Jets vs Rams Preseason 2009
Rex Ryan will man the sidelines against an opponent as an NFL head coach for the first time tonight when the Jets play host to the St. Louis Rams at the Meadowlands for the teams' preseason opener. But for many, the main focus will be on the highly anticipated quarterback competition between fourth-year veteran Kellen Clemens and fifth pick of the draft Mark Sanchez.
Sanchez takes the leap from highly touted collegiate star at Southern Cal to unproven rookie, putting on a professional uniform in a game for the first time.
"It's a big-time gameday," Sanchez said this week. "It is so cool to be an NFL quarterback and the family comes all the way across the country. It is really special. Once I get that out of the way and pregame warmups, it will be focus and get to playing, show my stuff and earn a spot."
Ryan said Clemens will get the starting nod tonight but that Sanchez will get some playing time in the first half.
"Our job is to make it as difficult as possible on Coach to make a decision," said Sanchez. "Both of us do so well and compete against each other. We make each other better, the team gets better, and then the best guy is going to play. It will play out the right way and we'll just go from there."
Clemens, who is in his third QB competition in four years since he was drafted out of Oregon in 2006, has been very supportive of Sanchez.
"When I was a rookie, I came in hoping to play and Chad Pennington was the veteran," said Clemens. "Chad was very gracious with his knowledge and was very generous with the information he had, sharing it with me despite the fact that we were competing. I guess it's my way of paying it forward, sort of doing the same thing for Mark."
"I want to see these guys, see how they are, see how they react," said Ryan. "I don't think it's going to be too big for either one of those guys. Obviously, Clemens has been through it and I think with Mark, it will be his first NFL game. That has to be exciting. I'm sure he's getting some butterflies. As competitive as he is, I bet he can't wait for that opportunity."
The Jets will be at less than full strength on the offensive line, missing C Nick Mangold (knee), LG Alan Faneca (finger) and RT Damien Woody (head), who did not participate in Wednesday's Family Night Practice at Hofstra University. They were replaced in the lineup by Rob Turner, Stanley Daniels and Wayne Hunter respectively, and those three will likely get the start tonight vs. the Rams.
With the banged-up O-line, Ryan said, "I don't think we'll go as long with those two [Clemens and Sanchez] as we would have liked to." The coach said second-year man Erik Ainge will get the bulk of the snaps and rookie Chris Pizzotti will probably finish up in the fourth quarter.
Fans are also eager to see how the defense fares with this year's veteran additions — linebacker Bart Scott, defensive end Marques Douglas and safety Jim Leonhard, all former Ravens, and cornerback Lito Sheppard. They'll help implement Ryan's and coordinator Mike Pettine's defensive scheme, which will often feature an outside linebacker moving up to the line and transforming the 3-4 personnel into a 4-3 alignment.
The middle of the defense is strong with DT Kris Jenkins (also sidelined with a calf injury) and an explosive duo of inside linebackers Bart Scott and David Harris. The Jets also have a deep secondary with Pro Bowl corners on each side in Darrelle Revis and Sheppard, and Leonhard alongside fifth-year safety Kerry Rhodes.
St. Louis is expected to be much better defensively as well with a new coach of their own, former Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who will be making his return to the Meadowlands sooner than he might have thought.
The Rams also will debut, among others, tackle Jason Smith, the second overall pick in the draft, blocking for veteran QB Marc Bulger and RB Steven Jackson for at least a few snaps. But their offense just lost speedy No. 1 WR Donnie Avery for four to six weeks with a foot stress fracture.
While most of the Jets' starting positions are set to be manned by veterans, there are still backup spots up for grabs during the four scheduled preseason games.
"Sometimes in these preseason games you'll see somebody stand up that maybe you never even thought had that good a chance to make your team," Ryan said after the Wednesday Hofstra practice. "They'll jump out at you, and that's what you want, a little cream to rise to the top, so to speak."
Though the final result will have no win-loss implications for the Green & White, it will be a chance for some young guys to come out and give their best performance to prove their worth for the team.
"Win, loss, we all know it doesn't really matter," said Ryan about preseason games. "It does matter in the fact that we're evaluating everybody, we're going to keep the best guys on our football team. What we said from day one was that we want a physical team, we want a bunch of tough guys, guys that care about each other, and guys that have each other's back and really play as a team and are prideful that they're playing on a certain unit.
"That's what I'm looking for, and nothing's changed. We'll see."