Let’s skip the standard generic joke about the players getting paid more to play in college than in the NFL, today marks the first day of work as actual employees for these rookies.
Some of these players are just here temporarily, trying out to make the mini-camp/training camp roster, others are locks to make the regular season roster and see playing time, but they’re all here to work and prove to the coaching staff and players that they belong.
All of these players are excited to get back to playing football, but for some their wait has been longer than others. Players like Trevor Reilly (ACL and torn meniscus) and Dexter McDougle missed significant chunks of last season and are itching to get back to playing the game that they love.
“It was a dislocated shoulder and a fractured scapula.” McDougle said of his injury. “Yeah so, it was pretty serious. Basically I hit a guy and it was a freak accident. I had to get plates and screws (put in), luckily bone heals fast and it’s healed up very well. I’m just working on strengthening it so, everything’s good right now.
“We’re taking it daily right now, day-to-day. They’re going to ease me back in so, that’s what I’m going to do. Just go in there and do what the trainers tell me to do and listen to the coaches and when they’re ready for me to get out there I’ll be ready.”
McDougle lined up in position as the team was doing basic installs, but he donned the red no-contact jersey while he was out there. He’s eager to shed the red jersey, but understands the importance of patience.
“Yeah, you know, you want to get out there. You want to run around, fly around and everything, but I understand that they just want to ease me back in.” McDougle said, “Don’t want to go out there and potentially injure it again or something before camp and everything. So, it’s definitely tough. You want to get out there and fly around, but I understand.”
Still McDougle misses football and he just wants to get back to playing again. “It feels like forever. I love football, one minute away from the field and I miss it.” McDougle said, “So, it’s been since September since I actually got to hit somebody. So, yeah it feels like forever, it feels like an eternity, but I’m close now. I’m just licking my chops.”
Fortunately for McDougle he will have a teammate, that went through the same process last year, that he can lean on and get advice on being patient.
JetsInsider asked McDougle if he planned to talk to Dee Milliner about his experience from last year and McDougle said, “Oh yeah, definitely. (He’s) someone who is a kind of similar situation, I’m not all too familiar with it, but I know he missed some practices or whatnot. So, yeah (he’s) definitely someone that I could use as a source to go talk to, probably will because he’s been here. He’s been through it so, he’s definitely someone I’m going to go talk to. I’ll go get in his ear a bit and see how he went through the process.”
For other players it’s not a matter of getting healthy, but expanding their game and handling new roles and responsibilities. Second round pick, tight end Jace Amaro, was the most productive receiving tight end in college last season, but he spent the majority of his time lined up in the slot and knows he has a lot of work to do to be able to handle the responsibilities of a more traditional in-line tight end.
“They’re kind of playing me like I did in college, outside (and) inside, a lot more at tight end especially. But, you know, I felt comfortable out there in a three-point stance.” Amaro said, “So, that’s just the biggest thing. I haven’t played football in so long and on top of that even being in a three-point stance that much. Probably that’s (today) as much as I’ve done all last season, but I did a lot of it today. So, I feel good about it and I feel really comfortable.”
Amaro said at Texas Tech he lined up on the line probably only around 15 percent of the time, with the other 85 percent in the slot.
“We ran about 100 plays a game. So, about 15 percent of the time and those times that I was in a three-point stance it was a very specific play for me.” Amaro said, “It wasn’t like I was just there to be there, I was there doing something. Just like a certain play that was designed for me or a certain run.”
Amaro has lofty expectations for himself, but wants to prove himself to his teammates before anything else and he knows if he wants to see as much playing time as he would like he needs to start by becoming a complete tight end, improving his play from the three-point stance.
“If I really want to play a lot, like I do, that’s something that I’m going to have to do. Really working on my three-point stance game, from blocking to running routes out of it.” Amaro said, “It’s really different, running routes out of the slot spot than the tight end spot, but once you get out there running you feel good about it and I felt really good for my first day back.”
Still Amaro knows why the Jets drafted him, that’s to catch the ball.
“Yeah, I think that’s why they drafted me, to improve that area. For me, I’m just going to go out there and play as hard as I can, whether I catch 100 balls or 25 I’m going to do as much as I can to contribute. I’m not going to say I’m a starter because I haven’t even practiced with these other guys yet.” Amaro said, “I don’t even know who the quarterback is so, for me you just never know. I’m just going to go out there and play as hard as I can and ultimately the goal is to be the best player and win the rookie of the year. Just be the best offensive player I can be, I think if you don’t really have that mindset you’re not really in it for the right reasons.”
It was just day one of rookie camp so, it’s hard for any one player to really stand out, but the receiver from Oklahoma, Jalen Saunders, didn’t waste anytime making an impression.
Saunders was flying around the field all practice making one impressive catch after another and showing off both his speed and toughness. Saunders is small in stature, but makes up for it with his tough, physical style of play that was perfectly encapsulated on one play late in practice. Saunders ran a 10-12 yard hook route and made a catch with a defender draped on his back, shook the defender off and immediately turned up field.
Saunders is expected to be relegated to the slot position as a receiver, but he did play and win on the outside while at Oklahoma and he believes he can win on the outside in the NFL as well.
“I played inside and outside at Oklahoma.” Saunders said, “I feel like I can win at both positions, outside or inside, but the point of the receiver is just to get open. Catch the ball and play with technique.”
For now Saunders’ is focused on learning the playbook and competing to the best of his abilities.
“It’s obviously not college anymore so, I have to sit down and study the play. Have to make sure everything is right, your route trees got to be on point.” Saunders said, “Everything has to be to the T, in the NFL so, you have to pay attention to everything in the playbook.
“I felt real great, it felt real good to just be out there with my team and just be able to compete. That’s what we’re about up here.”
Practice ended shortly before 1 p.m. today, but the players work is far from done. They have another day of rookie camp tomorrow with mini-camp right around the corner. While they may not be in college anymore, they still have plenty of homework and studying to do.
McDougle said he is rooming with fellow rookie cornerback Brandon Dixon, who McDougle said is a, “good guy, really funny,” and will be studying together tonight just like they did last night.
“Yeah, that’s exactly what we did yesterday. Writing up plays, going over every part.” McDougle said, “If this guy motions over what do you have in this set right here? Or what’s the backside call? Just quizzing each other, then we’ll will watch some TV and have a couple laughs. Watch the NBA playoffs or something, it’s fun.”
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