Thomas Jones looked cut, crisp and cheerful at today's OTA practice.
Cut? Is it possible that the Jets' Pro Bowl back has added muscles to his muscles?
"You get down on South Beach," speculated center Nick Mangold, "you want to make sure you look right, I guess."
Crisp? Absolutely. Again, there are no pads or tackling at these workouts, but Jones looked like he hadn't lost any of his giddyup as he ran between the tackles, then caught the occasional pass out of the backfield and turned upfield.
Cheerful? That's head coach Rex Ryan's understanding.
"That's what Thomas told me — he's happy to be here," Ryan said at his news conference this afternoon, "and I'm certainly happy he's here. Now again, is he happy with everything? You'd have to ask Thomas that."
That's a reference to Jones staying away from the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center for all of the voluntary off-season work, including the first six OTAs, before reporting to the still voluntary OTAs on Wednesday and today.
Jones didn't speak with the Jets reporters and their national brethren who attended today's practice open to the media. But TJ certainly seemed upbeat on the field and his teammates were upbeat to have him back.
"I know Thomas is a worker," Mangold said. "I know him not being here, he wasn't going to let himself go or wasn't going to keep himself up. I wasn't worried about that. It was good having him back. We gave him a little 'gruff' to kind of bust him up a little bit."
A certain rookie echoed that sentiment.
"I was very happy when he came back," said third-round rookie RB Shonn Greene. "I'm just excited to learn from him. He's a Pro Bowler who's been in the league a long time. He knows what he's doing. I just want to take what I can from him and put a little of it in my game."
Coach Rex was prodded on what he expected of Jones, if his featured back would continue to be with the team for next week's OTAs, the following week's mandatory minicamp and training camp beginning in late July, and if and when he expects Leon Washington to also return and complete the Jets' all-star backfield. Ryan wasn't going to go there.
"It did help," Ryan said of seeing for the first time how Jones practice. "Obviously, you're watching film, but when you see it up close and personal, you get a great idea how he is around his teammates, the kind of player he is, the kind of person he is.
"Unfortunately, Leon's not here right now, but he did show a lot. That's what I'm seeing right now in Thomas. I see what his teammates say about him, the kind of inspiration he is to the football team — I certainly see that. But I need to see that. If he's not here, I'm going on somebody else's opinion. I'm glad he's here so I can see him up close and personal, and that's a good thing."
New Clemens Addition
Speaking of teammates, QB Kellen Clemens sprinted from the field to the locker room after conducting his two-minute drill toward the end of today's practice. The reason: He and wife Nicole were about to become parents for the second time.
"Probably the best play today had to be Kellen's wife," Ryan said. "Like any football wife, she waited until the end of practice to go into labor."
We'll pass on more information on the new QB in the Clemens huddle as we get them. He and Nicole have a daughter, Kate Elizabeth, born in March 2008.
Brad Smith was noticeable with some excellent receptions. He reeled in several deep balls during position work, then snatched a pass from Clemens away from diving S Jim Leonhard over the middle during early 11-on-11 drills. ... Rex noted that Chansi Stuckey continued to make impressive catches while David Clowney had a few unusual drops. The upshot for the No. 2 WR position alongside Jerricho Cotchery: Still too close to call.
The defense continued to impress. On the first play of red zone, Clemens tried to go over the middle but blitzing S Jim Leonhard batted the ball in the air, where CB Darrelle Revis plucked it and started a "touchdown return" upfield. ... Later in two-minute, Clemens tried to float a pumpfake to Cotchery but Kerry Rhodes was all over it for the pick.
Mark Sanchez had one up, one down in two-minute. With the score 14-10 and 1:50 on the clock at his own 40, the rookie QB moved the second offense to fourth-and-1 at the opponents' 36. Then as the defense crashed the line to stop the run, Sanchez went upstairs for the home run. However, Clowney pulled up his route and the ball fell incomplete.
But then on his final two-minute on a shorter field, Sanchez drew first-and-goal at the 1 when Paul Raymond was interfered with in the end zone. Next play, with no time on the clock, Sanchez rolled right and flipped to rookie TE Jack Simmons, who gathered in the TD pass alone in the back of the end zone. Simmons also had a couple of catches on Sanchez's first two-minute drive.
The progress the Jets are making, Ryan said, is in the tempo on both sides of the ball. "The guys are starting to figure this out," he said. "The offense sometimes has better moments than the defense, and vice versa. It's just an exciting time, I think. My expectations for this football team are warranted."