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July 30, 2009

 

Lots of firsts for Jets ...

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

After the veteran players unpack their belongings and move into the Glass Tower dormitories on the SUNY Cortland campus this afternoon, the start of the New York Jets pre-season will be merely hours away.
And it will be a moment of firsts all-around when the Jets initial practice session gets underway Friday morning at 8:15 a.m. at the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex, with a second workout scheduled for 4 p.m. that afternoon.
While Cortland plays hosts to a professional football team for the first time, this will also be the first pre-season NFL camp as a head coach for Rex Ryan. And this is certainly a brand new experience for an anxious group of rookies — including heralded first round draft pick and former Southern Cal quarterback Mark Sanchez — looking to begin their professional careers in earnest.
The Jets are starting anew, too, after dropping four of their final five games to wind up a 9-7 campaign a season ago. That finish cost New York a place in the playoffs and Coach Eric Mangini his job.
Coach Ryan takes over with a glowing resume and a pretty nice coaching pedigree, too.
For the past 10 seasons, Ryan had directed an ornery Baltimore Ravens defense that has been one of the top units in all of football. Consider that in the last 35 games played by the Ravens, no opposing player rushed for more than 100 yards.
As far as the pedigree is concerned, his father is legendary NFL coach Buddy Ryan who created a reputation for defensive wizardry. Twin brother Rob Ryan is the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns these days, ironically where Mangini is now the running the show, and was previously on the coaching staff when the New England Patriots won Super Bowls in 2001 and 2003.
Rookie Sanchez will be part of training camp intrigue battling Kellen Clemens, the fourth year player out of Oregon, for the starting job at quarterback.
Last year future Hall-of-Famer Brett Favre was in the quarterback spotlight after un-retiring from his distinguished career with the Green Bay Packers. He retired again following the Jets’ late-season stumbling, appeared to be headed to the Minnesota Vikings until Monday and now still seems to be pondering his future. Any ways, the quarterback job is now there for the taking and will probably be the most-watched competition in camp.
Clemens started eight games in the 2007 season before serving as Favre’s back-up a year ago. Though Coach Pete Carroll urged Sanchez to stay at Southern Cal, he departed after only one year as a starter for the Trojans and was the fifth player selected in the NFL Draft this past spring. He completed 64 percent of his passes and threw for 41 touchdowns at USC.
Whoever wins the starting job will have their life made easier by the presence of running back Thomas Jones, though he reportedly is unhappy with his current contract. The 10-year NFL veteran is coming off a huge 2008 season where he rushed for 1,312 yards and 13 touchdowns. And an experienced and talented offensive line featuring sturdy center Nick Mangold, past Pittsburgh Steeler All-Pro Alan Fanceca at guard and the looming presence of 6-foot-6, 310-pound D’Brickasaw Ferguson at tackle will make the running game a big part of the offense no matter who emerges as the starting quarterback.
Jones will hopefully get some help, too, from third-round draft pick Shonn Greene out of Iowa — who rushed for over 100 yards in all 13 games played by the Hawkeyes last season. The Jets only had three draft picks, and looked for additional offensive help by selecting versatile lineman Matt Slauson out of Nebraska.
The Jets also have a dangerous offensive threat in Leon Washington, one of the top kick returners in the NFL who has been elusively productive catching or running the football out of the backfield.
So replacing Favre and seeing how the wide receivers develop, leading receiver Jerricho Cotchery (71 catches-858 yards) and second year tight end Dustin Keller (48-535), are the main camp concerns for the offense.
Of course, Ryan has always been defensive minded and will be looking to mold the Jets into a force similar to the Ravens of renown — and brings along linebacker Bart Scott from Baltimore to help in that quest.
The Jets have an outstanding run-stopper in defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, hope veteran defensive end Shaun Ellis can still terrorize opposing quarterbacks and have brought former Philadelphia Eagles Lito Sheppard in as a cornerback in a defensive secondary where third year pro Darrelle Revis has emerged as a top talent.
Scott will be added to a group of linebackers that includes veteran Calvin Pace coming off a season where he had 82 tackles and seven sacks, while 2008 first round draft pick Vernon Gholston out of Ohio State looks to emerge as a force under Coach Ryan’s guidance.
Those camp watchers looking for extra kicks can pay attention to a potential punting battle brewing between incumbent Reggie Hodges and rookie T.J. Conley out of Idaho. To study the craft of place-kicking, just watch nine-year veteran Jay Feely.
A couple of other interesting players to watch are J’Nathan Bullock and Danny Woodhead. Bullock is a basketball player out of Cleveland State who is looking to become a tight end with the Jets. Woodhead became the NCAA all-time rushing leader at Division II Chadron State a couple of seasons ago, and has earned some rave reviews in mini-camps so far this year.
The Jets will have drills up to Thursday, Aug. 6, when the Green & White Scrimmage will be held at 7 p.m. at the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex. The team go away for four days from Aug. 12-15 — with a Family Night practice scheduled at Hofstra University on Aug. 12 before a pre-season hosting of the St. Louis Rams on Aug. 14 — before returning for a final week of workouts that will conclude on Thursday, Aug. 20.

Jets Practice Schedule
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July 31- 8:15 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Aug. 1- 8:15 a.m. and 3:15 p.m; Aug. 2- 8:15 a.m. and 4 p.m. Aug. 3- 9:00 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. Aug. 4- 8:15 a.m. and 4 p.m.. Aug. 5: 8:15 a.m. and 3:15 p.m.
Aug. 6- Green and White Practice 10 a.m., Green and White Scrimmage 7 p.m. Aug. 8- 8:15 a.m. and 4 p.m.. Aug. 9- 8:15 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. Aug. 10- 8:15 a.m. and 4 p.m. Aug. 11- 8:15 a.m. and 3:15 p.m.
Aug. 12- Family Night Practice at Hofstra University 6 p.m.. Aug. 14- Preseason Game against St. Louis Rams at Giant Stadium, 7 p.m.
Aug. 16- 8:15 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. Aug. 17- 8:15 a.m. and 4 p.m. Aug. 18- 8:15 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. Aug. 19-8:15 a.m. and 4 p.m. Aug. 20- 8:15 a.m. and 4 p.m.