A Battle of Arms
The four-way battle for the New York Jets vacancy at quarterback reignited Friday in Hempstead. You can place the four passers - Brooks Bollinger, Kellen Clemens, Chad Pennington, and Patrick Ramsey - in any particular order at the moment because they all have a shot at the job.
"Each step of the way has been an evaluation for us. In terms of the initial camps, the off-season program, the classroom, all of those things that led to this point," said New York head coach Eric Mangini of his quarterbacks following a morning pads practice. "And now we are at the next phase with the pads on and we've got a long way to go here as well. A lot of reps have to be taken and a lot of things have to be looked at with a preseason game in the near future."
Veteran Chad Pennington was behind center when the first team offense lined up at training camp. Early on he fell victim to two interceptions, one of which was an errant pass returned for a score by All-Pro linebacker Jonathan Vilma.
"Early in the first team drill he held the ball a little bit too long on the flat (the play to Vilma there) that he ended up getting," said Mangini of Pennington. "I thought the first play that he had wasn't a bad throw, it got batted up."
"I'm working through some things, working through reads, working through timing and getting those little nuances down," added Pennington.
This camp has a very different feel for Pennington, acknowledging that competition has made him a better quarterback.
"I am just glad to take to be out here and take the reps that they give me and work hard on those reps," he said. "When you have so many people in camp – you have four quarterbacks rotating – your reps are far and few between. When you get your reps, you have to make sure you make the best out of them. You make a mistake; you learn from your mistake and don't repeat it."
Pennington, who will practice two-a-days with the club, says his shoulder rehabilitation is further along this preseason than last year's camp. He has embraced an extra four months of rehab following October '05 surgery compared to a February '05 procedure.
"I thing things have progressed further along because of the time and the repetition – no doubt about it," he said. "I am confident, but I am going to continue to work hard and stick with our plan. Competitively you want to be out there and do everything you can and take every rep. I am going to stick with our plan and do what our coaches ask me to do. When they call my number, I am going to be ready."
The list of Pennington's competitors includes 23-year old Kellen Clemens. During mini-camp, Clemens flashed and the University of Oregon product hopes to continue his upward climb this summer. He saw a definite speed difference between OTAs and today's early session.
"All the fans that showed up was a little different. We definitely didn't have that in Eugene, but other than that – the intensity was turned up from OTAs, but they said it would be and they were right on," he said.
Mangini has been impressed with Clemens, but he also knows the Jets second round selection will have to make a necessary transition.
"Kellen has been outstanding in terms of the classroom, his preparation, his work ethic, his maturity, all of that...," said the first-year head coach of Clemens. "I think that all of that has been great, but when you're working without pads and you transition to pads, the speed of the game increases dramatically. And that's always a transition – getting used to the speed of the game. So, he's going to have to adjust to that."
Patrick Ramsey might not be making a transition to the professional level, but he is making a transition to a new team. An off-season free agent addition, Ramsey looked sharp in the morning session.
"I feel like I'm doing better," said Ramsey, who spent the first the four years of his NFL career in Washington. "I felt better about running this offense than I possibly did then (the spring), but I studied a lot in the time from mini camp to now. I am going to continue to do so throughout training camp."
Interestingly, Mangini attributed some of Ramsey's progress to his removal of excess weight.
"He has gotten his weight down," Mangini said of Ramsey. "He is really working on his footwork. He's like the rest of that group - impressive in the classroom. So, Patrick's made a lot of progress and I'm pleased with what he's done so far."
And it wouldn't be wise to overlook Bollinger, a gutsy leader older and wiser from last year's experience. The New York quartet will be heavily scrutinized by outsiders over the next few weeks. One day does not make a starter, so we'll have to watch the process unfold over time. And when will someone be named a starter?
"As soon as someone distinguishes themselves, that's the date," says Mangini. "And that is true at any position. As soon as someone shows us that he's the best player and he helps us win the most, then he will be named. That is really the only timetable."
All four passers will have to take advantage of their time by making plays and taking mental repetitions away from the action. Mangini has labeled the competition "wide-open," so each player will have to quickly rebound from mistakes. Late in practice one, Pennington hooked up with Jerricho Cotchery on a beautiful long ball during team drills.
"If it doesn't go well, you keep focusing, move on, and keep competing," Mangini said. "And that's what Chad did and you see that he hit the touchdown on the second-to-last play."
There will be no politics involved in this decision. Whoever gives the Jets the best opportunity to win will lead the Green & White in the fall.
"You are out there – regardless of whether you're the first teamer or the fourth teamer – trying to do the best you can, move the team and complete balls, and make the right reads and make the decisions," Ramsey said. "You just have to do that to the best of your ability and hope it's good enough to help the team win."