Undoubtedly the greatest aspect of my job is having the opportunity to meet tremendous people. And Brian Schottenheimer, who is entering his fourth season as the Jets' offensive coordinator, has epitomized class since he arrived in Hempstead back in 2006. After shaking off the initial disappointment of not getting the Jets' head coaching position back in January, Schotty is thoroughly enjoying working for his new boss.
"It's been great, it really has," Schotty says of serving under Rex Ryan. "He is a great guy to work for. He gives you some guidelines of what he's looking for and then he kind of steps off to the side and lets you work. He's been a pleasure to be around, he's a happy-go-lucky guy, and it's just been terrific."
When the Jets open their facility to fans this week for minicamp practices, spectators will be able to watch Schotty's offense take on Ryan's and Mike Pettine's defense. It's an interesting cat-and-mouse game as both sides feature multiple looks and rotate in personnel. Throughout the spring, Ryan and Pettine haven't held anything back and they're two guys who promise to throw everything — including the kitchen sink — at the Jets' O.
"I've said to our players quite a bit that we're not going to see anything like this week in and week out in the NFL," Schotty told me Sunday at the Alliance for Lupus Walk. "So the stuff they're throwing at us is preparing us for not only the stuff we'll see during training camp but anything we're going to see in the season."
For the third time in his Jets tenure, Schottenheimer will have a quarterback competition on his hands as training camp commences. Holdover Kellen Clemens, the Jets' second-round pick in 2006, knows Schotty's system while Mark Sanchez, whom the Green & White selected with the fifth overall selection in April, is learning more each day.
"The coaches told us at USC that once he [Sanchez] gets it, he'll have it, and he'll be a lot more comfortable," Schottenheimer said. "It took him a little bit of time at USC to get comfortable and that's why they credited him for playing so well in the bowl game. I think you see that, you see him growing in leaps and bounds."
While the media was allowed to watch 33 percent of the Jets' OTAs, Schottenheimer is the man who calls the plays, knows the proper reads and progressions and then breaks down each second of video. And Sanchez, who's been a Jet less than two months, truly impressed last week.
"There were two practices when he had only two or three balls hit the ground in competitive periods and that's what you're really looking at because the quarterback's main job is to be able to move the team," Schottenheimer said. "He's done that and he's more comfortable calling the plays and it's a comfort level. He's clearly gotten more and more comfortable, he understands and he can visualize a play he's calling now instead of just trying to piece it together in his mind."
As we all heard before the draft, Sanchez has the intangibles you want in a great leader. I've been told that he is always one of the last players out of the building, so the Jets have already seen the work ethic. He has an inherent charisma off the field that was on display at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center over the weekend at the Generation Jets kids clinic and the lupus walk.
And he's quietly earning the respect of his teammates while having a great time.
"The one thing about him is how much fun he has at practice. He enjoys practice. He thrives in that environment," Schotty says. "In that situation, he likes to have fun and that was one of the gifts I think that Brett [Favre] had. He was so enthusiastic when he stepped on the grass that it kind of brought energy to everybody else. And Mark has that, and it's been fun to watch not just with the rookies but with the veteran guys."
It's an interesting comparison between Sanchez and Favre, but 2009 must feel much different for Schottenheimer. Last August he had to make wholesale changes to his offensive system when the Jets acquired Favre in the trade with Green Bay. But I think you'll see a much different attack this year — no matter who's the quarterback — with more shifts and personnel groupings.
Oh, yeah, there is another guy in this competition, and it would be foolish to forget Clemens.
"He's had a great spring, he really has," Schottenheimer said. "First and foremost, I'm just proud of him to look at his face and to see how competitive he's been, but how he's also worked and gotten to know Mark has been awesome. He's had a great spring. Again, here's a guy who has been in the system now going into his fourth year and he knows it backwards and forwards. He's almost to the point where he can read our mind as coaches and understand exactly what we're looking for and that in itself is a benefit."
With a great welterweight bout on tap for Saturday night between Miguel Cotto and Josh Clottey at the Garden, I can't help but think of this competition in boxing terms. You wonder if Clemens would have to score a decisive knockout of Sanchez this summer to win the job. And if they're close on the scorecards, is there a way for Clemens to secure a close decision? The Jets didn't draft Sanchez to be a backup, but that doesn't necessarily mean he'll be starting in September because Clemens is as determined as ever.
"He and I had a nice visit after the pick was made," Schotty said. "We talked and he said from day one that he feels like he should be the starting quarterback for this football team on opening day. To this point, he's done nothing to show me that he feels any differently. He handled it like a pro, he is a pro and we're going to continue to watch these guys compete. Whoever wins the job will know two things — that he's the best guy for the job and those two guys will get along and help each other."
And Schottenheimer will help them get along. He is a terrific football coach (and also another proud Florida Gator alum, but I digress) who will someday soon put a head coaching hat on his head. The Jets — much like the Ravens last year with Rex Ryan — are going to benefit from having an innovative, experienced assistant back on board.