Although Eric Mangini won't have his coaching staff officially report until Wednesday, he taught a very important lesson today in the Jets' auditorium. Providing a glimpse inside his meeting room, the head coach met with a small group of the team's beat reporters for three-plus hours and talked Xs and Os.
Mangini eventually held a customary Q&A, but this day was anything but ordinary. The writers in attendance were assigned playbooks (this newyorkjets.com staffer got Matt Chatham's encyclopedia) and the third-year head coach quickly put his students on the spot. After everyone introduced themselves, Mangini asked a local writer to repeat the names he had just heard.
Let's just say the man was in his element at the podium, thoroughly explaining football philosophies, personnel groupings, shifts and motions, fronts, coverages, alignments and the rest of an endless list. He taught lessons well, analyzed diagrams, asked if there were questions, then held everyone accountable. It was as if the beats had traded in their laptops for helmets and were preparing for a date with the Dolphins on opening day.
It was a side of Mangini normally reserved for players and coaches. The picture of concentration the fans see on the sidelines was replaced by a relaxed technician, confident in his knowledge of the systems, and yet there was an openness and eagerness to bring everyone along with him so the next step could be taken. There were pop quizzes throughout as he rifled out questions and even brought a number of people up to the front of the auditorium to draw diagrams.
You cannot play for Mangini if you lack intelligence and vital communication skills. If you are a Jet, you must think on your feet and not sit on your proverbial heels. He showed video evidence today of his players making excellent plays as well as examples of assignments that could have been executed better. Football is so much more than instincts, and you sense this head coach really likes this team and is excited for the season almost upon us. (The first full-squad practices take place July 24.)
Shortening Camp Practices
In the informal news conference after the classroom instruction, Mangini told the reporters that his training camp practices won't exceed two hours.
"My goal is to get the players obviously as prepared as possible and in the best possible shape they can be in but not fatigued," Mangini said. "Finding that balance is something I spent a lot of time on."
Mangini, who once coached semipro ball "Down Under," credited the Australian Institute of Sport for its research.
"Their approach has always impressed me because it is about trying to add science to the training as opposed to what's your gut feeling," he said. "I think they have done great things and I think there is a real balance that needs to be struck."
A fan of innovative techniques, Mangini wants to have his players at a peak level for the upcoming season. He doesn't think they were necessarily gassed after either one of his first two camps, but he hopes to create an environment where everyone produces at their optimum level.
"The stuff we learned about recovery, I've tried to incorporate that — not just in terms of the practices but the postpractices, and set up a routine that gives guys a better chance to really take better care of their bodies," he said.
During the off-season, Mangini shared a conversation with an NFL veteran he referred to today only as a "friend." The vet told Mangini that sometimes coaches want to "kill the players" and that just didn't seem to make a lot of sense.
"His whole point was that at some point it does become counterproductive," Mangini said. "I really respect this guy and I know exactly where he's coming from."
Splitting the QBs' Reps
Time won't be an issue in regard to the Jets' QB competition. Both Kellen Clemens and Chad Pennington, vying for the starting signalcaller position, will get close to the same amount of reps in practices while game rotation will be decided at a later date. When Mangini feels one man has claimed the job, he'll name him the starter.
"I'm trying to make it 50/50," Mangini said of the reps. "The first year , it wasn't like I had reached a certain number of reps or I had reached a set date. I just thought at that point that Chad had really outplayed the other guys."
Once the Jets announce their leading man, Mangini will reserve the right to make changes but he clearly doesn't intend on flip-flopping from week to week.
"My approach is when I name a starter, that guy will be the starter," he said. "It's not so rigid that there's not a chance to evaluate things as we go, but my approach is that when I name a starter, he'll be the starter."
No matter who will take the ball, the Jets offense will have a new look this season. The free agent class included the likes of All-Pro LG Alan Faneca, FB Tony Richardson and TE Bubba Franks. And the team also selected TE Dustin Keller, a speedster from Purdue who promises to create mismatches with his speed.
"The approach is based on who we think is going to be able to lead the team and do the best job as opposed to things we did in the off-season or the draft or any of that stuff," Mangini said. "All the decisions are really 'now' decisions as opposed to this off-season or another off-season. I'm always trying to make 'what's going to help us now' decisions."
Many writers have speculated that Mangini is in a win-now position after owner Woody Johnson repeatedly opened up his checkbook this spring. But Mangini said the goal has always been to win now, win this week.
Barring any holdouts (and Mangini does expect TE Chris Baker at camp), the Jets expect full attendance for the first full-squad practices a week from Thursday.
Mangini, looking rested and tan following his annual vacation on the Cape, is definitely looking forward to working with this group.
"I thought there was really good energy, really good focus and really good positive feelings moving into training camp," he said. "I think everybody feels the same way. I have been really happy the way the group supports each other."