Black Escalades, silver Range Rovers, black Mercedes were all blended together in the parking lot behind the practice field at SUNY Cortland. Standing out amid them all was a new silver 2010 6.2L V8 Chevy Camaro SS with 20-inch wheels.
I was standing there admiring its beauty when the Jets' very own Calvin Pace climbed into the driver’s side.
Yes, this year’s training camp was to be different from the others -- just like everything else about this season.
I spent three days up in Cortland this year and experienced the Jets in an entirely different way than ever before. It was an up close and personal, behind the scenes view of my favorite team.
It may have been the most difficult training camp I’ve ever watched, but I mean that in a positive way. It was a busy offseason for this team and unlike previous years there were a ton of unfamiliar faces. Fans all had their noses in their newspapers trying to figure out who was wearing No. 56 this time around.
There were so many players to watch, to evaluate and yet so little time to do it effectively.
I could sit here and write about Santonio Holmes’ great one-handed catch, or the fact that Jason Taylor is now a Jet, and that LaDainian Tomlinson still has a great set of legs, but if you’ve read my blog before you know that’s not my style.
The players I had my eye on were the ones we’ll hopefully hear about a lot in the upcoming weeks, the ones who will play their hearts out this month, trying to prove that they deserve the chance to “play like a Jet” for real.
They're the players who will show their skills to try and make us forget some of the players we lost. When all is said and done come September, they hope to gain our trust and prove that they are just as capable as those no longer dressed in green.
Fast forward to present day. Camp is over and one preseason game is in the book. Here are some of my observations on players and position battles, scenarios that have yet to play out but should be intense all the way through.
The Bosom Buddies
Vladimir Ducasse and Matt Slauson were inseparable at camp. Everywhere I looked the two of them were together, walking off the field towards media tents, stretching before practice and even signing autographs side by side. During special teams practice I was five feet from them. Slauson demonstrated some blocking techniques while Vlad listened intently and tried to duplicate the drill.
It’s obvious that these two guys are ready to compete and learn from each other. While it looks like Slauson has the edge to replace the departed Alan Faneca, it will be interesting to see how this competition ultimately plays out.
If you’ve seen footage of camp you may have noticed the tall guy wearing No. 86 participating in tight end drills. Jeff Cumberland caught my eye. Maybe it’s because I always keep a close eye on tight end talent considering the Jets had suffered from mediocre talent at the position until Dustin Keller arrived a few years ago.
Cumberland impressed me. At 6-foot-4, 260 pounds, it wasn’t his brute strength or hands that stood out. It was, instead, his speed. Throughout camp he has shown the potential to be a nice pass-catching option. The wide receiver-turned-tight end made some nice grabs in traffic, including one play where he and Kevin O’Connell connected on a deep out pattern.
With a similar skill set as Keller it’s no wonder people are taking notice. Unfortunately, the Jets usually only carry three tight ends on the roster, including one spot for the long snapper. It’ll be interesting to see Cumberland’s physical side and blocking abilities in the upcoming weeks.
Life goes on without the “Diva”
From what I’ve seen, the Jets do not need Kerry Rhodes.
I’m actually very surprised that throughout the first few weeks of camp more attention has not been placed on the performance of the Jets’ safeties. Specifically, I was keeping my eyes on the guys we don’t hear too much about, including the so-called battle for starting free safety spot, which hasn’t been much of a battle.
Brodney Pool got most of the reps with the first teamers, yet it has been hard to find any reports in the mainstream media on anything he’s done. But I saw him. He showed some big hitting ability. I remember one play in particular where he stopped bulldozer Shonn Green right in his tracks.
If you remember, I’ve always lauded the merits of Eric Smith. His hard-hitting ways have been just as strong as ever. He’ll be a force to be reckoned with on special teams and will provide great depth even as a back-up behind Leonhard and Pool.
I do regret not getting a better look at Donovan “The Steal” Warren. He came into camp with high expectations, though mostly from Michigan Wolverine fans. On one deep pass to Keller, Warren closed in on coverage and got a nod of approval from yours truly.
Emanuel Cook is another safety who is back for a second chance with the Jets. Cook had an interception and some batted down passes during the days I was in Cortland and may be worth keeping an eye on in the upcoming preseason games as well. With Warren having limited playing time due a concussion, this may be Cook’s opportunity to state his case.
Westerman & Laury
These were two players on defense that I took notice of during the green and white scrimmage and on special teams in the first preseason game against the Giants.
Jamal Westerman's speed seems to have improved from last season and Lance Laury will definitely fit right in to coach Mike Westhoff's "throw a crushingblock" mentality.
A Little LT
Of all the new faces, Larry Taylor stood out to me the most.
Known as “Little LT,” so as not to confuse him with the Jets’ “LT” or that other guy that goes by the same name, the 5-6 former UConn Husky had me pulling for him throughout my time at camp.
After a stint with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL, Taylor could very well fill the kick returner void that was left when Leon Washington packed his bags for Seattle.
I see Taylor and I think of Darren Sproles. He’s “vertically challenged,” which means a low center of gravity, which means he’s more difficult to tackle.
If he gets into the open field he’s gone.
Can he break tackles? Probably not, but he’ll makes cuts, stops, spins, change direction on a dime and throw in some juke moves before being taken down. If you’re not careful you may think you’re watching someone play Madden when you watch film of this guy.
He can catch the ball, too. Throughout camp he routinely had the ball, even catching a 50-yard strike from O’Connell.
I’m really pulling for him to make the roster. With Leon gone, the kick returner spot is really up for grabs, even though the Jets will take plenty a look at Brad Smith and rookie Kyle Wilson. There’s no reason why Taylor can’t win this job.
Keep an eye out for him. Wallace Wright used to be my boy wearing No. 15, but not anymore. Taylor is just a shorter, faster version and possibly a great football player in the making.
And last but certainly not least....
If you follow the Jets, then there's not much I need to say about John Conner.