No sound barrier for Jets
Unlike Mangini days, they’re making noise
With rookie Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez starting tomorrow night against the Ravens, and first-year coach Rex Ryan returning to his old stomping grounds in Baltimore, the “Monday Night Football’’ crew should have little trouble identifying the evening’s most compelling topics.
The Jets and juicy story lines go hand in hand, and it starts with Sanchez.
To this point, he has come as advertised, showing why New York traded up to No. 5 to select him. The Jets have touted an open quarterback competition between Sanchez and four-year veteran Kellen Clemens, but few expect the former Southern Cal signal-caller to be anywhere but under center come the opener.
“He has some of the best mechanics that I’ve ever seen in a quarterback,’’ said 11-year veteran Damien Woody, the Jets’ starting right tackle. “He’s a young guy, but poised. You don’t see him rattled by anything, and he’s bright and has a command. He just has something about him.’’
Woody acknowledges that it’s early, and even he is interested to see how Sanchez responds against a Ravens defense defined by its aggressiveness, especially at home. What has caught his eye so far is Sanchez’s approach behind the scenes and on the practice field.
“He’s a rookie, so he’s made mistakes, but he’s also been impressive in how he’s bounced back,’’ said Woody. “Our defensive scheme is very complex, very tough, and the things he’s able to do against our defense in practice have been impressive.’’
In last week’s preseason opener against the Rams, Sanchez replaced Clemens after one series, entering in a tough spot, with the ball at the Jets’ 7. On the first play, he connected with David Clowney for a 48-yard gain. Seven plays later, the Jets were in the end zone.
That naturally generated headlines in New York, but not as many as Ryan has since taking over the reins from Eric Mangini.
What a contrast in style.
While Mangini created a bland, high-tension environment, Ryan has spiced it up by publicly trading barbs with Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder and also saying that he didn’t come to New York to kiss Bill Belichick’s Super Bowl rings. Ryan’s remarks about Belichick and the Patriots were revisited again last week, when he reiterated that he is not intimidated by being in the same division as Belichick.
While some have asked whether Ryan’s bravado is putting his players in a tough spot, Woody believes that as many as half of his teammates are unaware of the remarks. Regardless, he doesn’t see it as an issue.
“His whole thing is that if you need bulletin-board material to get motivated, you’re in it for the wrong reasons,’’ said Woody. “At the end of the day, games are won and lost between the white lines, not because of what somebody says, so that stuff is meaningless.
“His thing is that we’re going to come out, have fun, play ball, and see what happens. It’s not cocky, but he has a certain level of confidence in his abilities, the system, and everything we’re doing here. It has nothing to do with Belichick or anything like that. It has everything to do with what we’re trying to establish here in our organization.’’
Ryan’s approach required a significant adjustment because it was so different from what players experienced under Mangini.
“Rex is all about guys being themselves and having fun doing their job, winning ballgames,’’ said Woody. “He wants guys flying around. He says, ‘Don’t be somebody else, be yourself.’ That’s the biggest thing, the atmosphere is different.
“I’ve been successful in both systems, and it’s just a different way of going about being successful. I think now guys have really bought into it and guys are having a blast in practice, competing against each other, making each other better. He says, ‘Let’s go out there, play as a team, play smart football, and let’s play like a Jet.’ That’s his motto - play like a Jet.’’
If Ryan’s blueprint comes to life, the Jets will look a lot like the 2008 Ravens, with an attacking defense complementing a hard-nosed, run-first offense with a rookie quarterback. Woody is part of a star-studded offensive line that returns intact, with D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Alan Faneca, Nick Mangold, and Brandon Moore.
The line, coupled with running backs Thomas Jones, Leon Washington, and rookie Shonn Greene, could make the Jets a tough matchup.
“I think we’ll run the ball more, there is no question about that,’’ Woody said. “Whoever we have at quarterback will obviously have less experience than what we had with Brett Favre, but both of those guys are very talented, capable guys.
“We want to run the ball, keep the turnovers to a minimum, play good on defense and special teams, and play that brand of football.’’
Unmistakably confidentFour questions for Bengals rookie linebacker Rey Maualuga on his visit to Gillette Stadium last week:
How has your transition been from Southern Cal to Cincinnati?
“I’d say it’s been an awesome experience. They’re giving me every opportunity and they’re trying to test me to see where I’m at - to see if I can play outside, inside, on third downs. I’m just answering the call, doing what I’m asked to do.’’
Do you still wonder why you slipped into the second round of the draft?
“That’s a question that’s been passed. It’s gone. It’s out of my head already. I’m just moving on from that. [Defensive coordinator Mike] Zimmer said to me that, ‘There are teams out there that didn’t want you,’ and he did that with some other players in our defensive meeting room. That’s stuck in my head because it’s true. None of the teams wanted me. I use that as a motivation. I came out [to New England] and thought that: ‘These guys didn’t want me.’ ’’
One of the knocks on you is that you are only a two-down linebacker. Is that a fair assessment?
“Coach Zimmer said that to me as well. He said others think I’m only a two-down player, but we’re going to test you, because we think you can play three downs. That has kept me motivated, kept me hungry. I’m going to come in day in and day out to prove everybody wrong. Hopefully at the end of my career people will be saying, ‘We made a mistake on this guy.’ ’’
Is it true that you were initially concerned with how you were received in Cincinnati because it came across as if you weren’t excited to be there?
“Yes, because the big question I had been getting was, ‘Rey, are you down about dropping to the second round?’ I wasn’t excited that I had been picked [that low]. So I came out with a statement that I was sorry and that instead of being happy about being drafted, I wasn’t. Since then, after every practice, I stayed to sign autographs until they told me to leave and kicked everyone out. I just wanted to show them that I’m grateful to be here. Now, I want to have some games out there where that shows.’’
Ex-Patriot Evans sees a likeness - and it’s to his likingFormer Patriots fullback Heath Evans, now in his first year with New Orleans, sees promising signs that the Saints will improve on last year’s 8-8 season. One reason is the competitiveness in training camp.
“One thing I learned in New England was how to compete in practice, how to better yourself and give yourself a chance in games, and I see a lot of similarities here,’’ he said.
Evans relayed a story from a recent practice in which the Saints were focused on goal-line plays, the first-unit offense against the first-unit defense. Although the drill was supposed to be over, Evans said members of the offense urged coach Sean Payton to put them back on the field for more.
It’s that type of fire that has Evans excited. He sees “a lot of potential, and now we have to see if we can turn that potential into reality.’’
Evans has played with some top-caliber running backs - a group including Ricky Watters, Shaun Alexander, and Corey Dillon - but he believes the combination the Saints have is as good as any he’s been around. It starts with the duo of Reggie Bush, “a guy who is capable of going 80 yards with it at any time,’’ and Pierre Thomas, “a physical, tough runner.’’
“It’s similar to the Patriots in that we don’t care about the glory but are about racking the wins,’’ he said.
One other similarity that figures to help the Saints is at quarterback, where Drew Brees elevates his game on a daily basis, setting the tone for the rest of the team.
“It starts with him,’’ Evans said. “It’s the same way the Patriots are hard to defend, because of a great quarterback. Those two guys both find a way to get better every single day, and that really makes it scary for defenses. Those guys just don’t settle for anything less than perfection.’’
Mike Reiss can be reached at email@example.com; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.