, I think it can be a great weapon, because whether you use the Wildcat or not, a team has to prepare for it week in and week out.

And it’s something that you can do so many things with other than your typical Wildcat formation. There’s all kinds of things you can do, personnel groups and plays, so it can become an X-factor. I think the key to the whole system is that the players make it their own. That’s what it’s about. Coaches coach, players play. The game is still about the players in between the white lines. As long as they take ownership in the system and handle it right in the locker room, it can be a neat story and a good, solid, successful story for them going into the season.

On Tim Tebow running the Wildcat compared to Ronnie Brown in Miami…

Pennington: Obviously, Tim adds another threat with the ability to do the zone-read concepts as well as being able to throw the football, and that totally changes a defense’s perspective. Now they always have to have a free safety in the middle of the field because of the threat of the pass. The Wildcat for us in Miami was a great short-yardage package, a great red-zone package. And points are a premium in this league. Games are won and lost by minimal amounts. And so anytime you can find an advantage somewhere, you want to exercise that and use that.

On adjustments a QB has to make in running it…

Pennington: If you are totally focused on winning, there’s no adjusting because you’re going to do what it takes to win. And the beauty about this league is there is no BCS ranking, there’s no computer guru, it’s either a W or it’s an L. And if the package allows you to win and be more successful at winning, you’re going to be all for it as a player. That’s the key, because I can promise you after a win, whether it’s 7-6 or 37-36, it’s much better than a loss on Monday mornings.

On quarterbacks who say the Wildcat inhibits their rhythm during a game…

Pennington: Well, I think that’s selfish. I think if you think as a quarterback that this game is solely about you, you’re sadly mistaken. This is the greatest team game ever invented, and this is not an individual game, and so for a quarterback to grip about whether he’s getting in rhythm or not — grab the football, make a play. That’s what it’s about, that’s what your teammates are asked to do. There are some guys that only get 10 snaps, and their performance and whether or not they have a job on a team is based on those 10 snaps. You think they’re worried about getting into a rhythm? They only have 10 opportunities. So I think that’s something that as a quarterback, I understand that, but at the same time, if you’re truly focused on winning, you’re going to do what it takes to win.

On how Sanchez has handled the situation since the trade for Tebow…

Pennington:  I think he’s done a great job and I think the key is their room, how they handle it as a room. It’s not just about the starter, it’s about the quarterback room and having the right relationship with each other as well as with your coaches and your playcaller. You have to be an extension of your coach out there because they can’t walk out there on the field with you. And the most important thing is communication, talking things out, understanding you’re in here for one reason and that’s to win and you’ve got to talk things out. And as long you keep open the lines of communication and you’re up front, I don’t think it’s a problem

On Sparano’s presence in implementing the Wildcat…

Pennington: Well, winning keeps everybody happy, number one, but I think Tony Sparano is a perfect hire for this team. I think he brings an edge to the offense. You can see him. He’s fiery, he’s a go-getter, he’s a grinder. And I think they’re going to like what Tony brings to the table. Tony understands the game is not played on the chalkboard, it’s played out in between the white lines, and it’s a game that has a human element to it. We try to make it Madden/PlayStation all the time and it’s not. They’re not robots out there. There’s a human element to this game. That’s why we love this game, because of all the different stories and intriguing things that come from the game.

On why Sparano’s so good at coaching the ‘Cat…

Pennington: I think what Tony brings to the table is he’s not worried about the next job or he’s not worried about the next promotion. He’s been at every level, be it head coach, coordinator, college, pro, high school. He’s here to win, and whatever it takes to win, he’s not going to allow his own personal interests or anybody else’s personal interests get in the way of the team winning. And that’s what it’s about.


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Eric Smith on the 3-Headed Starting Safety Spot

Posted by Randy Lange on August 9, 2012 – 11:05 am

The Jets defense has its own position experiment going on, not exactly similar to Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow at QB but intriguing nonetheless.

How do you fit three starting-quality safeties into two first-string positions? You call them all starters.

And as far as Eric Smith’s concerned, the approach is working fine.

“That’s what we’re going to do, and it’s looking good,” the upbeat Smith said this week. “We’re excited about it. I think it’ll be good for us.”

