It was Saturday night and RB John Griffin thought he had an open lane. He caught a screen pass, turned and headed upfield. Seemingly unimpeded, he cut to his right — but was suddenly and violently taken down from behind by hulking linebacker Ricky Sapp. It was supposed to be a scrimmage, but for Sapp, in that moment, it was just like any other game.
"My first instinct was to strip the ball, but it happened so fast that I just wrapped up and hit him," Sapp said today, his face cracking into a wide smile. "It felt pretty good."
It sounded pretty good, too. Over 6,000 Jets fans showed up at Cortland Stadium for the annual Green & White Scrimmage, and plays like Sapp's hit gave the fans something to cheer about.
Entering his third season in a Jets uniform, Ricky Sapp has never quite made a strong enough impression to stick around. Relegated primarily to the practice squad over his first two seasons, he saw time in four games last year after being called up in Week 9. So far this training camp the 26-year-old has shown that his game has taken great strides and he is in serious contention to be one of the 46 players suiting up on opening day.
Sapp understands that this may be his greatest opportunity to show what he can do.
"I definitely think so. This is definitely a big opportunity for me," he said. "I have to capitalize and continue to put in my work."
Sapp's play has caught the attention of head coach Rex Ryan, who said after Monday's practice: "I think Ricky's confident, I think he's healthy. We'll be seeing what he can do. Certainly he jumped off in the scrimmage. He's been doing a good job."
Sapp's hot start may very well be tied to his versatility, something he has displayed in his ability to line up both upright or with his hand in the dirt. He has also shown flashes of brilliance dropping into coverage and rushing the passer from the edge.
"I like lining up on the outside. I feel real comfortable on the outside," he said, "and I feel like I can do my job from both upright and down in a stance."
Ryan believes that Ricky's secret lies in his confidence, which "allows your true athletic ability to stand out. We know he's got that."
Although Sapp has turned some heads in training camp, the Clemson product is far from satisfied with his play or his role in the defense. Like most players, he understands that roster spots cannot be won in the in the first few weeks of camp, but they can certainly be lost.
"I think I've done a lot of good things. I think I still have some little things to work on, and of course I need to continue to get better," he said. "I'm just trying to take it one day at a time. Wherever I can get in and help the team out, I'm going to do that. I'm looking to use my speed and help out the defense."