Well… here we go. Training camp is well underway. The first preseason game has been played and can be analyzed for posterity. Position battles are being waged full tilt and as the regular season approaches with each passing day, Rex Ryan and his coaching staff will be coerced into making the cold hard decisions that shape a football team, press conference pleasantries aside. There’s a rhythm developing now, a routine that will become a blur. Strap yourself in, as another chapter unfolds…
The big news of the day, undoubtedly, was the announcement that Mark Sanchez will be starting the second preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens. Kellen Clemens, the leading man in the opener, did not seem perturbed by the story.
“It’s coach’s decision,” said Clemens, adding to ample laughs. “It was a preordained plan that they are letting us know step-by-step.”
Clemens’ solid debut against the Rams was slightly blighted by his only turnover, a strip sack perpetuated by defensive end Leonard Little.
“You always want to maintain possession of the ball,” Clemens said. “After looking at it, in hindsight, I wish I would have just turned and ran up to get what I could. He would have caught me either way but at least I would have got back so we could punt.”
Clemens can no longer be categorized as inexperienced, entering his fourth season as a pro. He’s been through enough to share an insightful take on the pressures of impressing with limited reps in the preseason.
“Playing quarterback, in a lot of ways, is about getting into a rhythm,” he offered. “Fortunately I did get the two series and did get into a rhythm in the second. Mark (Sanchez) obviously came out and was in a pretty good rhythm on his first series with the big throw. You just have to make the most of it. We understood going in that we were not going to be in the game very long. So, you just go out and make the throws that you can then execute the plays that get called and make the most of it.”
Clemens was also asked about his competition. “It was awesome,” Clemens said of Sanchez’s first pass in a Jet uniform. “David Clowney ran a good route, Mark looked the safety off and made a good throw.”
Clemens certainly seems to be taking the quarterback battle in stride. He has been through this type of circumstance before, a participant in the great training camp derby of 2006, in which four passers were pitted against each other, and just last year, before Brett Farve’s arrival scuttled a rematch with Chad Pennington.
Interestingly enough, Mark Sanchez had a very similar reaction to the news that he had been named starter for the second preseason tilt. “It’s just a matter of the rotation,” Sanchez said, echoing Clemens’ calm tone.
“That’s how it ended up working, and (the rotation) takes place in games as well. Today, we only have one practice, so tomorrow, Kellen (Clemens) has the ones in the morning, I’m in the afternoon.”
Sanchez seemed off his game during today’s practice, and offered a blunt assessment of his day. “I don’t think we had the best practice possible from the quarterback unit, myself personally. (I was) not as sharp, I missed a couple plays in the two-minute (drill) that I think I should have had, and the (mis)communication with Brad Smith. He ran the right route and I missed him. We just have to get on the same page there. That’s what happens when you go from preseason back to playing (against) our defense. It was a good wake-up.”
He did seem satisfied about his performance against the Rams, especially on the mental side of the equation. “The checks were good,” Sanchez said.
“There were only eight or nine plays, so it was a good series. There was one run footwork thing where I was half a step off and those are the little things that you have to clean up if you want to be great. There’s still hard coaching from it. If anything, just to get quicker and faster and let the ball go sooner because I’m going to need it this week.”
Indeed, Sanchez faces a challenge in his first ever NFL start, drawing a stout Ravens defense. “I have my work cut out for me,” Sanchez said with a laugh. “And that’s why it wouldn’t be (right) of me or anyone at my position to make this the make-or-break game. It’s not that way at all. (I need to) be relaxed and poised and play and go through my checks and my reads just like I have and build on the last game.”
Rex Ryan held court at his presser, as per usual, and with a preseason game in the books, there was plenty to discuss….
Wait and See-
In the wake of the Sanchez decision for Baltimore, Ryan was questioned if he would name a definitive starter by the pivotal third preseason game, the contest wherein starters are usually stretched beyond the first half in preparation for week one.
“Hopefully, we’ll get an opportunity to see those guys a little more this week in game action,” said Ryan, before he diplomatically hedged. “Again, I know I want to have it done then, but I’m not saying 100 percent it will be. I’m assuming it will, but I’m not going to guarantee that I will have it done by that time.”
After Clemens suffered an assault and theft at the hands of Little, questions regarding the play of a line consisting mainly of backups became pretty pertinent after week one of the preseason. Ryan defended the play of the substitutes.
“I thought it was great,” said Ryan of his line’s performance. “We never got the movement they needed in the running game that I was hoping for and probably Thomas (Jones) was hoping for. When you consider you have three of your best players, three starting offensive linemen and your starting fullback out, I thought they held up well. I thought they did a great job. You can’t ask for much better than that. I thought our protection was great and we did a good job picking up blitzes. That first sack, (Leonard) Little is an outstanding pass rusher and its sometimes hard to get that on the practice field. I thought Wayne (Hunter) did a great job after that.”
Ryan didn’t seem able to offer a definite prognosis on his battered offensive line. “I’m not real sure,” he responded, when quizzed about when the wounded would return. “It’s too early to tell. We have a Monday night game, so hopefully we can get some of those guys back.”
With uncharacteristic viciousness, Ryan brutally assessed the punting competition, his words carrying an acidic, impatient tone.
“We tried (punter Ken Parrish) out today,” Ryan started. “Again, I’m tired of seeing ground balls hit. We’ve got to do better than that. Our guys know that so we’ll see. You watch some practices and you’re like ‘man we’ve got Ray Guy here.’ I want to see that. I want to see an NFL punt. Reggie’s (Hodges) numbers look good, but I don’t think those are exactly rockets that he hit. We’re going to find a punter. If he’s here or if he’s on somebody else’s team, we’ve got to find a punter.” Late in the day it was announced P.J. Conley had been waived. It seems Hodges has to get his game together, or he could be next.
Parrish has previously been with the 49ers and Eagles, but he has yet to punt in a regular season game.
Vernon Gholston has been a major curiosity throughout camp. Pressed into starting duty due to Calvin Pace’s suspension, the disappointing rookie will look to take advantage of a clean slate for his sophomore campaign.
“I realized he made two tackles and everybody wants to blame him,” said Ryan, discussing Gholston’s effort against the Rams. “What I would like to do is sometimes look past the numbers and let’s see how the unit plays. Because sometimes you ask a guy, “Ok, you’ve got the dirty work here.” We used to do this with Jarret Johnson all the time. I’ll never forget Jarret Johnson won a game ball on defense and he had one assist. He was so mad but he had to do all the dirty work. And sometimes you ask guys to do different things. I think in Vernon’s case he probably had a couple of plays we wish he had back, but then he did some good things as well.”
The press received an update on the various maladies sidelining members of the team:
“Jehuu Caulcrick) was out. He had an issue,” Ryan began. “He’s probably questionable for the game. I don’t know the severity of the injury. We’ll see. He probably will play. It’s one of those things where we’ll know later in the week. I think it’s a knee. It’s his left one. I think he did it in the third quarter when he came out.”
A few of the afflictions are lingering.
“The other guys are progressing slowly, painfully slowly,” said Ryan.(Kris) Jenkins (calf) and (Darrelle) Revis (hamstring) and, of course, (Damien) Woody (concussion) and (Alan) Faneca. Faneca is going to be out this game for sure. He had surgery on it (finger). Again, he could play with a cast on but we want to make sure it’s healed before we put him out there.”
Nick Mangold missed the preseason opener with a knee injury and also remains sidelined.
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