The other two safeties starting alongside Smith are, of course, veteran deep-middle men Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry. All three are impressive in their own right. Bell signed later in the offseason but has been around longer and has inhaled the Rex Ryan/Mike Pettine defense. OC Tony Sparano, Bell’s head coach with the Dolphins from 2008-11, said, “This guy was really a special player for me.”

Landry was signed as an unrestricted free agent in March but was rarely around the Jets building until June’s minicamp as he rehabbed those Achilles and foot issues he had the previous two seasons with Washington. We’ll cross our fingers as we say it, but Landry appears to be back to his old impactful self from his first three Redskins seasons.

“He’s a specimen, one of the biggest cut-up guys I’ve seen,” Smith said. “Seeing him move around, he’s zero-to-60 almost as fast as Cro [Antonio Cromartie], and Cro’s fast. He’s a very gifted athlete.”

Smitty’s no slouch, either. He was hobbled by different injuries last year but still played in all 16 games, started a career-high 14, and also posted career highs with 83 tackles and 2.5 sacks. And with Jim Leonhard gone off to Denver, he’s probably inherits the title as quarterback of the Ryan/Pettine scheme.

“I’m feeling good right now. I’m staying healthy and I feel like I’m having a good camp back there,” he said. “Making the checks, getting everybody on the same page, I feel like our communication right now is so far ahead of where it was last year and that we’re playing a lot faster.”

But since 3 usually doesn’t go into 2 evenly, Smith was asked how that’s going to work at his position. One way, he said, is for all three to be on the turf at the same time, in, say, some of their sub looks.

“The safeties we have, the different roles we can play,” he said, “I see a lot of packages where they’re putting all of us on the field, and it’s looking good.”

In the base, one of those safeties has to come off the field. Pettine no doubt has ideas on when the best combo will be Smith-Bell, when it’s Smith-Landry and when it’s Bell-Landry. But when Smith comes off the field, he knows he’ll still have plenty of reps ahead on Mike Westhoff’s special teams — although he marvels at Westhoff saying that this year “We’re going to free up Eric to be back with us a little bit more.”

“I don’t know how he can get me back more. I was on everything!” Smith said. Asked what was the most snaps he played in a game last season, he said, “There were a couple of games where I was over 100. More than a couple.”

We’ll see how the plan begins to morph as soon as Friday night at Cincinnati in the Jets’ preseason opener. But for now and hopefully on through the season, the safeties can warble a little Meat Loaf karaoke when they sing “Three into Two Ain’t Bad.”

Benefits of the Preseason Opener

TE Dustin Keller was asked Wednesday if Friday is the perfect time for the Jets to open their preseason schedule. “I would say so, before we all kill each other,” he said, laughing. “No, everything’s been good, camp’s been good, but we’re ready to hit another color jersey. While you’re going against your team, and competing against the best defense in the NFL is all good and great, you want to get out there and get some live work and a real feel for where this offense is.”

Keller’s desires for the offense against the Bengals’ defense: “I would like to see us making big plays and big plays down the field, and establish the run. I would like to see us be more consistent. I want to see us have multiple long-play drives, just keep it going, and staying out of the three-and-outs.”

Practice Notes

Today’s practice was a closed walkthrough before the Jets board their charter flight for Cincinnati. … The Jets have several Ohioans on their roster, including two who played in the Queen City market. FB John Conner played at Lakota West HS in West Chester, a half-hour drive from downtown. Reporter John Holt talked with Conner exclusively for our e-newsletter subscribers. Click here to sign up for the newsletter. And CB Julian Posey attended La Salle HS in the northwestern part of the city. … LB Bryan Thomas will be making a return to action from last year’s Achilles injury and he’s pretty excited about it. Read my advance on BT in his first game action in a while Friday morning on newyorkjets.com.


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Rex, Sparano Set to Let the ‘Cat Out of the Bag

Posted by Randy Lange on August 8, 2012 – 1:48 pm

The ‘Cat will be let out of its cage to do some battle with the Bengals on Friday night. As head coach Rex Ryan said at today’s midday news conference, “The Wildcat is something Cincinnati needs to prepare for.”

