The previous two springs and summers, interviews with Chad Pennington were often painful. Physically painful for Chad, since he likely had just come from a vigorous rehab session for his surgical right shoulder. Mentally uncomfortable for a sensitive questioner trying to find the right words to ask about an uncertain future.
That's what was so striking about talking with the New York Jets quarterback after today's OTA practice.
"Everything's going well," Pennington said after quaffing some Gatorade under the unusually hot Hempstead midday sun. "It's really exciting to me."
He meant to be able to focus on his "whole body," not just his shoulder. And also to be able to step under center and run the first offense at the end of May and, beginning Friday, the beginning of June.
The continuity of the Green & White offense is so important now. Pennington is coming off of the first 16-start regular season of his career, and he's also entering his second season in coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's scheme.
Pennington said some things about the scheme and the plan of head coach Eric Mangini and Schottenheimer that sounded cryptic at first but really weren't.
"Coach is doing a great job of keeping us on edge and focused on what we need to do to get better in the system," he said. "That's what we're trying to do: learn how to become experts in our system. ... I have to make sure I know not only what to do but how to do it."
Consider what that means. As well as Pennington orchestrated the offense last year, he wasn't happy with the dips, the lulls, the mistakes. This season, with virtually the entire offense back intact, there is a really good chance that the driven quarterback will become more expert, that he'll know how to do everything, not just almost everything.
Pennington was asked about last year's interceptions. He had a career-high 16, plus one more in the playoff game. One a game.
"Ball security is always an emphasis of mine," he said. "You look at the stats, wins and losses in the NFL go right to the turnover column. A lot of times it tells the difference between a win and a loss. All different factors contribute to interceptions, there's not just one reason why those interceptions occur, but the biggest thing is don't be hesitant."
The hesitancy should dwindle away to nothing, if the Jets' receivers step up with their quarterback in Year 2 and if Thomas Jones integrates into the system the way a lot of people think he will.
"Anytime you can help the running game improve, I think that expands the offense just because of the type of coverages that you get and the way the defenses have to respond," Mangini said. "It's like adding any player to any impact position — there are things that defenses have to do to respond to it that may open up some other opportunities for players."
And just as Pennington praised Jones for the tangibles and intangibles he brings to the Jets' offense, so No. 20 praised No. 10.
"Chad is a great quarterback," Jones said. "He has been around this league for a long time, just as long as me. We came out the same year , so I've known him for a while. It's good to play with a guy I know."
And it's good, as Pennington has told newyorkjets.com and other outlets, to be playing at this time of year, to be "one of the guys" again and not a "ghost" rehabbing an injury.
"It is a good feeling to know I had to persevere, withstand a lot physically and mentally to make it back," he said. "But that makes you strong. I'm proud of that, but now my focus is looking forward."