This Camp the Ball's in Chad's Court


Pennington is treating camp the same as if his job was on the line.

There is going to be a hotly contested race at quarterback once again this summer. It may take Eric Mangini the entire preseason to figure out who the man will be to fill the important backup role.

But unlike last year, the second-year head coach long ago decided that Chad Pennington was his starting signalcaller.

"Going through the process last year and getting to know the different players and getting to know Chad and working with him throughout the season, he's really earned that spot," Mangini said. "And just like any other person that's in one of those roles, there's always competition that's ongoing, and that's the way it is. But he did a lot of really, really good things last year, and I thought that that would be a good transition."

Fresh off the first 16-start season of his career, the 2006 AP Comeback Player of the Year is not about to go on cruise control. Pennington, whose 89.3 passer rating ranks seventh all-time, is treating camp the same as if his job was on the line.

"You can never let your guard down as a professional player," he said. "You always have to keep yourself on the edge. You have to stay focused and strive to get better. If you're not getting better, then you're probably getting worse."

Pennington, 31, may be just reaching the peak of his career. He has always owned one of the sharpest minds in the game and he is completely removed from the two surgeries on his throwing shoulder back in 2005. Last summer, his every snap was scrutinized in the early weeks of what turned out to be a runaway competition and he was also forced to spend countless hours in the training room.

"I'm excited when I step off the field to be able to step into the film room and watch my film to get better mentally and not have to immediately go to the training room to get treatment on my shoulder," he said this weekend. "It's more of a bigger perspective for me now and not such a focused perspective on one part. It's a much bigger perspective in trying to become a total quarterback."

It was a healthy Pennington this spring who had the opportunity to enjoy a normal off-season. That meant a different exercise program and the gradual disappearance of those endless days completely focused on his right shoulder. The chance to work the full body was welcomed by the Marshall alum.

"Total body strength helps with durability and endurance and it helps with being able to make all the throws you need to make. You look at all the great quarterbacks and they understand how to use their lower body to get the extra velocity out of the throws," he said. "They only throw it with their arm when they are off-balance or scrambling or something like that. When they are in the pocket, the great quarterbacks use their bodies very well."

Before the rain and lighting struck Hempstead on Sunday, Pennington worked hard on the field. After one series, the Knoxville, Tenn., native, with helmet in hand and curly locks replaced by a dampened, straight look, stood with veteran receivers Laveranues Coles, Jerricho Cotchery and Justin McCareins. They looked to be discussing routes and ball placement. Communication has never been an issue with Pennington and his targets. They genuinely like each other and seemingly are always on the same page.

"The entire off-season we had one quarterback," Cotchery said, "and to have that chemistry with that quarterback has been great."

Despite completing an impressive 64.5 percent of his passes last season, Pennington mixed in a career-high 16 interceptions along with his 17 touchdown passes. The Jets hope that turnover number lessens in 2007, and continuity in the offensive system will help. This will be the second season working under innovative coordinator Brian Schottenheimer for Pennington and company.

Of those interceptions, Mangini said:

"I think when you're learning a new system and this being a heavy no-huddle system, a heavy shifting and motioning system, all those things were new to Chad in the sense that he may have done all those things in different spots but not all of them together and at one time with new terminology.

"I'm sure part of it was that transition — learning the reads, the receivers learning the reads, routes — and some of it was just a function of you throw a ball and the receiver bats it up. There were a few of those, too."

The addition of Thomas Jones should not only help the running game but should make Pennington's play action that much more effective.

"As a quarterback, I do take great pride in the ball-handling," he said. "That's kind of a lost art, the ball-handling of a quarterback, understanding not only the play-action game but understanding how important your steps and your fakes are for the running game."

A couple of weeks ago, Pennington told folks in Tennessee that his long-term goal was to be a high school football coach just like his father Elwood. But that should be a few years in the distance. Clearly established as his team's quarterback, he is ready for another season.

"You have to start all over from scratch," Pennington said when talking about expectations. "New year, new team, new goals."

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