The sky was a cloudless blue, the breeze delightful as the roughly 9,500 fans settled into their bleacher seats for tonight's Green & White Scrimmage at SUNY Cortland.
And right after the scrimmage's official 6 p.m. start time, said wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, "That's when the fireworks began."
The first offense, featuring the electric connection of Mark Sanchez and LaDainian Tomlinson, gave season ticket holders some food for thought about making sure they're in their seats at New Meadowlands Stadium before the first scrimmage play of any given game. On the first play tonight, Sanchez hit Tomlinson on a straight go-pattern in 1-on-1 coverage with LB David Harris for a 70-yard touchdown.
"It's hard to put into words," Tomlinson, the future Hall of Fame running back, said of the Jets' offensive potential this season, "but explosive is one word that can be used."
"You love to start off a game like that," said Sanchez. "You look at all the guys we have, and we've just got to get them all touches."
It was not a cakewalk for the Jets' three offensive units, which scored only one other TD in this compact 70-minute practice against the three defensive groups. That came on RB Chauncey Washington's late 20-yard run.
You know head coach Rex Ryan, the defensive guru from the long line of defense-oriented Ryan coaches, wasn't thrilled with such a quick strike, but he gave the "O" its props.
"We're supposed to be ground-and-pound. I guess we ran it up to the line of scrimmage, then we threw it to LT for what? Seventy yards?" Ryan said. "That was a good play."
Both units had their moments in the full-pads, full-contact session to keep the clamps on the offense after that first strike. Santonio Holmes made a few nice grabs from Sanchez on the first offense's second drive of the eight-drive scrimmage. Rookie back Joe McKnight got a lot of work and produced some big plays. (No statistics were kept for this scrimmage.)
The defense also made some big stops. One of the top playmakers for the second D was second-year LB Jamaal Westerman, who was in on at least one sack and had several other strong plays, including a takedown of McKnight from behind in the backfield in the scrimmage's "second half."
A scramble upfield by backup QB Kevin O'Connell wowed the fans but fell into that gray area where as pretty as it looked, the defense wasn't happy that No. 7 made them look bad by not sliding when defenders had clear shots at taking him down.
O vs. D continues to be an intriguing subtext for this Jets team with the growing reputation.
"Absolutely," Sanchez agreed. "I think when everybody saw Schotty [coordinator Brian Schottenheimer] get upset at that 9-on-7 drill [Wednesday] and the defensive guys got upset, since then things have been building up."
But in a good way, of course, because each unit will need the other once the games begin, with home openers against the Giants to start the preseason Aug. 16 in their new stadium and against the Ravens to open the regular season on Sept. 13.
"Really, I'm excited about where we are as a football team," Ryan said. "It was great to see us get on track. Last year we went about two hours before we finally scored — we had to stop it on cuts. But not this year. Our offense is much better. I think it's going to be great for our team. We'll be able to beat you in so many different ways this year."
First-round rookie Kyle Wilson got the start at right corner opposite Antonio Cromartie and seemed to hold his own when the first defense was on the field. ... Matt Slauson and Vladimir Ducasse appeared to split the snaps with the first offense. ... WR David Clowney and rookie TE Jeff Cumberland were excused. ... Ryan reported no injuries from the night's activities.
In the kicking game, Nick Folk missed a pair of field goals but Ryan took the blame for the first miss. The plan was to not kick field goals until the end of the first and second "halves" of the scrimmage, but the head coach called for his FG team to go out without warming up at the end of the second O's drive toward the red zone on its first series. Folk finished his night with two strong conversions, from 40 and 48 yards. ... Steve Weatherford and T.J. Conley seemed even during the punting period.
After the scrimmage, players signed autographs for the still cheering fans. They'll have some lifting today but otherwise will be off until Monday with a full practice at 8:20 a.m. and a special-teams-only session at 4:15. Two full practices are scheduled for Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.