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FOX Sports Report...NY Jets


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Michael Harmon / FOXSports.com

On Tuesday morning, I continued my trek across the AFC East with a look-in on the New York Jets in Hempstead, New York.

My alarm clock sounded before the break of dawn for another morning fueled by espresso and heavy metal music. As I passed the racetrack at Belmont, I had to remind myself to stay focused and disciplined. Before long, I was rolling onto the Hofstra University campus and wandering toward the practice field among a number of children wearing jerseys of Curtis Martin and Chad Pennington.

I'm most certainly accustomed to seeing all varieties of quarterback, running back and wide receiver jerseys in my travels, but how often do you see jerseys of offensive linemen? Two teenagers were wandering to practice clad in green No. 60 jerseys to celebrate rookie D'Brickashaw Ferguson. Naturally, I had to engage them about their choice of jersey.

"The future," they both replied. "This guy is the key to the future and us winning."

Another fan walked by and uttered an expletive in adjective form regarding the Patriots, which brought a chuckle from several of the fans en route to the practice fields.

I appreciated the love for the lineman and the upbeat nature of their chatter. The whole time I'm thinking to myself, "They do know about Curtis Martin, right?"

With that question (as well as the health of Pennington, of course) as the frame, I took my seat in the stands in anticipation of the morning workout.

Mike Nugent was the first player to hit the field and showed good leg strength and accuracy in his early kicks. He would also kick again near the end of practice with a full 11-on-11 formation. Nugent showed good accuracy and concentration despite attempts to distract him.

The team slowly arrived onto the field for brief work with their respective units before reconvening for stretching and running. I thought it was telling in Eric Mangini's first season as the head coach of the Jets that the entire unit participated in running from sideline to sideline, including all quarterbacks and the aforementioned Nugent.

They all participated in footwork drills and hands drills where defenders attempted to slap the ball away. The themes that came through immediately were that of team and unity. Does that sound like another team in the East? (Pats, perhaps?)

I'll review the biggest question facing the Jets right away. The rumors surrounding the health of Martin and his availability for the season, not just the first month, pervaded camp and dominated talk radio on Tuesday.

I heard the names T.J. Duckett, Chris Brown and Cedric Cobbs mentioned several times at the practice field and countless times on the way home. Given the current state of backfields across the league, I suspect the Jets will have great difficulty prying either Duckett or Brown away from their respective teams, but there is a possibility Cobbs could be had relatively cheap given the emergence of Mike Bell in Denver.

In the interim, the Jets are looking hard at another Cedric. Cedric Houston performed reasonably well in several starts last year as a rookie, but he did average only 3.1 yards per carry. He showed a good first step on Tuesday, hitting the holes quickly and reading his blockers. However, he did put a handoff on the carpet in a short yardage drill after botching a handoff from rookie Kellen Clemens.

Somehow, Clemens was forced to run the lap! Houston appeared more confident in his receiving abilities than last season. He showed good patience to let his blockers lead the way on several screens from Clemens and Pennington.

Derrick Blaylock appears fully healed from the injuries that shortened his 2005 season. He excelled, as expected, in the receiving drills, showing good hands on several ill-positioned throws. Additionally, he showed a good burst of speed through the line. As we've seen in the past, he's a good receiver and change of pace back, but right now he'll be counted on to carry a much larger role.

Rookie Leon Washington showed a good burst of speed to the outside, but still has to learn patience. He got up into his lineman several times without allowing the space to open. That will come in time, but for now he's still got much learning to do.

In summary, the Jets will need a healthy Curtis Martin or orchestrate a trade for the running back position in order to have fantasy significance this season. Houston opens as the lead back in the system for this weekend's exhibition opener. We'll get a better sense of how much Jets brass may need to make a move after facing the Buccaneers and their strong run defense on Friday.

The second topic to explore in Tuesday's session was the strength of Pennington's shoulder. I'd heard all of the positive sound bytes on local television and radio, but I needed to see it for myself. I must say, I came away by his ability to put distance and touch on the ball.

The timing is still off, but there's a month to get that aspect on track. He exhibited good strength on his sideline routes, connecting with off-season acquisition Tim Dwight and No. 1 receiver Laveranues Coles. The throw that solidified my opinion was the distance and loft he put on a deep 35-40 yard throw to rookie Brad Smith between the cornerback and rotating safety. It was a brilliant throw that invigorated the crowd and grew a few "J-E-T-S!" chants.

Pennington had good zip on his middle and deep routes, showing good accuracy and timing with veterans Coles and Justin McCareins. I certainly want to see more from Pennington as the preseason rolls on, but this workout proved the positive reports on his shoulder are warranted. Now, it's just a question of whether Ferguson and the rebuilt offensive line can protect him and whether his shoulder holds out for a full campaign. Right now, I'd consider him as a backup and spot starter with upside.

The No. 2 quarterback, taking nearly 40 percent of the reps, was off-season acquisition Patrick Ramsey. Ramsey also showed good arm strength during this workout, putting good loft on the ball and demonstrated an ability to hit the deep sideline routes.

He was victimized by several drops on the deeper balls by young receivers Reggie Newhouse and Jovan Witherspoon, but Mangini clearly has a backup with a big time arm. The biggest detriments to Ramsey's game, from what I viewed on Tuesday, were his timing and touch on shorter routes. Perhaps realizing that Pennington appears to be solidifying his grip on the starting role, it looked to me like Ramsey was pressing.

Clemens and Brooks Bollinger received few reps in drills, relegated mainly to handoffs.

The player of the day for me was quarterback-turned-receiver Brad Smith. While it's unlikely he gets the playing time and opportunities necessary to make him a fantasy star this season, Smith is quite clearly a special athlete who will be a staple on fantasy rosters for years to come.

He's still raw in his route running, as you'd expect, but his speed and athleticism wowed the crowd. In addition to the long pass mentioned above, he also caught several middle routes where he blew past the cornerback to find himself wide open. I suspect Mangini gets him on the field in the return game and three-receiver sets early, but keeper league owners would be wise to stash him away for the future.

For the present, Coles and McCareins were on their games. Coles practiced his cuts and stutter-steps on quick outs. Quick hits to Coles were run with minor wrinkles during the day. It became clear that one of the tenets of this offense will be to make Coles essentially another ball carrier. Put the ball in his hands and let him roll.

McCareins made two very nice grabs on high throws from Pennington and moved well in his first practice back from the PUP list. To his credit, he also entered the practice area early to work on his footwork, route running and cuts to test out his hamstring against the workout.

I noticed on my roster sheet the Jets currently have six tight ends in camp. Chris Baker picked up where he was ahead of last year's injury, while Doug Jolley looked lost in several of the formations. Otherwise, there wasn't much activity out of the position Tuesday.

The workout ended with more field goals and a few short yardage plays, with U2's "Beautiful Day" blaring over the loudspeakers. I wouldn't necessarily call it beautiful, though. There was no breeze, the sun was beating down and there's a very large question mark in the Jets depth chart at running back. But, at least Mangini has his answer about the health of his quarterback.

The overall picture will start clarifying itself Friday night.

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In summary, the Jets will need a healthy Curtis Martin or orchestrate a trade for the running back position in order to have fantasy significance this season

What the hell is "fantasy significance"?


I am siding with Bob Costas on this one.


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