CORTLAND, N.Y. -- Upstate New York farm country is the perfect setting for a team to focus on a new identity. There are very few distractions -- the perfect place to build the mindset of a football team.
While there are question marks at a number of positions, there is also a fierce competitive spirit permeating everything the team does. The first 'live' practice included a very intense goal-line scrimmage. As rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez said, "Coach Ryan told us this is a man's practice." The hitting backed it up.
» The Jets still have significant questions at wide receiver. They are going to need a solid group, whether Sanchez or Kellen Clemens ends up as the starting QB. The receivers will not offer much help to the young QBs in the huddle or on the field as they all work to learn the system. Jerricho Cotchery looked pretty good at practice and is their go-to guy. He may be underrated as a route runner and receiver, but I still like him more as a second option. Chansi Stuckey is working as the No. 2 WR and flashes quickness and an ability to separate. Yet I would still rather see him as the No. 3 WR in the slot. Hopefully David Clowney will look better as camp goes on but an upgrade via a trade (especially Braylon Edwards or Brandon Marshall) would help this group.
» A pass rusher has to surface, especially with linebacker Calvin Pace suspended for the first four games of the regular season. Vernon Gholston did not distinguish himself on Tuesday as Pace's full-time replacement for the month of September. When I asked two players about how the team will handle the loss of Pace they both mentioned the concept of a group of players rather than Gholston by himself. They were by no means down on Gholston but they didn't jump up to defend him either.
» The QB battle hasn't really started yet. Clemens is taking all of the first team reps while Sanchez continues to work with the second team. Until they both split first team reps there is no competition. As Sanchez said to me, "you must earn your reps." Clemens told me he really hasn't let the pressure of the competition get to him and added that he thought he gave the team the best chance to win. Stay tuned as this battle will eventually heat up, but for now both signal callers are helping each other as the offense installs close to 75 things a day.
The Jets' run defense without Kris Jenkins (nursing a sore calf muscle) stacked up very well against the excellent running game in a very heated practice. As Jenkins said to me after the good showing, "We looked like a football team today."
Sanchez clearly under the microscope. He was so impressive when we sat down and went over the practice I watched. He sees his progress. He is learning to take the check down receiver and not view it as a failure. He clearly can break containment on roll outs and bootlegs and threaten the perimeter. He ran a goal-line sprint pass in for a score and still told to me that he has to learn to find the open receiver on that play.
We had a good discussion about the difference between his college experience and his pro work. He pointed to the quick closing windows to throw the ball through, the ability of defensive backs to jam receivers' releases and affect the route progressions, and how he works hard at night to learn from his mistakes. The longer they give Sanchez to develop the better chance he has to succeed.
The Jets are a rough and tough group that may get into some fights, jaw with their opponents and never back down. Ryan knows his defense has that mentality and he is pounding it into his offense.
Cornerback Darrelle Revis said it best: "We will be playing more press man coverages and attacking offenses. No more sitting back and catching things."
Running back Leon Washington is an explosive return man and backup to Thomas Jones with Pro Bowl skills, but I would be surprised if the Jets break the bank to get him signed to a long-term deal. They will put good money on the table but not what Washington's looking for.
I see good signs, but ultimately the Jets are a year away. The defense is good enough to execute playoff level football, especially when they get Pace back from suspension, and the offense can run the ball. But can either QB make enough plays? Are the receivers good enough to pull down the catches in the big moment?
The Jets may not reach the nine wins they had last season, but they are well on their way to becoming a fine football team in 2010 when they will contend for the division title.