Pennington: 'The Best Place for Me to Be'

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This article on Chad Pennington, along with a companion piece on Kellen Clemens, is the eighth and last in a series of stories reviewing the Jets' 2007 season and previewing 2008, position by position.      

No. 10 is ready for Year 9.

"I've decided that being a New York Jet this year is the best place for me to be and this is where I need to be for 2008," Chad Pennington told newyorkjets.com in the past week. "That was a family decision, a professional and career decision. And I feel like this is the best place to be going into my ninth season of professional football. I'm not looking back, I'm not worried about the future nor the past. I'm really focused on the present and doing what I can do to help us win games."

There had been much speculation outside the Jets as to where Pennington's future might lie following last season's offensive and team struggles to a 4-12 record.

But head coach Eric Mangini and general manager Mike Tannenbaum have remained on message all off-season, with Tannenbaum saying as recently as the second day of last month's NFL Draft of Pennington and Kellen Clemens: "We like both those guys and the best player will play. Both will compete through the summer."

For Pennington, who has gotten the ball for each of the two season openers and 25 starts in all under Mangini, including after a long, hot summer four-way QB derby in 2006, that's fine by him.

"All personnel decisions are made by one man and that's Coach Mangini," he said. "My approach to the game, my approach as a professional, has never changed and will never change. I feel very confident in my abilities to win — my track record proves that. And so the decision is left up to him, not me."

He's not worried about how it will turn out.

"When you're as competitive as I am, none of that stuff really matters," he said. "I understand how the league works, and what I have learned is that it is better to focus on the things you can control than to let the things you can't control be a distraction, because that's all they are.

"I've got plenty of distractions in front me when I'm dropping back to pass. I don't need anything else in my way," he added with a laugh.

QB Competition Beckons

Pennington is also ready to do battle for the third summer with the third-year man Clemens — in a way, the fight has already begun with the passing-flavored OTA practices that opened this week.

"We're friends, and I think we're both mature enough to have a good working relationship," he said, "compete against each other but stay away from vengeance or malice. I mean, really, there's no need for it. It's competition. It's not life or death."

But competition has always fed Pennington's fire. Even though the results weren't what he wanted or what they had been in the past (1-7 record in starts, five fourth-quarter interceptions in a four-game span), he wasn't backing down about how, all things considered, the season went.

"Personally, I have a lot to build on from last year because I played better last year than I did in '06," he stated. "I feel good about my progress as a quarterback, as a quarterback in this system. There's always mistakes you take a look at to become a more efficient and better quarterback. As a team, we can use the season certainly as a steppingstone into this year to see what other teams are doing to improve and how we must improve ourselves to be more competitive."

By some measures, Pennington did improve in coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's system — in passing accuracy (68.8 percent last season, 64.5 in 2006) and passer rating (86.1 to 82.6). But he's identified areas of concentration, and one he's already attacking in this new calendar year is his approach to physical conditioning under strength coach Sal Alosi.

"The off-season program is going fantastic for me," he said. "I started a plan in February, and it's going to be an 11-month plan to carry me through the season. This is a little different approach than I've had in the past. I'm actually doing things for the season right now to carry me through, to stay healthy, stay durable and be able to perform at a high level."

"Great Additions" Around Him

To do that, Pennington has become even more detail-oriented in his daily approach to his conditioning.

"You always hear players say they feel really good at the beginning of training camp, then by the end of the season they feel really bad," he said. "My goal is to feel as close to great as possible, knowing there will be some physical things that are just natural by going through a 17-week season, but really be detailed in my strategy to carry me through so that I'm feeling really good in December as well."

If the twosome were feeling less than great last Dec. 30, it's no wonder. Together they were sacked 53 times, tied with 2005 for the most sacks of Jets QBs since the 1989 signalcallers were dropped 62 times. And Pennington had his ankle injured in the opener and was sacked 26 times in his nine games, the most in a nine-game in-season span in his career.

For '08 the Jets QBs have a new set of protectors, including O-linemen Alan Faneca and Damien Woody, TE Bubba Franks and FB Tony Richardson, and Pennington is impressed.

"I feel like we as an organization did a fantastic job in free agency and brought in players to make us a better team on paper," he said. "And as far as in the off-season program, all of our new free agents and guys we have acquired have worked extremely hard, they're true professionals, and I think they'll be great additions to our team."

He even likes the draft, so much so that he said he called both first-round picks, TE Dustin Keller and LB Vernon Gholston, to welcome them aboard and offer them some veteran help in their transitions to the NFL if needed.

Even Gholston? What happened to that offense vs. defense mindset?

"Defensive players can be your best friends sometimes — especially guys who can affect the game with their pass rush. They create field position and put you in great situations to make plays," he said. "So I don't ever look at it as an offense or a defense thing. After training camp, it's one for all and all for one."

And by that time, more than three months hence, this musketeer with the 10 on his back plans to have made the strongest statement possible for returning to No. 1 on the Jets' QB depth chart.

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