The Jets' first-team offense was on the move late in this morning's practice at SUNY Cortland, but the march came to an end on an incomplete pass from Mark Sanchez to Jerricho Cotchery. Yet Cotchery, still just 28 even though he is starting his seventh pro season, is encouraged by what he's seen from the "O" early in camp.
"We're progressing very well as an offense," said Cotchery, who had a sizable gainer over the middle on that late drive. "The great thing about the way we finished practice today is we moved the ball very well. We want to get into the end zone a little bit more. It was just focusing on putting points on the board. I think we're doing a great job so far."
This morning's practice was marked by spirited battles all day. At one point, it appeared some of the coaches wouldn't mind trading a few haymakers. But cooler heads prevailed and what ensued was a fantastic morning of football that ended with some bonus situations.
"It was just us competing against the defense. That was a situation that wasn't on the script," Cotchery said of that final possession for the first team. "We were going back and forth with the defense the entire practice and that was our last moment to see who could finish the practice off better. It was great. It was a live situation."
After catching 25 balls combined in his first two seasons, the sure-handed Cotchery, a North Carolina State product selected No. 108 overall in the 2004 draft, has averaged 73 receptions and 943 yards over his last four. His 317 receptions place him ninth on the Jets' career list and he's quietly done an admirable job even though the Green & White haven't had great stability at the quarterback position entering training camp of late.
Chad Pennington won a three-way battle in '06, Brett Favre came to the Jets two years later when the team was in the midst of its preseason slate, and then rookie Mark Sanchez and Kellen Clemens were given opportunities to take the reins last year.
But there are no questions anymore. The 23-year-old Sanchez is the man of the present and the future.
"You don't want to talk about it as a receiver, but it affects the receivers because you're going with different guys every day. Chemistry is hard to develop," Cotchery said when asked about those previous summer QB situations. "Once you just have one guy, you can work on everything with one guy and communicate with one guy as opposed to two guys or three guys. It's great to have Mark this year leading us, so it's been good. You've been seeing the chemistry and the communication has been there."
The fact that Sanchez hosted a number of his skill teammates in Mission Viejo, Calif., that he called "Jets West"* *certainly will help the passing game in Cortland, N.Y. Sanchez is thinking less and playing more instinctively and his confidence is noticeable.
"Things are a lot slower for him," Cotchery said of his quarterback. "He's doing a great job of getting guys in and out of the huddle. He is having us have a great tempo as an offense and anytime you have a great tempo as an offense, you can dictate to the defense."
You can argue that the Jets have three No. 1 targets when you think about Cotchery, Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes. And even though Holmes will be suspended for the first quartet of games, the offense added valuable depth when Laveranues Coles was signed for a third stint with the Green & White.
"It's good to have my ol' buddy back. We rode the bus up together after the conditioning run and we talked for the full three hours," said Cotchery. "Once we got done talking, we were already in Cortland. It was good catching up with him."
Holmes, whose training camp start was delayed because he was attending a family matter, is scheduled to make his camp debut on Wednesday. So the full arsenal will be in place for the first time as Holmes, who also attended Sanchez's California camp, begins his first summer with New York's AFC representative. It will be essential for Holmes to make headway in the preseason because he'll be inactive until Week 5.
"I'm excited about it. The great thing about training camp is you have so many practices," Cotchery said. "You're going over information so much that you're able to keep hold of information as opposed to practice one day, skip a couple of days and then practice another day — you kind of forget the plays a little bit. That will help out as far as picking up the offense and he can just go out and do what he does. I'm very anxious to see him out here."
The versatile Cotchery is almost a forgotten man these days, but sleep on him at your own peril. He began this 2010 camp on the outside, will shift to the inside upon Holmes' return, will probably work a lot on the outside in Weeks 1-4 and then get more opportunities to terrorize defenses from the slot throughout the year.
"That's a lot of tough matchups if you put me and Dustin [Keller] on the inside and Braylon and Santonio on the outside, or Brad [Smith] or [David] Clowney and all the other guys. We're creating a lot of matchup problems and that's the great thing about it," he said. "We have a great offensive coordinator who knows how to create those mismatches. It's up to us to beat that man once we're presented with that matchup."