That’s really no secret tipoff about the Jets’ game plan for their preseason opener. Ryan and coordinator Tony Sparano haven’t installed all of the offense yet, and most of the plays that have been installed with Tim Tebow awaiting the shotgun snap hasn’t been shown to fans and reporters. One exception was last Thursday, when a “live” Tebow spread the offense, then took the snap and ran over between the tackles for the score.

Tebow, starter Mark Sanchez and the rest of the Jets will be live and ready to thrive vs. the Bengals, the team that took advantage of the Green & White’s late-season meltdown to grab the AFC’s sixth playoff seed in January.

Ryan didn’t give any rotation plans, at QB or any other position, although he said the first teams would likely play the first quarter, about 15 plays, give or take, before leaving the field for the twos, threes and fours.

Asked later about his plans for Sanchez and Tebow, the coach expanded a little bit, saying, “With us it’s a new offense and everybody needs reps. Will we extend the first offense more than a quarter? We’ll see. I think Tim and everybody else needs the opportunity to go against live competition. I think that’s where he excels.”

Tebow got some extended playing time at this morning’s practice, but not because Sanchez was struggling. Rather, Mark was sharp as a tack in going 4-for-4 ahead of defenders in the first-team blitz-pickup period.

But TT also had some nice throws today. He hit Patrick Turner for a score against Antonio Cromartie (although he might have been sacked by Bart Scott before firing), Jeff Cumberland on a seam route, and a well-covered Josh Baker on a deep out-route. And when he took Sanchez’s reps with the ones in the two-minute period, he got the offense close enough for Josh Brown to bang home a 53-yard “gamewinner.”

Ryan may be getting amped to get a preview of how his and Sparano’s offense will look this season.

“I’m excited to be looking at all the guys,” he said. “Let’s see, this is a new offense for us. I’m excited to see where that is right now, where we’re at. Also the defense … I hate to be singling out this person, or that person. I’m really excited to see ‘em all play, I really am.”

Sidelined for Cincy

The offense will have to proceed without two of its top wideouts as Santonio Holmes (rib) and Jeremy Kerley (hamstring) won’t play. The O may also be without RT Wayne Hunter (back), in which case Ryan said Austin Howard would step into the starting lineup. But the O-line will get the return of Nick Mangold, who missed Saturday’s Green & White practice to watch his sister, Holley, compete in the London Olympics.

On the defensive line, NT Sione Po‘uha will also sit out with a stiff back and the stitches for the gash on his forehead.

Throttling Down Maybin

LB Aaron Maybin continues to have a high-speed, productive camp, but he committed a gaffe today when, in the non-tackling two-minute period, he hit and spun to the ground WR Eron Riley after a catch, drawing a personal-foul penalty.

“That’s something we’ve talked about,” Ryan said. “I love the way he plays, I love his passion, I love the way he practices, but you still have to protect [teammates]. You don’t have to throw the guy on the ground and things. He loves to get there, he loves to participate, practice and compete. But that’s still a work in progress.”

Practice Notes

David Harris continued his nice pass defense with an artful PD of a pass for Dustin Keller in 7-on-7s. … CB Darrelle Revis made a deft tackle for loss on a pitch play. … Rookie LB Demario Davis had a sack of Greg McElroy up the gut. … Donnie Fletcher plucked a pick on a Matt Simms pass for Bilal Powell that may have been deflected by Maybin. … Today’s attendance: 2,496. … Thursday’s walkthrough is closed, then the team will fly out to Cincinnati.


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Hill Brings a Thrilling Reception to Revis Island

Posted by Randy Lange on July 27, 2012 – 3:44 pm

Updated, 10:04 p.m. ET

Stephen Hill’s first training camp visit to Revis Island went swimmingly.

Hill, the second-round WR from Georgia Tech, got past Darrelle Revis for a Mark Sanchez deep ball early in today’s first practice of training camp at SUNY Cortland. He got the full Revis treatment — tight trailing coverage, then, with the ball in the air, a sublte, timely forearm to the side. As the two started to tumble, No. 24 batted the ball away, or it so it seemed. But somehow, No. 84 latched onto the gyrating leather and cradled it as they hit the grass together for, oh, a 40-yard play.

