Who can blame Nick Mangold for feeling frisky today? He was at his wisecracking best with reporters during an afternoon news conference. Earlier, he administered a playful kick to the nether regions of Mark Sanchez as his quarterback was doing some on-camera work.
"I'm excited," Mangold, the Jets' indomitable and indestructible center, said at the media room podium. "I've been chomping at the bit to get back. This is the first time since high school that I haven't had football in the spring. It was weird, I didn't like it, and it's good to be back."
Many others said the same in so many words as the Jets' doors, along with 31 other teams' doors, swung open to welcome players at 10 a.m. across NFL Nation following Monday's agreement between owners and players on the league's new CBA.
For the several Jets, the voluntary day back at the "At" included such activities as undergoing physicals, meeting with their position coaches, checking into new strength coach Bill Hughan's weightroom for some screening, and chowing down back in the players' servery. It was just like old times.
But of course it wasn't exactly like old times. The four-plus months of labor negotiations have condensed an offseason of player activity into perhaps a few weeks. The Jets haven't announced any transactions yet today and likely won't make anything official for a few days, but there's lots of speculation. Some of it involves a position near and dear to Mangold's heart, namely the identity of his right tackle.
"It'll be interesting to see how things work out with Wayne [Hunter] and Damien [Woody]," Nick said. "If we're able to bring both back, if we're able to bring one back, I don't know, I'm not privy to that situation. But between Slauson, Brick, Brandon and myself, we've got a pretty good corps."
Mangold's reference is to the two men who started all the games at the RT position last year. Woody, who fought through and was ultimately sidelined by knee and Achilles' issues, was released and Hunter is an unrestricted free agent.
Another candidate is on the squad, of course, and that's last year's second-round pick, Vlad Ducasse. In fact, Ducasse was one of the earliest arrivals this morning.
"If Vlad's able to step up if we need him to, he'll be ready to go," the center said. "I was talking to him a little bit today and he seems to be ready."
Two other things Mangold mentioned keep this group glued together as one of the league's finest front lines: OL coach Bill Callahan, and the players' belief in themselves to fight off all obstacles and get the job done.
"We have a good core," he said. "We seem to be in a good position and it doesn't hurt to have Cally there coaching us."
That "core" concept has become one of Rex Ryan's core concepts. There was the "Core Four" contract approach from last year and this year. And Mangold said the core extends to all corners of the AHJTC locker room.
"It's important," he said of the organizational continuity that may well give the Jets an early advantage in 2011. "I think that's why we've done a good job of trying to keep a good core in the locker room. Obviously the NFL and the way that it is, things are going to change, guys are going to move on, there are going to be guys leaving, guys coming in, and that's just what everybody deals with. But I think we have a good core to keep the ideas that Rex has set forth for us and make sure that when guys come in, they fall along that line."
Before he left, Mangold threw a bouquet to the Jets' fanatics, all of whom were hit hard by this offseason's inactivity and all of whom the Green & White will need to fall in line if they're to realize their goal of "Bringing It Home" for the playoffs and riding that all the way to Indianapolis.
"We appreciate them sticking it out," he said. "It was hard on everybody, the owners, the players, and it was most hard on the fans. We appreciate their patience and we look forward to a good year of football."
Here are some more selected quotes from the podium today:
G Brandon Moore on the O-line and "Coach Cally":"We'll be OK. We've got a good coach in Bill Callahan. He's got a good plan in place. Whoever has to line up out there during the season is going to be prepared. That's one thing you can feel comfortable with, dealing with Bill Callahan."
DB Dwight Lowery on Antonio Cromartie as a FA:"The thing about Cromartie is he's such a complement to Revis and how Revis plays. Cromartie's got to make his own decision on what's best for him and his family. I'd love to see him back and I'm sure a lot of people in this building would love to see him back. At the same time, he's earned the right to get what it is he feels he deserves. I haven't heard from him but I hope for the best for him."
Lowery on this year's Jets goals: "Hopefully we'll get a home game. But I don't think anything has to change. We have to keep the same attitude. I think guys really have to embrace their roles. ... As long as everybody embraces their role, commits to it 100 percent, I think that's what's going to put us over the top."
TE Dustin Keller on Super Bowl aspirations: "We've been there twice. They say third time's the charm. We feel very strongly we can do that. We have all the ability in the world to do it. It's just a matter of getting over the hump. We definitely have the ability to do that."