Florham Park, N.J.– Over the past three years we’ve heard Rex Ryan continually preach about, “playing like a Jet” and what that means to him and should mean to Jets fans. It was a tactical move as part of Ryan’s desire to change the culture of the Jets. Skeptics throughout the national football media may have their doubts about whether or not Ryan has been successful at this, but these rookies learn early and have now become the first to mention the ‘playing like a Jet’ mantra. Last year it was Jeremy Kerley who stressed his desire to ‘play like a Jet’ on the first day of training camp, this year it’d be easier to name the ones who didn’t repeat the mantra than the ones that did.
A common question for these rookies to hear is, has it set in that you’re a NFL football player? To which third round pick, Demario Davis, will likely win best answer from his head coach. “It already sunk in, it’s a lot of fun. I’m real excited. There’s no other team I wanted to play for than to be a Jet and when you put that helmet on, you got to know there’s a responsibility that goes with it. You got to ‘play like a Jet’ and playing like a Jet doesn’t just mean playing NFL football, it’s playing like a distinct type of NFL football player.”
A distinct type of football indeed, it also means being surrounded with certain strong personalities. It’s hard to believe that there was anyone more excited to get back out on the football field than Mike Westhoff and the way he yelled and cursed his way all over the field he couldn’t have been happier. But this year he has a new loud, barking voice to pair up with in new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano. Sparano didn’t stop moving or teaching for the entire two and a half hour practice. He screamed some, he gently explained at other times and when it was called for he gave out praise. Sparano looked very comfortable working his way around to every offensive player and teaching them all different things, in different ways.
Second round pick, Stephen Hill, stood at his locker answering questions with a huge smile stretched out across his face and when he was asked about working with Sparano, Hill said, “Oh it’s really good. Coach Sparano reminds me of my high school coaches so he’s always on me and I’ll make sure I’m doing the right thing.”
“It was good to get guys out there running around, albeit rookies.” Ryan said, “It was good, guys were flying around, (we were) teaching them pursuit drills and it’s always fun, you go back and I sat in there with Mike Pettine and it takes you back to 10-12 years ago when you’re putting it in and it’s the same thing and you’re like, ‘wow, we got a little teaching to do (laughs).'”
“I like the enthusiasm, some of the guys were flying around out there.” Ryan said, “Obviously some of the guys just jumped out at you, when you look at Coples and you look at Hill. The way they can run and Davis, I mean it’s kind of fun to watch.”
It’s always tough to gauge what you see at these practices, but one thing was clear. The Jets first two draft picks, Quenton Coples and Stephen Hill, stood out as towering presences over everyone around them. Hill at 6’5″ with electric speed stood tall over the other receivers and cornerbacks and he flew right past them with relative ease as well. He displayed an impressive set of hands catching almost every pass within range, including a pass he tipped back to himself twice before finally bringing it in for a catch. Hill is still raw when it comes to technique and route running, but he showed why the Jets thought so highly of him by putting his speed on display today.
“Definitely a lot of big play ability, but as these couple of days go on I’m doing a lot of learning right now.” Hill said when asked what he brings to this offense. “So as much as I learn the game goes just a little bit slower so I’m just making sure I learn the playbook.”
Just as Hill stood out in his group so did Coples, but where Hill impressed with his speed Coples showed off his power. Coples dominated every time he lined up inside and Ryan joked that he, “probably had six sacks today.”
“They used me all across the board.” Coples said, “I played some tackle, I also played some defensive end and mostly pass rushing techniques, but they used me all across the board.”
The knock on Coples coming out of college was about his desire to play the game and be the dominate player that he is clearly capable of becoming, which is exactly what Coples is focused on. When asked what he wants to prove, Coples said, “That I can compete, that I can compete at the highest level. I can compete on the national stage and I get out and I can help the New York Jets get to a super bowl.”
Surely Coples isn’t lacking in confidence and even most people who question Coples have to think playing for Ryan will be the best thing for him and it sounds as if Coples agrees.
“Great guy from the beginning. From the minute I met him he was great.” Coples said, “He’s a man of word, he told me if I was there he’d pick me. I’m excited to be a part of his defense and I’m excited about him coaching me and helping me become great.”
Davis, Coples and Hill got most of the attention today and not just by name recognition, but there were plenty of other story lines. Most of these other players are out here competing for a spot on the roster and while there’s a lot of raw talent in some cases, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done, like in the case of, ‘The Aussie’ as tight end Hayden Smith was affectionately called multiple times today.
Smith had his name called out the most of anyone today, by far. The coaching staff clearly made an effort to make Smith a focal point of their day, as they had him blocking and running routes across the middle. It was easy to see the athletic talent and ability that makes him such an appealing project, but he needs to get comfortable on a football field, in helmet and pads, before he can iron out the stiffness in his game.
Today was, the ex-basketball and rugby player, Smith’s first time in a football helmet and pads, but he says that’s not what contributed to the rough edges of his game.
“The only thing that slowed me down was my mind, I think (half-joking). Like I said the helmet is something that I guess becomes something of like a second skin after awhile and you just get comfortable with it. It was sure fun putting it on and I’m sure some of my rugby mates would be having a good laugh if they saw me out there today.”
“I understand it’s a process. I know the situation I’m in, however I wouldn’t be a competitor or I wouldn’t be a professional athlete in rugby or be able to get where I was if I wasn’t pushing to do well.” Smith said, “So my goal is obviously to make the team, how everything eventuates around that is largely ‘what will happen will happen.’ I’ll be doing my best to put my best foot forward and hopefully get on the roster.”
Today showcased a lot of potential for these young rookies, some are expected to contribute immediately while others are projects that the team hopes to develop further down the line. But one thing everyone can agree on is it was great to get back to football and it should be a lot of fun watching who proves that they’re really ready to ‘play like a Jet.’
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