“Basically I saw the way he was playing me and I just tried to box him out to make the catch as much as I could,” Hill said. “Oh, yeah, definitely it was exciting. That was my first play of training camp.”

And did the top corner in the game say anything to the raw but riveting rookie?

“Yeah, he said, ‘Good catch. Next time you ain’t going to get it,’ ” Hill said.

Hill may not make a circus catch over Revis again, but it seems possible he could put together a parade of catches for a rookie highlight video.

“Young, fast,” head coach Rex Ryan captured Hill in two words, then offered up a few more for emphasis. “The most impressive thing today, there was the catch over Revis even though Revis had great coverage. But on a running play, I saw a block and I saw a corner go down.”

That, too, was Hill on Revis, although the rookie admitted he gave the corner a shove on the play when Revis had already lost his balance.

“It was Revis? All right,” Rex said with a smile. “I guess with that Georgia Tech background, Hill probably played with a full-cage facemask. He’s impressive, and you know how I felt. We draft a wide receiver in the second round and we trade up to get him? Oh, you’re kidding me. … Really, he’s been impressive.”

Sanchez was in full agreement.

“It was awesome, and right out of the gate, too,” the QB said. “Reeve made a good play to tip it and Stephen stayed with it. It was another encouraging play and something fun, something all of us could rally around. It was big for Stephen. He didn’t show it much, but I know he was nervous. For a first day, for a first-timer like that, that’s big and it gives him a lot of confidence. You could tell that weight was kind of lifted off his shoulders.”

Another observer, a former Jets first-round wideout who famously wore No. 19, also liked what he saw at today’s practice.

“I think it’ll be a pretty good transition for Stephen from college to the pros,” said Keyshawn Johnson, on his first visit to Cortland as a member of the ESPN contingent. “At least we do know he’ll block because this is a running-style offense. We know the physical attributes are there for him. But it’s going to take time. For rookie receivers it takes a minute to learn the game.”

A New York minute in some cases. And Hill said he’s learning the game from a few folks wearing the green and white.

“I can still see myself as a little raw,” he said, “but Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes, they’re staying in my ear a lot. Even [Antonio] Cromartie and Revis are helping me out with little things they’re seeing.”

Almost as an afterthought, Hill was asked about the hamstring injury from early June that sidelined him for the full-squad minicamp. He said John Mellody and his training staff are keeping an eye him so as to have him ready to go for the Sept. 9 opener vs. the Bills. But from today’s work, Hill seems to have no beef with his hammy.

“Now I’m back,” he said, “and I’m ready to make plays.” Even a play (or two?) on the Island.

Key Performer

Johnson had an impromptu performance today that was similar off the field to his on-field roles in the 1998 AFC Divisional Round win over Jacksonville when he had a catch for one touchdown, ran for another, recovered a Jaguars fumble to set up his TD run, and intercepted a Hail Mary pass (thrown by Mark Brunell) as a DB at the end of the 34-24 triumph.

Today Key was an ESPN talent commenting on practice with Sal Paolantonio, a Los Angeleno giving fellow Southern Californian Sanchez a bro hug, a gray eminence trading confidences with fellow wideouts Holmes and Hill, and the proud owner of 23 Panera Bread franchises in the L.A. and central California regions. He also admitted to being a first-time Ryan admirer.

“Rex — I love him. This is the first time I’ve really met him. Man, I like him a lot,” Johnson said. “He’s tough. He’s a defensive coach. He kind of knows he has to put up or shut up. And he’s the coolest looking head coach in the NFL. He’s lost weight, he looks healthy, he has cool shoes and a tat on his calf.”

Keyshawn also gives a conditional thumbs-up to the Sanchez-Tim Tebow experiment assembled by Ryan, Mike Tannenbaum and Tony Sparano.

“They can’t split the reps, and I think they know that,” he said. “If you give one guy 15 plays because the offense has started out of rhythm or you want a change of pace, that’s OK. But if it’s a 50-50 split, they won’t win.”

And his advice to Jets fans if Sanchez hits a skid?

“I would have to say to the fans, sit patient,” he said. “There are other players on the team. This quarterback [Sanchez] has shown he can throw the football and win games at times, although there have been some issues. But I don’t know that a two-game skid warrants a new starter.”

