When members of the New York Jets defense reported for the final practice of minicamp, they discovered that their regular practice jerseys had been replaced with black jerseys. The players did not know it yet, but the black jerseys were a reward for their performance in the previous practice.
"I stole this from (offensive coordinator) Tony (Sparano), he did this in Miami, he put a team in different color jerseys," head coach Rex Ryan said Thursday, according to Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger. "Whatever the emphasis is in training camp, let's say we have a red zone emphasis...the group that I think did the best in that specific drill, I'll put that group in the black jerseys for the next practice.
"It's just a fun thing. Maybe it will pick up the practice and stuff like that; really it makes them think of what the emphases, are so that's why we broke out the jerseys today."
Another AFC East team makes use of black practice jerseys. After wins, New England Patriots players who did a good job on the scout squad helping prepare the team for the game are rewarded with a special black practice jersey. The practice is watched so closely in New England, the media keep a running tally of black jerseys issued. (Note that the black jerseys did not help Markell Carter keep a roster spot the following offseason.)
As of right now, Ryan doesn't plan on carrying the practice over into the regular season, but that could change as he begins to recognize the black jerseys as an effective -- and salary cap-compliant -- motivational tool.
"The thing about football players and probably any sport, guys love competition and it's just a way, when they're on the field and that offense is in the black jerseys, 'Oh, they got the better of the defense,' " Ryan said. "It just adds to anything. Back in the day, you could give them a t-shirt or a hat, but that would probably count against your salary cap now."