It was the final play of one more Green & White Scrimmage, a fourth-string quarterback throwing a pass to a fourth-string wide receiver. Yet in some ways the play was what NFL training camp is all about: two young men developing a bond, striving to achieve, trying to move up the depth chart and make the team. Usually all that doesn't happen. Usually.
"It's amazing. It's a blessing," said Raymond Webber, on the receiving end of the 31-yard touchdown pass.
"I'm just fortunate they gave me an opportunity today," said QB Matt Simms, the passer, "to just play a little bit and kind of get the kinks out."
The scrimmage at SUNY Cortland on Saturday night was winding down when Simms and Webber and the Jets' threes and fours took the A-Turf field in Cortland Stadium. The first series wasn't promising for the offense as Terrance Ganaway made a pair of 1-yard runs and Simms was touched down for a sack by Aaron Maybin, who explained that he was just getting "quality reps in wherever you can get them" out of the defense's base package.
One more series from midfield and the night would be over. Joe McKnight got the first carry, again for a yard. Then Simms found WR Eron Riley, just ahead of a Demario Davis rush up the middle, for 13 yards. Simms then kept for 5 yards on a busted play, putting the ball at the plus-31.
Here's where the Simms-Webber bond came to the forefront.
"Just the other day, me and Matt, we walked through the whole practice script," said Webber, the second-year man out of Arkansas-Pine Bluff who spent all of 2011 on Tampa Bay's IR and was cut by the Buccaneers and Seahawks this year. "He's helped me with my routes whenever we can get out, from day one since we came back from minicamp."
"Sometimes during practice, we don't get a whole lot of reps," explained Simms, the undrafted rookie who spent the previous two seasons playing for Tennessee, his third collegiate stop. "So you've really just got to stay sharp mentally. Fortunately, it paid off here tonight."
Simms dropped back on the play, looked right, then saw Webber break past just-signed CB Devon Torrence out of Ohio State down the left sideline. He laid the ball onto Webber's hands with a step to spare in the back of the end zone. (The catch is captured in Joe Rey's photo in the No. 2 spot in the home page's centerpiece rotation.)
"Yeah, it's been a while, it definitely has been," said Simms, who may have last thrown a TD strike in UT's 2011 training camp since he had no scoring passes in his seven games (two starts) for the Vols last season. "It felt good to just get out and play a little bit.
"Ray did a great job of getting on top of the defender. He just made a great play on the ball, and it was a good thing we didn't run out of real estate. Everything worked out well, the offensive line did a great job of protecting, so it was a good play all around."
"All right, first off, obviously this quarterback controversy with Matt Simms — or was it Phil Simms?" head coach Rex Ryan said a few minutes later, referring of course to Simms' famous father. "That's what you look for in some of the guys that are battling for a third spot. That's exactly what you look for."
Webber was a late Jets arrival, signed in June even after the full-squad minicamp concluded. He'd worn uniform No. 86 at UAPB and with the Bucs, but with all the choice numbers in the teens and 80s taken by the Jets' other promising wideout candidates, he put a target on his back with uniform No. 1.
But what many may have forgotten or never known is that he was a consensus Football Championship Subdivision All-American with a nation-leading 101 receptions in 2010 and was one of 20 finalists for the Walter Payton Award as the top player in the FCS. And he's shown some of those skills during camp, particularly on a batted deep ball from Greg McElroy that he grabbed for a practice TD last week.
"I've got a good knack for grasping stuff," Webber said, referring not to his hands but to absorbing playbooks. As for his chances of making the Jets' roster, "It's too early to tell. It's cool doing this at practice because what you do in practice you want to take over to a game. I just want to make it to a preseason game." Webber, Simms and the rest of the Jets will do just that on Friday night in the preseason opener at Cincinnati. The team has a day off today and then Monday we'll see who the latest are on the now 90-man roster that can give Ryan and his coaching staff exactly what they're looking for.