Vilma with swagger after a great play
Jonathan Vilma was wearing a long-sleeved white padded shirt, which obviously must have made him cooler since he put it on after he took off his pads following the fairly hot and humid first practice of Jets training camp Friday morning.
A reporter wanted to know if he had put on some weight during the off-season.
"Nah, it's probably just the shirt," Vilma said, lifting it to show his abs. "I still weigh the same, about 233."
Probably not the weighty news a lot of fans wanted to hear. They want Vilma and Dewayne Robertson bigger to better shoulder the rigors of the 3-4 alignment the Jets will play a lot again under head coach Eric Mangini and coordinator Bob Sutton. But that's not happening.
So an equally acceptable answer is for everyone to get better in the scheme. And Vilma feels that's already started to happen.
"Definitely, it's feeling better," he said after the first practice on the first day of the second year. "Today felt light-years better than last year. It was a really good day today as far as getting out there, getting after it. The mental part of the game is good this time around, so we're feeling good about it so far."
Shaun Ellis is of the same mindset. A year ago, the Big Katt was shaking his head a little after learning that the 3-4 end role that he thought he had put behind was staring at him right in the face.
This time around?
"I feel good about it," Ellis said. "As a defensive player, you just try to master it. I feel I'm improving a lot in it, and us as a group."
Many still want to point to Vilma's fewer tackles and big plays, Robertson's and Ellis' lower sack and stuff numbers, and the defense's NFL rankings as cause for concern.
Yet the second-half improvement of the unit was undeniable. Heading into Game 9 at New England, the Jets' rankings in the "big four" categories were depressed. By the end of the regular season, all had improved dramatically. Total D went from 31st to 20th, rushing from 30th to 24th, passing from 22nd to 14th, points allowed from 25th to sixth.
'It's not a numbers defense. It's a team defense," Ellis said. "If the team does well, the individuals do well."
Yet all the Jets know the Mangini mantra well. The coach on Friday was talking about managing expectations in general, but he might as well have been advising his defense not to get too full of itself.
"Each year is its own entity," he said. "You have to do the same things every camp, every step of the way, to achieve the same level you did, and prior results don't predict future results. Kind of like the stock market."
Vilma and Ellis may feel like they and their defensive mates are "getting it," that the Jets as a team are feeling good about themselves in Year Two of the Mangini plan. But they know they are far from having it made.
"For us, we really tried to tune last season out once we got to the off-season," Vilma said. "It was as if we were underdogs, as if we have something to prove. We're taking that approach right now. We know we're not going to surprise anybody this year."
But maybe in the process of starting over again, the Jets' defenders can surprise themselves with another light-year leap in mastering their scheme.
General manager Mike Tannenbaum talked about more than just Darrelle Revis with Mike Francesa on WFAN's airwaves. He was asked about Andre Wadsworth, 32, trying to make a comeback after six seasons out of the NFL by changing positions from DE to LB.
"We think there is good upside here and the risk we thought was very reasonable," Tannenbaum said. "He is a great guy. He has the same agent as Curtis Martin and has a lot of the same attributes as a person. He has worked hard."
The Jets remain an equal opportunity team. Under Mangini and Tannenbaum, the best players will play and no rocks are left unturned.
"I'm sure there is going to be somebody on this team — maybe it's Andre, maybe it's somebody else — who gives us significant contributions that we aren't talking about yet," said the second-year GM.
It's only a day into camp, but the Jets are happy with Dewayne Robertson. The 6'1", 310-pound defensive tackle is beginning his second season in the 3-4 front.
"Dewayne Robertson looks excellent," Tannenbaum said. "He reported in great shape."
To LC's Health
Last season Laveranues Coles battled through injuries and caught a career-high 91 passes. The 5'11", 193-pounder just isn't one to come off the field. In fact, he is the only NFL wide receiver to have started all 96 regular-season games from 2001-06. When asked Friday about expectations for the upcoming season, the fearless receiver talked about his health.
"Just stay healthy, that's the main thing," he said. "Last year was one of the most difficult years I've had in my career as far as physical problems. But outside of that, just staying healthy and just helping the team trying to win ballgames. That's the main thing, being able to compete with the guys."
Always honest, Coles told reporters that last year's camp experience won't make things any easier for the players.
"I don't think it really helps. I think it makes it tougher at this point," he said. "The guys understand that you have a hard, grueling camp to go through and you have to get your mindset ready. You are going to have a long, tough camp, and I think guys now pretty much have to put their nose to the grind and look forward to each day."