In the first hour of the first full-squad practice of Jets training camp, Kellen Clemens dropped back, bounced, saw his target and fired.
KC found a receiver, all right — the pass hit dropping linebacker Eric Barton right between the white 5 and the 0 on his green jersey for the interception. There wasn't a white-shirted Jets wideout in the vicinity.
Clemens laughed about it after practice later this morning as he was talking with a small group of reporters while a larger group was finishing up interviewing Chad Pennington.
"You never want to throw a pick. Did I cuss Barton? Maybe under my breath," he said. "But no, this is more of a marathon than a sprint. I don't think Coach is going to make a decision this afternoon."
Welcome to Jets QB Competition 2008. The field has been whittled down from the four candidates in 2006 to Pennington and Clemens. Sometime before the season opener at Miami, head coach Eric Mangini will make the call.
Pennington seemed to set his jaw just a little more firmly than usual when he was asked about his expectations for the month or more of competition ahead.
"I'm here to do one thing. I'm here to play football. I'm here to win this job," said Pennington, who, except for injury up until last midseason, had been the Jets' de facto starter since taking the reins from Vinny Testaverde for Game 5 of the 2002 season.
"I think any man that's a competitor, when your job's on the line, you're going to step up to the challenge and answer the call and don't back down. And that's the position I'm in."
Clemens, who has stated previously that he's here to fight for the same job and is not "going to roll over and die," was more cagey today when asked about the state of the competition, day one.
"There's a lot of talk, there's a lot of rumors, there's a lot of conversation going on," he said. "But really, I think inside the building we're all just focused on how we're getting better and getting ready for the 2008 season."
Mangini: "It's a Process"
Fans shouldn't expect a blow-by-blow description and a daily passing linescore of Chad vs. Kellen on newyorkjets.com — we'll leave that to the daily newspaper beatwriters. But on the first practice it was hard to pick an early leader in the clubhouse. Needless to say, Mangini wasn't going to help handicap the race out of the gate.
"It is the first practice," the coach said with a smile. "And I haven't watched tape yet. It'd be hard for me to give you a really in-depth answer. It's a process. We've got to go through the process, practice by practice. It's going to be hard to give a horserace sort of play-by-play."
Both signalcallers came out flinging but neither had a pinpoint practice. A lot of that had to do with the conditions: rain to start the practice and later wind gusts that weren't Dolly-quality but that still affected throwing.
But the off-season work that both put in was a bit on display. Clemens, certainly not under heavy pass-rush pressure yet, nevertheless showed a crispness to his play fakes and movement around the pocket.
"I did a lot of work on my footwork in the off-season. That was an area that needed some improvement coming out of last year," he said. "That's where a lot of my time and work went this year from a physical standpoint. Mentally, it was diving deeper into the playbook and continuing to be a student of the game."
Pennington said his points of emphasis were on arm and leg. For the first time, he publicly answered a question about the severity of the injury to his plant leg suffered in the third quarter of the season opener against New England.
"It was pretty tough. I tore two ligaments in my ankle," he said. "It was difficult. It was an injury I could easily have taken three weeks off, but you guys know how I am."
So he took only Game 2 at Baltimore off and came back to start the next six games before Clemens stepped up to the starter's role in Game 9 vs. Washington.
"Tweaking and Changing"
Mangini also acknowledged the situation in today's media session.
"He had a pretty serious ankle injury," the coach said. "He fought through it, worked through it. It's tough when you get banged up early and you've got to work through things. The train doesn't stop. You've got to keep going. That's something you've got to deal with and I thought he dealt with it real well."
Then since January, besides correcting some bad habits from the sore ankle — "I had to recenter my body," he said. "My whole body had shifted to the left" — Pennington also set to work on his throwing.
"I really tried in the off-season to change my mechanics to maintain consistent velocity," he said. "I know I have the arm strength to make every throw, but I want to be consistent in making those throws. It's still a work-in-progress, so I'm really focused on that, really excited about that part of my game.
"There's a lot of things I'm tweaking and changing, 'cause I want to get better. I want to become a consistent thrower down the field, really take my talent and my accuracy and use that to my advantage."
Whatever the state of the Jets' quarterback depth chart (not to overlook the contributions of rookie Erik Ainge and first-year man Brett Ratliff, both of whom got reps and throws this morning), Mangini made a statement about those recent rumors that come and go regarding any Jets interest in Brett Favre.
"I'm really happy with the quarterbacks we have on our roster right now, the quarterbacks we have in camp," he said.
And Clemens put the battle ahead in life perspective when one meta-reporter asked the third-year man if he's getting tired of fielding questions day after day, year after year, about trying to win the Jets' starting job.
"I'd like to help everybody out, but after a while, it's the same questions and it's the same answers," he told his now large reporter group. "I'm doing my job, you're all doing your jobs. Hopefully at the end of the day, we'll all have jobs."