Rex Cetera

Ryan said he liked a few elements of today’s opening session. For one, even though the players were in shells, not full pads, “The 9-on-7 mentality, I can’t wait to see that drill every day. On defense we have the kind of mentality that we can stop anybody from running the football. And on offense we have the exact opposite mentality, that we can run the ball on anybody. It’s an interesting mindset, and when they put the pads on, that’s one you want to watch for sure.”

Rex also liked today’s tempo of practice, which was so quick and efficient that in some periods the Jets got in almost twice as many plays as they had scripted, which is a big help to the third units, which got most of those extra snaps. And with that Sparano-inspired tempo, the coach said, “We’re a team that will be in shape.”

Ryan confirmed the LaRon Landry pitch count after the veteran safety, taken off the A-PUP list Thursday, was dressed but mostly stretching and watching today’s practice from behind the secondary. “We’re going to have him go full-speed every third practice. We may alter that as we go. He’s a full-speed guy. You don’t want him to be reckless. You want to make sure you get him to opening day to play Buffalo. That said, he’s also got to make up some ground, learn the defense, compete with his teammates.”

Practice Notes

CB Donnie Fletcher had a nice leaping breakup of a Greg McElroy deep ball for TE Dedrick Epps. … RB Bilal Powell had a nice series with several artful interior runs and receptions. … Revis got Sanchez back in 7-on-7’s with a sideline pick. … Tebow has a penchant for wanting to string out seemingly lost plays and then save them with a big downfield throw, not just via an improvised run.

Punter T.J. Conley showed the fruits of his offseason of strength and practice work by rocking a 63-yarder, 4.3 hangtime, out of bounds at the 7, followed immediately by a 65-yarder, 4.8 hang, OB at the 5. … To end practice, K Josh Brown missed from 42 and 44 yards, Nick Folk hit from 46 and 48, then Brown concluded by rocking through 50- and 52-yard field goals.


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Offensive Sleeper? Keller Likes McKnight

Posted by Eric Allen on July 18, 2012 – 2:53 pm

It’s awfully quiet here at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center.

The Jets’ 2012 training camp officially kicks off with player check-in day next Thursday, but that will take place 200 miles to the northwest at SUNY Cortland. Anticipation is building and you wonder which players are going to make some noise this summer.

“I think you need to watch out for Joe McKnight. People ask me and he’s my sleeper for the team,” said TE Dustin Keller. “Obviously nobody is low on Joe, but I think he has so much more upside than people even realize. He’s a great running back, he can catch the ball out of the backfield and he can do so many different things for you. He’s a good special teams guy, returning punts and kickoffs, whatever. He’s definitely a major X-factor for us.”

Keller, who has led the Green & White in receptions each of the past two seasons, says the Jets are going to become more reliant on their ground game than they were in 2011. Last year they rushed the ball 43% of the time (443 rushes in 1,030 plays). In Mark Sanchez’s second season, the team had an almost even balance at 49% (534-1,087). And in Rex Ryan’s first season as head coach and Sanchez’s rookie campaign, the Jets kept on the ground on 59% of their plays (607-1,030).

“I think the identity of Coach Sparano’s offense is obviously ‘Ground and Pound.’ That’s something he wants to instill in the team, that we are a run-first team, but we definitely can still throw the ball,” Keller said. “We have a lot of weapons out there. We went and made some things happen in the draft with Stephen Hill, obviously Santonio is there, Patrick Turner and Jeremy Kerley — so many guys that can make big plays out there. Just to think, with those types of guys at the receiver position and it’s still our secondary option, it kind of has to make you excited for what’s coming up in the season.”

The element of explosion was often absent from the Jets offense last year and a lot of teams dared them to beat them down the field. So in response, the Green & White picked up Chaz Schilens in free agency and then happily moved up to get Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill in the second round. And with LaDainian Tomlinson moving on into retirement, McKnight is going to get more opportunities carrying the rock and running pass patterns down the field. Kerley, coming off a solid first pro season, has dynamic feet and should be a handful in the slot.

More speed and more quickness on the field should equate to more space to roam.

