Before the Jets took the practice field today for their first scheduled Organized Team Activity (OTA), Pro Bowl CB Antonio Cromartie had set the highest of goals for the pass defense.
"We don't want to give up a catch at all," Cro told me on a recent "Jets Talk LIVE" installment. "I think when you have that mentality, it carries over a lot going from OTAs into training camp, and then it goes into the games. When you're not giving up any catches during practice, it makes things a little easier when you can go into the games where you can go out and make those plays."
The Jets QB competition began in earnest on Monday as Geno Smith was expected to face the Jets defense for the first time in 11-on-11 drills. With David Garrard's departure, the Green & White now have a four-way battle for the starting spot with Mark Sanchez, Greg McElroy, Matt Simms and Smith.
"It doesn't matter who we have at quarterback — we have to go pick them off," Cro said of the facing the rookie. "There's always trash-talking going on — that's just a part of us being competitive and things like that. There is going to be a lot of trash-talking going on at OTAs leading up to training camp. We're just looking to go out and have fun, and try to make sure we get each other better."
The mantra under first-year GM John Idzik has been competition and that continues to resonate throughout the building.
"Honestly I approach this offseason like I'm still trying to make the team," Cromartie said. "I want to make sure I'm pushing myself and pushing others. I think we're doing a great job from the DB standpoint — we're all competitive, so everything we do we're always trying to compete with each other."
Four days after trading Darrelle Revis to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Jets selected most experts' top all-around CB in the draft in Dee Milliner. While Milliner continues to work his way back from shoulder surgery and isn't expected to take part in any team drills this spring, Cromartie advises the talented rookie to study up on his responsibilities.
"If you learn your position, you can play a lot faster and now you can start trying to learn everyone else's position that's on the football field," he said. "Now you know where you're help is coming from — you understand the defense a lot more. "
For the past three seasons, Cromartie has crafted his game under Dennis Thurman. Rex Ryan promoted DT to defensive coordinator in the offseason and it is a move Cro enthusiastically supported.
"I'm very happy for him. I get him out of my face," he said with a laugh. "He can go to his big office now, but I'm proud of him. Just being around him — this is my fourth season with him — and he's like a father to me. He knows the ins and outs of playing football. He played it for nine years, so he has a defensive back's mindset. To me the way he's going to help out is he knows this defense just as much as Rex does."
These OTAs are voluntary sessions and both live contact and one-on-one workouts are prohibited. But the defense continues to stress Ryan and Thurman's KILL philosophy: Keep It Likeable & Learnable. While Revis' departure has left an open door for someone else, Cromartie says the defense wants to get back to playing at a level they were at in Ryan and Thurman's first year with the Jets.
"Guys were flying around the ball, being aggressive, making plays and causing turnovers," he said. "I think that's what we're expecting from ourselves."