He admittedly looked a little winded and like he was shedding some rust, but a familiar face was at the New York Jets' first training camp practice at SUNY Cortland.
Wide receiver Laveranues Coles stepped onto the practice field for his third and final stint with the Jets today, and the 11-year veteran seemed at peace with the circumstances of his recent acquisition to bolster the wide receiver corps.
"This is the last hurrah," Coles said. "The boat stops here. I wouldn't have it any other way. I think if I walked away from somewhere else, I was going to sign a one-day deal here anyway just to retire as a Jet."
The 32-year-old Florida State product played with the Jets from 2000-02 and then from 2005-08, while playing for the Washington Redskins and most recently the Cincinnati Bengals in between. He was awarded the Jets' Ed Block Courage Award in 2007 and made the Pro Bowl in his first season as a Redskin in 2003.
"He's a good football player," said fullback Tony Richardson, who played with Coles in 2008. "That's the reason why he's played the game this long and caught as many passes as he has. He's quick out of his breaks, has great hands and is a good teammate. I'm happy he's back in the fold, I know a lot of guys are welcoming him with open arms."
Last season Coles caught 43 passes for 514 yards and five touchdowns, which brought his career numbers to 674 receptions, 8,609 yards and 49 touchdowns. Despite those impressive stats, after the Bengals' playoff exit to the Jets, Coles was uncertain of his future. In fact, he said that he hadn't even caught a football since that game. He had been doing some off-season conditioning and mixed martial arts to stay in shape, but he was unsure if he would even be in the NFL this season until the Jets made the call last week.
"They're trying to ease me back in and put me in here and there. Right now at this point, I'm taking it day by day and they're going to let me gradually work my way in and hopefully I'll get back comfortable in the system and the offense," he said. "The truth of the matter is that it wasn't whether I could play, it was whether the right situation approached. I think this situation fits me better than anything."
The undeniable truth of Coles' situation is that Jets newcomer Santonio Holmes will be suspended for the first four games of the season, but once the former Super Bowl MVP is cleared to play, he will be a major focus of the Jets' offense. When Week 5 rolls around, Coles' role will most likely be diminished and his future again could be up in the air. He showed the ability last year to make plays, but with the talent stockpiled at receiver, he may not have a place once Holmes returns.
"We have a guy here in LC who clearly is an excellent receiver in his own right," head coach Rex Ryan said. "He has the ability, number one, he's familiar with the system, so there's no learning curve there, and he can plug right in. At the end of the day with LC there's no guarantee he makes it, but he may go in and have an unbelievable season and it's impossible to keep him off field."
Hopefully Coles will have such a productive stint over the first four games that the team will have a pool of talented receivers to choose from going forward. First, he has to shake off the rust and feel that extra degree of confidence and comfort. On his first day back, he had to watch as wide receiver David Clowney wore his customary number 87 jersey, while he was relegated to number 85, which he didn't believe suited him as well. Citing some joking from his teammates, Coles plans to try out number 19 in this afternoon's second practice.
Besides his jersey and getting back into football shape, Coles feels content.
"This is where it all started," Coles said. "I felt comfortable coming in. There's a lot of new faces but a lot of the guys here I've played against or played with. I came in and it wasn't an awkward feeling, everyone was happy to see me and was glad I'm back. I understand the situation that I'm in. It's good for me and it's fun. That's the main thing."
Coles' career regular-season receiving numbers: