Here’s what ran in The Journal News today as the Jets training camp preview. And of course the Leon Washington contract situation is still unresolved. Agent Alvin Keels tweeted late last night that he was going to get some last minute deals done today, but Washington IS NOT in Cortland (aerial photo left) for the start of camp. Thomas Jones is there.
Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez got a head start against Kellen Clemens when the rookies reported to Jets training camp in Cortland on Monday. Sanchez posted a photo of himself in the green and white and wrote, “Let’s go camping, I’m psyched!”
Clemens and the other veterans are due to show up today, and training camp officially opens tomorrow to the public and the press. Considering the flameout during last five games of the season, which included four losses to miss the playoffs, there is a lot of enthusiasm as camp gets underway.
There are a few reasons behind that.
Team owner Woody Johnson and general manager Mike Tannenbaum made some wholesale changes in leadership, starting with firing coach Eric Mangini and bringing in Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.
Ryan came in and immediately alluded to a White House visit with President Obama, big talk, and he’s kept it up in a steady stream. When the Jets were picked to finish last in the AFC East by one publication, Ryan refuted it loudly, especially the contention that his inexperience might be an issue.
“I’ve always been the solution, I’ve never been part of the problem,” Ryan said. “When I read in all these publications, ‘Hey, this is a first time head coach and all this kind of stuff,’ I’ve never been a negative in any organization.”
The Jets didn’t stop with Ryan, and grabbed some of the Ravens themselves, linebacker Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonhard. But the biggest splash came at the NFL Draft, when the Jets traded up to snatch Sanchez, a USC quarterback with a megawatt smile and just a year of collegiate starting experience.
Sanchez looked great against his fellow rookies, but when he was able to return for OTAs his inexperience was evident. He hesitated in the pocket and his decision-making was lacking as he led the second team taking turns with Clemens and the first team.
By the end of the June minicamp however, Sanchez looked much improved and Ryan said it will be a true competition between the two quarterback candidates.
“I really am confident that the winner of that quarterback job is going to have to earn it,” Ryan said. I think the great thing is that competition is going to bring out the best in both those guys. Whether it’s Clemens or it’s Sanchez makes no difference to me.”
The defense seems solid, even if Vernon Gholston has the spotlight on him after Ryan named him to start during Calvin Pace’s four-game suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances.
In some offensive positions however, the Jets are missing some important pieces. Tight end Chris Baker was released and Bubba Franks was recently dropped when it was determined he hasn’t healed enough from a knee injury to come to Cortland. That leaves a pretty gaping spot for a blocking tight end.
And there is another hole at wide receiver opposite Jerricho Cotchery since Laveranues Coles left. Four young wides are making a good case, including Chansi Stuckey, David Clowney, Brad Smith and Wallace Wright, and Ryan alluded to the emergence of another candidate last week without naming the player.
The Cortland camp site was Ryan’s choice. He considered using the Jets gleaming training facility on Florham Park, which just opened last year, but wanted to get the new group together in an isolated spot. He’ll give them plenty of time to bond over other games, Dustin Keller is a shark in ping pong, and hopes that when they return to New Jersey they are united in focus.
They will need to be considering that, for a team picked to finish all over the map this season, expectations are still running high for a first year coach and a slew of new pieces.
Five things to look for in camp
Rex Ryan’s leadership style: Ryan plans to be very hands on with the defense, and during OTAs would take snaps during drills. He’s got an ally on the line in Bart Scott, and another in the secondary with Jim Leonhard — but how quickly can those former Ravens mesh with Jets like Kris Jenkins, Darrelle Revis and Kerry Rhodes?
The wide receiver puzzle: Jerricho Cotchery is set, and the Jets have a glut of wides with a lot of potential but little to no NFL starting experience. Brad Smith is the versatile one who can handle the ball in the wildcat, David Clowney is the burner, Chansi Stuckey is the slot with experience and Wallace Wright impressed during minicamp. Who gets the job?
Mark Sanchez (and his fat contract) vs. Kellen Clemens: Rex Ryan has said this quarterback competition is going to be straight up, but considering the $28 million that Sanchez will be guaranteed over the next five years, Clemens may win it this year without gaining any job security. Clemens has the experience and knows the playbook, which may not win him endorsements but gives him an edge in Cortland.
Vernon Gholston, special project: Ryan made a bold move and named Gholston the starter for Calvin Pace as he serves a suspension for the first four games of the season. Gholston, now in his second season, was a first-round disappointment with just a single solo tackle, but Ryan has vowed to make him a player.
Mike DeVito moves up: The Suffern native is in his third season with the Jets after coming in from Maine as a UFA. This could be his season to vie for a starting position at defensive end opposite Sean Ellis. Last season he played all 16 games for the Jets and had 16 solo tackles, with 28 total.