As the summer pushes on in Florham Park, N.J., the punishing heat brings with it a welcome sign for football fans. The Atlantic Health Jets Training Center hosted day one of the New York Jets' 2011 Training Camp today.
After 18 weeks away, players and coaches were grateful to be back on the field together for the first time this season. With the dawn of a new season comes renewed hope for the back-to-back AFC runners-up.
"We feel like we're right there," said veteran running back LaDanian Tomlinson. "We have the type of guys on this team that can make plays all across the board. What's next for us? It has to be winning the championship."
As someone who has come up short in the postseason several times in the past, Tomlinson believes he has figured out how to get the Jets over the seemingly impenetrable wall of the AFC Championship Game.
"You have to win the division," said Tomlinson. "The last couple of years we've played playoff games on the road. It's just tough to do in the NFL, so we have to have some of those games at home. Everything else we have. We have the talent. We have the coaching staff. We have everything we need."
Included in the list of needs would be a strong, confident quarterback. Mark Sanchez has developed at a breakneck pace, and with four road playoff victories already under his belt, his leadership has become an indispensable part of the Jets' offense.
"Mark is at that point where he is ready to be captain," said Tomlinson. "During this lockout period, I think we realize how far Mark has come because he was the coach in the meeting room. He taught everybody what to do, went out there on the field and performed. He's at that point now where he is ready to take it to the next level."
Despite not being able to participate in the season's first practice due to the still unsigned Collective Bargaining Agreement, wide receiver Santonio Holmes echoed Tomlinson's thoughts.
"We've been wiping our feet at the doormat to walk into the Super Bowl, why can't we do it again this year?" said Holmes. "That's the mentality I've adopted, and I'm pretty sure Coach has brought it to everyone's attention around here that that's what we're going to be about this year."
The opening of camp represents not only a return to work for veterans but a fresh start to a new career for rookies. For undrafted free agent linebacker Nick Bellore from Central Michigan, today was the first day of the rest of his football life.
"I'm anxious to get out there," said Bellore. "I think the big thing is we've had a couple of days here to get acclimated to the playbook, and I feel pretty comfortable with it so far. But obviously you get a couple of jitters because it's your first time moving and showing what you can do in front of the coaches."
Despite the intricacies of head coach Rex Ryan's defensive theories, Bellore does not foresee any issues learning the new system.
"In terms of scheme, I can pick it up," said Bellore. "Obviously, you've got to wait until you have the pads on for the first time to really have an appreciation for how fast the game is. I think in a week or two you'd hope to get adjusted to the speed of the game."
With the opening of camp comes a new set of goals for the New York Jets. For some veterans, it's the refusal to settle for anything less than the Super Bowl ring that has eluded them. For others, it's the need to hold the Lombardi Trophy once more. For the even younger Jets, it's the desire to show the coaching staff their skills and begin their ascent up the depth chart. Whatever the goal is, one thing is for certain: Football is back.