From an entertainment standpoint, this morning's Jets practice at SUNY Cortland had it all.
The pads were popping early as the Jets got to work on the run game and collision after collision ensued. Mark Sanchez's first full practice leading the starting offense will overshadow a lot of things, but the highlights were aplenty on this day.
Sanchez and Cotchery got the fire lit in 11-on-11 work, connecting on a beautiful 40-yard TD pass. But the defense immediately struck back on three consecutive plays as outside linebackers Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas converged on Sanchez for a would-be sack, Pace went high in the air to deflect a ball, then Thomas stopped Leon Washington in the backfield for a 2-yard loss after a short pass.
And Darrelle Revis displayed the championship mettle you would expect after getting beat on the Cotchery TD, intercepting Sanchez on a fourth-down situational play late in practice. The Pro Bowl corner, set to begin just his third pro season, neatly stepped in front of a sideline pass intended for Brad Smith and came down with it.
"It was fourth-and-11, so we're taught in a normal situation be ready to throw that ball away, throw it in the dirt or run for what you can," Sanchez said. "But they were in coverage, it was the end of the game, and we're trying to make a play. I tried to put it up high for Brad. Obviously, Revis is very athletic and he made a great play."
Only moments before, it looked like No. 24 intercepted Sanchez on an end zone ball thrown to Chansi Stuckey.
"I say I had two today," Revis said with a huge smile. "The ref called it incomplete. I thought my feet were in, but whatever."
The Jets' defensive backfield continues to showcase its depth. Lito Sheppard, who will start opposite Revis, wasn't fooled by a Sanchez look-off and made a nice deflection of an end zone toss intended for Stuckey. Dwight Lowery deftly blocked a Sanchez spiral intend for Stuck in 9-on-9 work and then Lowery made a fabulous effort play to get back and break up what would have been a long scoring pass from Kellen Clemens to David Clowney in 9-on-9.
Cornerback Donald Strickland collected an interception in team action as Clemens threw up the sideline in the direction of Clowney. Strickland almost added another one when rookie WR Britt Davis failed to make a hard cut inside and Clemens pass hit No. 27 right in the hands.
But the offense had its share of moments as well. Sanchez zipped a nice short ball to Stuckey in a tight window with ILB David Harris just inches away. When the Jets had to go to the short-yardage lineup to get a first down, Thomas Jones kept drives alive with conversions on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1. Chris Pizzotti, fourth on the QB depth chart, got his most action of the summer and threw an impressive out to Marcus Henry.
After Sanchez led the first offense to a score in their two-minute situation, the twos appeared poised to match the effort. But a Clemens-to-Clowney long ball was called back as an official ruled that Clowney had pushed off before the speedster made an excellent adjustment on the pass.
And there were a couple of priceless exchanges that drew laughs from the crowd, including one between rookie TE Jack Simmons and S Jim Leonhard. Simmons called out man (coverage) to his teammates and Leonhard barked, "Bull----. Bull--- its man."
But Sanchez was the story this morning. He was sharp throughout, making great reads, looking defenders off and throwing the ball with zip. When there was nothing there, he threw the rock out of bounds on occasion. He displayed good ball skills on a play-action fake that allowed Dustin Keller to get open over the middle in front of Bart Scott.
"The rook doesn't make the same mistake twice. He throws a solid ball and he gets the ball out of his hands quick," Scott said. "In a West Coast offense, you want to get the ball into the receiver's hands as quick as possible so they can make something happen."
Soon after the morning session, head coach Rex Ryan said Clemens will work with the starters this afternoon and start Friday evening as the Jets get their preseason schedule under way at home against the St. Louis Rams. Sanchez will play in that game at some point and undoubtedly get more practice time with the starters soon.
"I couldn't even sleep. It was awesome," Sanchez said of his reaction after finding out he'd be out there with the first unit. "I've been looking over the script a million times, trying to get everything right so I'm accountable to those guys, and know that when I get in there, those are very important reps. They come few and far between. Who knows when I'll be with them again? I think I really took advantage of those reps, and obviously I was very excited to be with them."