QB Erik Ainge
Like many others, Erik Ainge had an inkling how the Brett Favre chapter of Jets football was going to end. But like only a few, Ainge was personally affected by the retirement announcement.
"It didn't really catch me by surprise," Ainge told *newyorkjets.com *late last week. "I kind of had a feeling how that was all going to turn out. But you can only control what you can control. That's the approach I've been taking the whole time.
"My work ethic, how I prepare myself and work out personally, that's what I can control right now. The fact that he's not coming back gives you that much more motivation."
Ainge was motivated for his rookie season but had to fly beneath the radar. Now he's visible for all to see as one of the three holdovers competing to succeed Favre at the offensive controls. And just like Kellen Clemens and Brett Ratliff, for the last month he's been sweating regularly at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center.
"I haven't left. I've been here since the season ended," he said. "I went up to Boston for a few days and hung out with my uncle Danny [as in Danny Ainge, GM of the Boston Celtics], my family and my fiancée, Rachel. And I'm going to San Diego for a few days to hang out. That's my only off-season vacation, if you want to call it that. I'm here working five days a week."
Unless and until general manager Mike Tannenbaum adds a free agent or drafted QB to the mix for head coach Rex Ryan and coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to work with, Ainge is in a three-man off-season rotation. He'll be listed as third among equals for a while, for a few reasons.
One is NFL experience. Clemens, the Jets' second-round pick in 2006, has those eight starts in '07 on his résumé and is beginning his fourth NFL season. Ratliff, who had that strong preseason last summer, is in Year 3. Ainge is a Jets sophomore.
And then there is — or was — the matter of Ainge's health.
"I had a lot of issues physically, but I feel very healthy now," he said. "The training staff and the strength staff have done a great job. I feel healthier than I have in a long time. I feel great. I think it'll be fun to go out there and show the coaches and my teammates what I can do when I'm healthy instead of gimping through practice with a hurt foot or a broken finger."
The finger, which the 6'5", 221-pounder came to the Jets with as their fifth-round pick after a strong career at Tennessee, and the foot, which he injured during the season, set him back physically. He also needs to catch up to his competition in his inner game.
"You can't play the position if you don't know what's going on," he said. "I don't want to get into an I-do-this-better-he-does-that-better kind of deal. I'm just taking advantage of every opportunity I get. We can all make all the throws — comeback, deep ball, in-cut, slant. It's the little things that are going to determine who's going to end up at quarterback — attention to detail, listening to all the new coaches, taking advantage of every opportunity. I don't think there will be any politics involved."
Also, Ryan's arrival has reset some of the variables at the position. Brian Daboll left with Eric Mangini for Cleveland, and Ryan has brought in two mentors for the position: Matt Cavanaugh as the QBs coach and John DeFilippo as Cavanaugh's assistant.
Then there are the not-so-minor details of how all the competitors play this off-season when going up against the Jets' new first defense. It's a different "D" than they'd been used to facing.
"That puts us on more of an even playing field from the get-go," Ainge said. "A new style of defense, new personnel, I think that's exciting. It almost makes the OTAs like playing a game. We're not really going to know what to expect, except from what we watched of the Ravens last year. I won't study a ton of what the Ravens did, though. I'll be focusing more on our offense and my physical skills. When we get into OTAs, we'll try to scheme it up."
So this will be a jam-packed six months for all the QBs with a starting job up for grabs. Ainge will continue with his full workweeks of working out, studying, and throwing to whoever's available to catch passes. On June 27 he'll take a few days off — for his wedding.
Through the entire off-season and into training camp, he'll be focused on the task at hand, winning the post-Favre starting quarterback job.
"I'm very excited," Ainge said, "to have the opportunity to showcase what I can do."