The New York Jets arrived in Hempstead, N.Y., earlier than originally scheduled today, but that didn't stop their Long Island fans from getting their fill of Jets football.
More than 5,400 Jets fans were in Hofstra University's James H. Shuart Stadium before the team started warming up for practice, and after practice, when the time the Jets began their 30-minute autograph session, over 10,000 fans were cheering for their team.
"First off, it's great to come here to Hofstra," head coach Rex Ryan said. "It's really the roots of the fan base for the New York Jets for years and years so it's always great to come here."
The Jets headquartered on the university's campus for 40 years before they moved to the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center in Florham Park, N.J., in 2008. As a result, two former Jets, ex-Hofstra wide receiver Wayne Chrebet and Super Bowl center John Schmitt, were right at home. In addition, former Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden attended practice and was greeted by former Seminole Antonio Cromartie with a large hug on the sideline.
With those personalities roaming the field and the return of the Green Machine to its former home, there was a special buzz throughout practice.
"A lot of people say Long Island is the top fan base for the Jets," tight end Dustin Keller said. "I'm not going to sit here and argue it. It was crazy out here today."
As for the practice, which is the last before the Jets host the Washington Redskins at New Meadowlands Stadium on Friday night in their third preseason game, the offense dominated. On multiple occasions quarterback Mark Sanchez found receivers and the end zone for touchdowns. From hitting WR Braylon Edwards on a few deep patterns to WR Jerricho Cotchery making a spectacular juggling reception, Sanchez had the passing game focused today.
"Great day today by Mark," Ryan said. "I think the ball was on the ground twice with incompletions. Other than that, he completed everything today. I think you saw him pick up the intensity a little bit."
The intensity was certainly there, and it was exuded by the fan base. As he typically does, however, Sanchez lightheartedly celebrated with his wide receivers during a red zone passing tree drill. His tight end was the recipient of most of his passes, however. In fact, on three straight plays in the 7-on-7 work he found Keller, rapidly becoming one of his favorite targets, for touchdowns.
Keller responded to the notion that he and Sanchez could form one of the premier quarterback-tight end combinations in the NFL.
"I'd like to think so, I hope so," Keller said. "For any quarterback, as a tight end you're a great outlet for them, so as long as we're on the same page, we'll be all right."
The receptions by Keller drew oohs and ahhs from the boisterous crowd. This atmosphere is one that tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson is used to. The Freeport, N.Y., native grew up only minutes from Hofstra and was thrilled to have his team show off to Long Islanders in their last practice open to the public.
"It's great to have an opportunity to come back home and play in front of the people you grew up with," said Ferguson.
Cotchery, who has been a Jet since his rookie year in 2004, is also no stranger to Long Island and knows well the fervor of Jets fans there. With all the buzz and excitement coming from the stands, he couldn't help but step back and admire the people who have supported him throughout his career.
"I loved it," Cotchery said. "It's always fun to come back out here. The support is crazy. They've supported the Jets since the Jets first came into the league. It's a great atmosphere every time we come out here and they've supported us through the hard times and the good times so you can't ask for anything better."