“I think with the addition of Stephen Hill and you already have Jeremy Kerley, guys that can stretch the field and put that pressure on a defense way down the field, that’s going to make things a lot easier for guys such as myself working the middle of the field or guys like Santonio on the outside,” Keller said. “It’s going to draw a little bit of attention away and hopefully we can get those 1-on-1 matchups and take advantage of them.”

Jets TV will air our full exclusive 1-on-1 with Dustin Keller next week here on newyorkjets.com. We visited with Dustin on location down in South Carolina where he owns a number of McAlister’s Delis and that television feature, focusing on his restaurant business, will be seen during the season on “Jets Flight Plan,” which will air again on WCBS-TV.


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Sparano Surveys His Offensive Work in Progress

Posted by Eric Allen on July 10, 2012 – 3:09 pm

Summer class is about to commence for the Jets offense at SUNY Cortland. New O-coordinator Tony Sparano liked the retention of his students in the spring, but the pop quizzes should only get more difficult going forward.

“It’s been really interactive in the classroom. We try to keep them on their toes,” Sparano told me in the spring. “I’ll ask a lot of questions and demand answers and get quick answers from them. They don’t want to be wrong. They’re competitive and I like that about them.”

Mark Sanchez was a prized pupil and performed well in early sessions, but the Jets starter will ultimately be graded in the fall and the winter. His 26 pass TDs in 2011 almost equaled the combined total of his first two pro seasons (12 in 2009, 17 in 2010), but the 26 turnovers (18 interceptions, eight fumbles) were a career-high.

“What Mark’s been doing a really good job of right now is making good clean decisions out there with the football in his hand,” Sparano said in June.

While the ball will be released from Sanchez’s right hand, the transformation in his legs has been overlooked outside the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center.

“I see a tremendous increase in his lower-body strength right now. He’s gotten stronger all over the place, but his lower-body strength — which is really what good quarterbacks need to throw the ball well — I think has improved a lot and that’s really carried over on to the field,” Sparano said. “You see him throw the deep ball or you see him throw the 18-, 20-yard out routes right now with good zip on the football.”

Sparano celebrated with a fist pump after Sanchez delivered a red zone rocket to TE Dustin Keller in the back of the end zone on the first day of minicamp.

“Sometimes the ball can end up over the top, but sometimes it has to go on the back shoulder in a tight spot,” Sparano said. “Mark threw it there and Dustin adjusted well to it. That’s a heck of a play.”

The Jets were hamstrung last season by the costly turnovers and a lack of chunk plays in the passing game. Teams didn’t respect the offense’s vertical prowess and that meant less room to operate. But the Green & White went out and signed Chaz Schilens in free agency and then drafted Stephen Hill in the hopes they could draw some attention away from game-changing wideout Santonio Holmes and Keller.

“I think athletically Stephen has a lot of outstanding qualities. He’s big, he’s tall, he’s strong, he can run. He does all the those things, but the thing I’ve been most impressed with is his awareness out there,” Sparano said. “His awareness to attack coverages, his awareness to attack press defenders — he’s physical with them. He’s really done a nice job that way. He competes for the ball when it’s in the air.”

Keller is Sanchez’s security blanket — his 65 receptions and 815 receiving yards led the Jets in 2011. Sparano likes to employ multiple-TE sets and he wants to get Keller on the move.

“The more you can use Dustin in different places, I think the better off that we’ll be offensively because he is a weapon and I know that first-hand,” said the former Dolphins head coach.

Joe McKnight proved last season that he was a weapon on kick returns, leading the NFL with a 31.6-yard average. While Shonn Greene figures to be the bellcow, can the muscled-up McKnight become a major contributor on offense in his third season?

“This guy can really run. He is an explosive player. He has good hands but he has good run skills,” Sparano said of the former USC Trojan. “Joe has done a nice job this offseason getting bigger and stronger, and putting weight on and holding weight. That’s been a real positive because he hasn’t lost a step athletically out there from a speed standpoint and he’s gotten bigger and stronger. So that allows you to use him a little bit more in different ways.”

The Jets are big and strong up front along the line, featuring three Pro Bowl players in C Nick Mangold, LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson and RG Brandon Moore. With LG Matt Slauson rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery, Vlad Ducasse stepped in and repeatedly earned praise form head coach Rex Ryan and Sparano.

