The Jets held their annual Green & White Scrimmage at SUNY Cortland tonight, and while head coach Rex Ryan's defense is still ahead of his offense, a surprisingly large crowd of 6,100 came to the grass field outside the college's stadium to watch a QB competition even further.
"The quarterbacks showed some poise in there and delivered the ball," Ryan said after his first big event of training camp as the Jets' first-year football boss. "We'll see if that happens [in the preseason games]. Sometimes those quarterbacks flinch a little bit when they're live, but I don't think these two guys will. They did a nice job."
Rookie Mark Sanchez, while not rolling up big yardage while piloting the second and then the first offenses, nevertheless showed poise, accuracy and zip in completing nine of 15 passes for 70 yards. And that included three dropped passes that would have sent his accuracy soaring.
"I was on today and felt great," said the confident Southern Cal signalcaller who got his first significant action of camp with the first offense.
Was this then a "statement" kind of scrimmage for Sanchez?
"Oh, I don't know. I think it's obviously too early to tell," he said. "That's for Coach Ryan to decide. He'll judge whether it's a good statement or not. The bottom line is I took care of the ball and was fairly accurate."
Indeed, Sanchez's offenses suffered no turnovers. Neither did the offenses when Kellen Clemens was under center. Clemens, who started in the first series of the scrimmage, first offense vs. first defense, was hampered by different issues: only one dropped pass, but a few penalties and stuffed runs turning seconds-and-shorts into third-and-longs. And while Clemens was also accurate, completing five of seven, the completions gained just 26 yards.
"We're being graded all the time," Clemens said of the competition. "I wish Mark all the success when he's out there. I'm sure he does the same for me. Ultimately, I want to perform well for my teammates and coaches. The focus for me is more on myself than on what he's doing. Obviously I support him, but I'm not always counting and keeping score in that respect."
However, that most important element of football counting, the scoreboard, didn't budge when Clemens or Sanchez was out there. The only touchdown scored by the offense of the 11 drives that were held in the roughly 70-minute scrimmage came from Erik Ainge and the third offense. Ainge completed a 38-yard pass to leaping wideout Marcus Henry, setting up fellow first-year WR Paul Raymond's 15-yard end-around touchdown run.
So how about that defense?
"I thought there was some good tackling out there," said Ryan, who moved the scrimmage from the stadium turf to the newly sodded grass field just so he could have live tackling. "The three guys that really jumped out at me were [David] Harris, [Kenwin] Cummings and Lito Sheppard. ... I thought our 'backers did a nice job of making some good open-field tackles."
"That's what our defense wants to be known for, playing like Jets," said LB Bryan Thomas, who had a nice early play in the backfield in helping the run defense (still minus NT Kris Jenkins with his calf injury) bottle up the offense's ground game. "Running to the ball, being physical, being strong, attacking, hats flying."
The running game netted 78 yards on 26 carries, but Thomas Jones was held to 15 yards on seven carries and Leon Washington to 4 yards on two carries. Rookie Shonn Greene looked sharp even on his sore ankle with six carries for 25 yards.
The defense even sent some exotic blitzes, with two DBs — Dwight Lowery and James Ihedigbo — and rookie LB Jamaal Westerman getting credited with one sack each of the still-redshirted quarterbacks.
Quite a Crowd
Perhaps the most electrifying aspect of the evening was the caravan of cars that slowly snaked its way into the stadium complex's parking lots and the throng of fans who quickly filled up the low bleachers on the west side of the field, plus the higher bleachers on the soccer field a field away from the action. About 3,000 were already in attendance before the first snap of the night, and people were still walking toward the fields as the action was wrapping up.
"Quite frankly, I am stunned with this many people getting out," said owner Woody Johnson, who after the scrimmage worked the crowd and signed autographs along with his players (and even at one spot hugged Leon Washington, who was signing almost alongside him). "I was pleasantly surprised."
"It was wild, it was great, really overwhelming," Ryan said. "Hats off to everybody here. Cortland is doing a tremendous job for us."
The best thing Cortland can do, of course, is get the Jets ready for the season ahead. Tonight was the end of the first of three weeks in Central New York. Friday the team has off, with Rex and a number of his players making a side trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Double sessions return Saturday, the Jets come back down to their one-time base of operations at Hofstra next Wednesday, then begin their preseason at home against the St. Louis Rams a week from Friday.
That's when, Ryan said, the Jets start to find out if they have guys "who can play when the lights go on."