An undrafted free agent out of Utah, Brett Ratliff was unknown to most Jets fans when he signed on May 12, 2007. Heck, a large percentage of the Jets coaching staff probably didn't know who the young quarterback was.
"The first day I show up, they take away my red jersey and give me a white one," Ratliff recalled today during a conference call with reporters. "They said, 'Fill in wherever you can,' and I was like 'Are you serious?' "
They certainly were and filling in included shifting to wideout. Ratliff, who threw 31 touchdown passes against 11 interceptions and owned a 10-5 record while with the Utes, learned the timing of routes from the other side and found out it was difficult to come up with the ball in traffic.
Ratliff persevered, not so humbly insisting that he caught "a bunch of good ones" and had just "some drops." But he can always tell his kids someday that he pulled one down in front of a future NFL All-Pro.
"I had one that ended up being a touchdown. I actually caught it over [Darrelle] Revis and [David] Barrett, I think," he said. "We all went up for it and I ended up getting it. I was really pumped about that one and I think it may have been my first catch of my receiving career."
Now just a couple of years later, Ratty (as he's affectionately referred to here at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center) is out for a bigger catch. After Brett Favre announced his retirement Wednesday, the competition has begun for head seat at the offensive table.
Just a couple of weeks ago, rookie head coach Rex Ryan met with Ratliff for a half-hour. After the required introductions, there was talk about families and then, of course, football.
"He said in his eyes it's an open competition, so that's really all he said — 'There will be an opportunity for you,' " Ratliff said of Ryan. "And that's all I can ask for is an opportunity to prove myself, to show my abilities, and I'm looking forward to that."
Never viewed as a prized recruit or prospect, Ratliff has embraced his secondary role for most of his career.
"I've been overlooked at first. I've been the free agent guy or had to go to junior college [he attended Butte JC in Oroville, Calif., where he actually replaced some guy by the name of Aaron Rodgers]. That's just what I'm used to and that's not going to stop me," he said.
But Ratliff had better get accustomed to being on the radar. He had a great summer last year for the Jets, proving himself in training camp, then starring during preseason action as he completed 68.1 percent of his passes for 499 yards with four TDs and just one INT.
"It's definitely nowhere near a regular-season game, but it's one step closer to getting to that point," he said. "And I'm going to keep working as hard as I can to get to the next level and that is playing in a regular-season game, but I did show a little bit of what I can do."
Of the three quarterbacks on the Jets' roster, only Kellen Clemens has NFL playing experience. Ratty is close with Clemens and now their professional goal is the same.
"Up to this point, Kellen and my relationship has been great," Ratliff said. "We've done stuff outside football. Our wives hang out and we've done dinners as families — my wife, my daughter, his wife, his daughter. In my opinion, I think we're good friends. I hope that doesn't change and I don't think it will."
The 23-year-old Ratliff also probably won't be changing his red practice jersey for a white one anytime soon.