As the New York Jets walked off the field after Thursday's final OTA practice of the offseason, there was a tangible sense of energy and excitement. Upon further investigation, the exuberance was not just because of the three-day weekend ahead of the players, but rather what's on the schedule next week.
From Monday through Wednesday, the Jets will participate in a three-day full-squad minicamp that veteran fullback Tony Richardson described as "the last dress rehearsal before training camp." While training camp doesn't start until the beginning of August, this half week of football will provide the Jets a great way to come together before the players and coaches take their last weeks off until the new year.
During the three days of work, rookies and also players who are changing positions like defensive end Vernon Gholston will have a chance to master their roles.
"The thing with the position change is that you know the defense but are obviously learning new paths within the defense," Gholston said. "The biggest thing for me is getting back in the trenches, something that I'm used to, and trying to get a good grasp of it before we take off."
In addition to players like Gholston, there are plenty of rookies on the team who simply have no idea what to expect from minicamp. Rookie cornerback Brian Jackson, an undrafted free agent from Oklahoma, said he's just excited and blessed to be working at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center in Florham Park, N.J., and is taking things one day at a time.
Players are learning the playbook and schemes and rookies are trying to find their way in the system. Despite that, head coach Rex Ryan feels extremely confident in his team's progress so far, which will only increase next week. In comparison to last year, Ryan believes that this team is light years ahead in terms of being prepared to play and comfort with one another.
"We're ready to play. Literally, we could go play. Last year we would have gotten smoked," Ryan said. "To see how far Mark [Sanchez] has come with his grasp of the offense, he's not just calling plays anymore. He understands what we want. The communication is terrific.
"Then over there on defense, let's face it, we put in a brand new defense last year so we had guys inventing coverages every day. Right now, we actually know what we're doing. We are so much further along than we were."
Richardson, who will soon be participating in the 17thtraining camp of his career, also noted that having Sanchez available to participate in 11-on-11s has really helped the team start to gain chemistry and rhythm. He's looking forward to the work that minicamp will provide, despite having participated in so many minicamps before. Gholston is also ready to work hard for these three days, seeing it as a great continuation of the work they've done in OTAs.
Fans have been invited to take in two of the minicamp's practices. You can come out and watch Monday's 9:30 a.m. practice at the training center — gates will be open 8:30 a.m. and parking is free. Wednesday's 11:30 a.m. practice at New Jets Stadium presented by Atlantic Health is also open to all fans who have a free ticket. Gates open at 9:30 and parking again is free.
The Jets players and fans are certainly excited to get over to the stadium to check out the new digs. Gholston said that he was able to visit the stadium for Summer Jam and that it looks great, and veteran defensive tackle Kris Jenkins summarized the anticipation of Wednesday's practice at the stadium succinctly.
"I think that they're going to get us over there to get us acclimated to it," Jenkins said, "and that's going to be a beautiful thing."