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SNY's Dylan Butler re Jets backups

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Jets let the backups do the dirty work

Thomas Jones makes his debut for 27 yards, one TD

By Dylan Butler

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - A quarterback showed poise in the pocket for the Jets in a 31-16 win over the Atlanta Falcons in the Jets' preseason opener at the Meadowlands Friday night, but it wasn't Chad Pennington.

And there was a wide receiver who caught a touchdown pass, but it wasn't Laveranues Coles, Jerricho Cotchery or Justin McCareins. And a tight end had four catches and two touchdowns, but it wasn't Chris Baker.

No, the Jets preseason opener had little to do with the starters as it did with the backups, guys like Kellen Clemens, Chansi Stuckey and Sean Ryan. The exception, though, was Thomas Jones.

The Jets starting running back received the biggest ovation from the sparse crowd and ran on the Jets first three plays from scrimmage, all in the no-huddle. Jones, who rushed for 1,210 yards for the Bears last year, had eight carries for 27 yards, including a one-yard touchdown run.

"It felt good to come up here and the fans to show me a lot of love and a lot of respect," Jones said. "It means a lot to any player out there because it shows they appreciate what you've done and what you have the potential to do."

Pennington played the first two series, but didn't throw the ball once, handing off to Jones, Leon Washington and Brad Smith as the Jets made a concerted effort to run the ball early. In fact, the Jets had 16 consecutive running plays before Smith's incomplete pass to Stacy Tutt with 6:56 left in the first half.

"What we were focusing on early was the run and that's really what we wanted to do," Jets coach Eric Mangini said. "We wanted to see Thomas and Leon [Washington] and different combinations of linemen. There's no better time than the preseason to do that."

Clemens took over in the second quarter and, if the first preseason game is any indication, has clearly locked up the backup quarterback spot. He was 16-of-22 for 174 yards and three touchdowns, completing nine straight passes for 77 yards in the third quarter. He twice connected with tight end Sean Ryan for touchdowns and lobbed a pass in the corner of the end zone to Stuckey, the rookie out of Clemson, for a 13-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

"It's just another year in the system," Clemens said. "I feel a lot more comfortable in my second year. Fortunately tonight I was surrounded by a lot of talented guys."

Clemens threw the first completed pass to McCareins for a 42-yard reception with 5:10 left in the first half and made a nice dump pass to Washington for a 13-yard reception on third down that led to Ryan's first touchdown. In the third quarter, the second-year quarterback from Oregon stayed in the pocket, absorbing a hit before finding a wide-open Ryan for a 10-yard touchdown pass.

"I feel more comfortable," Ryan said. "Obviously it helps, spending the off-season here and knowing the offense better and not running around like my head is cut off. When you trust the offense and you know the scheme, you can play fast and that's what helped me the most."

Washington, who filled in nicely on kickoff returns for the injured Justin Miller, had the biggest highlight of the game. He showed some of the explosiveness that made him a fan-favorite a year ago on an 86-yard kickoff return to the Atlanta 8 in the first quarter that led to Jones' 3-yard touchdown run to end the quarter.

"My job is simple, its to go out there and do what I have to do to give our team the best chance to win," Washington said. "If that's returning kicks, punts, covering the kicks or playing the offense."

There were some negatives - the starting defense giving up a touchdown run up a 10-yard touchdown run up the gut by Jerious Norwood and Kerry Rhodes getting burned twice for 59 yards in the Falcons opening eight-play, 82-yard drive. But there were also a lot of things Mangini liked.

"I was really pleased with the operation, being able to operate effectively at this time of year with as many people as we have going in and out, as many different combinations, to be able to execute the no-huddle, not have any penalties at the line of scrimmage," the second-year coach said. "Those things are very important at this point, to see where you are with the overall operation."

The only real drama coming into the game was if disgruntled Pete Kendall would start alongside D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold on the starting offensive line as he did all of last season. The fans found out the answer when Adrian Clarke lined up at left guard to start the game, although Kendall was told last night at the team hotel he wouldn't be starting.

"You have to ask them what their plans are," said Kendall, who played into the third quarter, a slap in the face for a veteran of 11 seasons. "I've gone on the record with what I think and nothing about tonight has changed that."

Dylan Butler is a regular contributor to SNY.tv.

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