“Vlad has been working in there with that first group right now and he’s been getting better. The more reps he gets, I think, the more comfortable he starts to feel,” said Sparano. “He’s a big, powerful man, a good athlete. He’s done a nice job for us.”

We will have a lot to monitor on offense once we move our base to SUNY Cortland for the third time in four years and we haven’t even discussed the Tim Tebow dynamic. Sparano, a self-proclaimed no-nonsense coach, gave his unit passing marks in the spring.

“Hard-work ethic. I’ve been very impressed with the way they’ve attacked the offseason program,” he said. “Our offseason attendance has been off-the-charts good, our players have been really in tune and asking good questions, spending a lot of time at it, studying well. And when we get out on the field, they understand it’s about business out there and they’re working pretty hard. I think tempo of the practices has been really good. They’ve been crisp.”

Expectations will be high. Sparano won’t accept careless errors and if the ball is turned over, everybody had better be running like hell.

“I don’t like to look back a whole lot, but you have to sometimes to make progress. I think there was some hidden yardage there on turnovers, turnovers for touchdowns and those types of things,” he said. “It’s a part of our league and the bottom line is if you turn the football over, maybe all of a sudden the guy picks the ball up and gains 30 yards. Well that’s three first downs in a game and it takes an awful lot to gain three first downs in a game.

“What we’re trying to teach here is if the ball is turned over — on the rare occasion that it may happen — we’re going to get as many people to the football as we can and tackle the football. So when that happens in practice, I send every person, every coach, everybody running after the football at that point.”


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No. 3 QB McElroy Feeling ‘Back to Normal Now’

Posted by Randy Lange on June 25, 2012 – 3:39 pm

There was a media kerfuffle a few weeks ago when Mark Sanchez gave up a couple of unannounced reps with the first offense to Tim Tebow during the full-squad minicamp.

Greg McElroy was getting even fewer reps than Tebow, but the second-year man from Alabama was happy to be back in the Jets’ QB conversation.

“I’m not getting a lot of reps with the ones, but I feel like I’m playing pretty well,” McElroy told newyorkjets.com. “You just have to make the most of the reps you’re given.”

McElroy’s reps could have been in further jeopardy depending on how fast or slow he appeared to be coming back from last summer’s dislocated thumb on his throwing hand.

“I feel like I’m back to feeling normal now,” he said at the end of the minicamp at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. “Obviously the first couple of practices , it took me a while to get my legs back under me. Now I’m starting to move, react, anticipate a little bit better. Granted, I was a little rusty the first few weeks.

“I knew throwing the ball would be fine. I didn’t think I’d have a setback there. But moving around to avoid the rush, anticipating things, the new system, took some time.”

The man who brought the new system with him is coordinator Tony Sparano. McElroy said the former Dolphins head coach “has been a tremendous pleasure to work for,” even if absorbing his system is no small task for the No. 3 man on the depth chart.

“It’s a difficult system but it’s very similar to what we did last year in terms of reads and concepts,” he said. “We’re running the same plays but with different verbiage.”

McElroy will continue to study that verbiage in the next four weeks before putting it to the test up in Cortland. Already familiar with the Dallas area, where he grew up, and Tuscaloosa, where he played for Alabama, he’s off to the South again before coming back to the North to get ready for the ’12 season.

“I’m heading to Nashville, where I’m spending the offseason,” he said. “I’ll be working out there, spending the last couple of weeks before training camp there.”

And then he’ll be reunited with Sanchez and Tebow. The model of diplomacy and paraphrasing the one-time sentiment of defensive teammate Bart Scott, he can’t wait.

“Those guys are both playoff quarterbacks. They’ve been successful and won a lot of games in the regular-season,” McElroy said. “From my perspective, it’s been great working with them and it should be really fun working with those guys up in Cortland.”

“Fore!” from Jets’ Super Twosome

RB Emerson Boozer and DB-KR Earl Christy, two of the four Jets in Super Bowl III who played college ball at Maryland Eastern Shore, reunited recently to play in the Art Shell UMES Celebrity Golf Tournament at Great Hope GC in Westover, Md. DelmarvaNow.com has a feature with photos of the twosome on its Website this morning.


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