The official start of the Brett Favre era begins for the Jets today as they visit the Chad Pennington-led Miami Dolphins. But this divisional opener at Dolphin Stadium will also mark the regular-season premiers of a number of other Jets, including outside linebacker Calvin Pace.
"I'll be nervous, man, but I'm nervous before every game," Pace said this past week. "Then it's about settling down. You go out there, get the first little hit, and it can be just like being out at practice."
Pace, who signed with the Green & White in March, was also heavily recruited by the Dolphins in free agency. For that reason, he could be considered the big fish that got away.
"It's just another game. It's just like when you go to college and you pick some school over others," said the Wake Forest product. "It just happened like that. I'll go down there and see the coaches who were trying to get me and shake hands with them. I don't think there will be hard feelings or anything like that."
In his final action of the preseason, Pace racked up two sacks of Giants quarterback Eli Manning. That performance is something he hopes to build off of heading into the season opener.
"It did a lot for me," he said. "You don't want to go out there and put all your best plays in preseason, but you do want to get your feet a little wet. I compare it to baseball. You don't want to hit all your home runs in your preseason, but you want to get a taste and get a couple and then keep moving to the season."
A former first-round pick of the Cardinals, Pace spent his first five seasons in the desert. The 6'4", 270-pounder established career highs last season with 6.5 sacks and 106 tackles and became a hot item on the free agency market. The Jets not only liked his ability to get to the quarterback but his speed and his fluidity.
"He's stout at the point of attack, yet he has wiggle to make a guy miss," said Jets head coach Eric Mangini. "He's also got a very good … I don't know how you phrase it, there's really no term for it, but it's that last couple seconds of the play, it's the last burst to close out a play. It's a great quality to have. It's almost like he senses how close it is and another gear kicks in."
The 3-4 front is not new to Pace as he played there last year with the Cards. In addition to the bonus of system familiarity, he also is enjoying how the Jets are moving him around.
"It's a situation where I get to do a lot of different things," he said. "I get a chance to line up at a lot of different positions and that helps me out as far as not having someone say, 'Calvin Pace is going to be on the right-hand side.' You want to be in a position where they don't know what you're going to do."
And the Jets are a game-plan-specific team, so Pace is a perfect fit. Mangini believes in showing a myriad of looks at opponents and seeing if they can handle the adjustment. So you're going to see Pace up and down, rushing and dropping.
"Let's say you're playing Miami and I might have to cover Ronnie Brown," Pace said. "It's a challenge, but its fun, not having to say I'm against Jake Long every play the whole game."
The Dolphins have a formidable 1-2 RB combo in Ricky Williams and Brown. And in Pennington, they have one of the best play-action passers in the NFL. But to take that away, Pace and the Jets have to limit the run and that begins with Williams.
"The thing is, you have to make life uncomfortable for him and get as many hats on him as possible, just make all his carries be tough yards," Pace said of Williams. "If he gets 4 yards, get five guys with hits on him. Have him with some maybe 1- or 2-yard gains and have him mentally be like 'Man, it's going to be a tough day for us.' "
All of the Jets' prominent veteran newcomers — Pace, Favre, nose tackle Kris Jenkins, left guard Alan Faneca, right tackle Damien Woody and FB Tony Richardson, not to mention Favre — hope their Jets debuts result in a tough day for the Dolphins and a victorious one for the Green & White.