Globe NFL writer Albert Breer is touring select training camps around the East Coast, and will report from each one he visits. To review his previous reports, check out his training camp tour page.
Old school meets new school. Cortland’s State University of New York campus is set about 15 minutes from nowhere, and the town reflects that with its mom-and-pop shop feel. The school itself is decidedly cookie-cutter state school, but the foothills surrounding it make this place distinctly upstate New York.
On the other hand, the Jets’ well-manicured, natural-grass practice fields, adjacent to the two FieldTurf expanses of the stadium, are covered with ads for Madden NFL ’11, MetLife and JetBlue, and canvassed by HBO cameramen, who are filming the network's "Hard Knocks'' program. So on the one end, you have the Jets selling their business. And on the other side, there’s the quiet, bucolic environs that give Rex Ryan the football-first camp he wants.
THREE THINGS TO SORT OUT
Darrelle Revis’s contract: Jets owner Woody Johnson came up to the press box after lunch to answer questions from the media. Anyway, the always straightforward Johnson went for 10 minutes and every single question pertained to Revis’s holdout. Total compensation, not guaranteed money, is what Johnson said was the issue. But contract structure has been an issue with everyone looking for a new deal this offseason. Johnson said he was disappointed that Revis rejected both short-term and long-term offers from the Jets.
Meanwhile, the players and coaches say it won’t be a distraction. “If he signs a contract one day before the first game, Darrelle will be starting,” Rex Ryan said. “It’s as simple as that.”
The offense’s diversity: The Jets started their first training-camp practice with a middle drill, which basically is a mano-a-mano short-yardage showdown between the offense and defense. No passing allowed. It sent a pretty powerful message that despite the addition of Santonio Holmes (which because of his suspension won’t happen until Week 5) and the subtraction of running back Thomas Jones, this will remain a run-first operation, based on physically beating down the opposition. That makes second-year tailback Shonn Greene’s ability to carry the load paramount.
But at some point, quarterback Mark Sanchez will have to be able to win a game or two, and his development could be the difference between this being a good team or a great one. Teammates say Sanchez is bringing more swagger to the table this year, and having veteran Mark Brunell as a sounding board – an element that Drew Brees lauded in New Orleans – is said to be helping the young quarterback.
The circus: You could put this camp in a cow pasture (I’m sure there’s one pretty close to here), and it wouldn’t matter. There’s simply a lot going on with these Jets, which means the players have plenty of potential potholes to navigate. There are the high expectations, the added attention from HBO, and plenty of proud veterans who will be counted on to take on reduced roles and younger veterans in contract years. The bottom line is, talented as this team might be its ability to get through the normal ruts of this six-month marathon could define its season.
“Whether or not people picked us to win, we think we’re a pretty good team,” Jason Taylor said. “We’re not just going to go out there and roll our helmets out on the field. We’re going to prepare and go out and play. But the spotlight’s fine with me. Sometimes, it’s good to be the hunted.”
What’s interesting is the seeming role reversal that’s taken place between these two franchises over the last six months. For the last half-decade, the Jets were the team loaded with young players whose development would guide the franchise’s future, and the Patriots were stocked with proven veterans to lean on. New York’s current roster doesn’t have the championship pedigree of the past Patriots, but it does have a lot of guys with track records of performing on a high level.
Meanwhile, the Patriots have to hope that their first- and second-year guys come along the way that guys like Revis, Nick Mangold and David Harris have for the Jets. A big reason the Jets were able to make their run to the AFC title game last year was because of much of their youth came of age simultaneously. The Patriots have to hope for a similar result with guys like Patrick Chung, Darius Butler, and Sebastian Vollmer this year.
THE QUOTE THAT CAPTURES
“I think [high expectations reflect] our own expectations. That’s why we feed off of it. It’s our own mentality, that Super Bowl champion mentality. That’s what we want and that’s why we’re striving for. We really feed off of Rex [Ryan]. He makes us feel like we’re all ready.” -- QB Mark Sanchez
THE GUY TO WATCH
Here’s another local tie for you guys – keep an eye on offensive lineman Vladimir Ducasse, the second-round pick out of UMass who’ll move inside after playing tackle in college. He’s assumed to be the answer at Alan Faneca’s old left guard position, but at this early juncture, he’s still rotating with 2009 sixth-round pick Matt Slauson. And the idea that the Jets are easing in rookies doesn’t wash when you see first-round pick Kyle Wilson getting a massive amount of reps with the starting defense.
Faneca had certainly lost something, but he still had that road-grading quality that helped set the tone for the league’s most dominant running game in 2009. Ducasse doesn’t need to be Faneca, but it’s fair to say that he’ll need to be pretty good for the offensive line to remain the team strength it has been.
Ryan continues to push his belief Vernon Gholston, the sixth pick in the 2008 draft, will have a long NFL career, but concedes now that his time to prove it with the Jets is running short. He’ll move inside to play end in Ryan’s 3-4 defense, and actually looked pretty decent in pass-rush drills this morning, but has plenty to prove … Rookie RB Joe McKnight’s barfed in rookie minicamp, failed his first crack at the team’s conditioning run, and has had his toughness questioned. Tough start. But you could see a little attitude this morning, as he appeared to be seeking out contact, maybe to dispel what people have said. Bottom line is that he’s got a ways to go to replace Leon Washington as the offense’s passing-down back … Rookie FB John Conner, on the other hand, looks like the kind of jackhammer of a lead blocker that fits the Jets' running game … Antonio Cromartie comes to New York with plenty of baggage, but it’s impossible to get around the obvious physical ability he has. He’s pretty adamant, too, that Ryan’s defense is his kind of scheme (heavy on man-to-man), and wants to shoot down the idea that he’s shy in the face of contact.
“Rex makes you want to play for him, run in to a wall for him, so that’s something that I’m going to love to do,” Cromartie said. “I’m going to pick up my game from the physical standpoint and just go out and play football.”