Chris Esposito’s Report From Jets Camp
A Day in Cortland | Chris Esposito
As the NFL season starts to snowball towards their September kickoff, all 32 training camps are at a fever pitch. I decided this year I wanted to travel to Cortland, NY and catch the annual Green & White scrimmage game for the NY Jets. So my wife and I hopped in the car and made the five hour drive north to beautiful SUNY Cortland and we weren’t disappointed. For anyone that doesn’t know what this game is, the offense is the white team and the defence is the green team. Basically two “halves” are played as all four QB’s in camp split time with each offensive unit (1st team, 2nd team, 3rd string, practice squad) and the defence is broken into the same four units as well.
The big talk in camp for the Jets this year is who will be the starting quarterback come week one at home versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Will it be Mark Sanchez? Who outside of Alex Rodriguez is probably the most vilified athlete in New York? Or will it be the fresh faced wunderkind from West Virginia Geno Smith. We got there around 2:30 and gates opened at 4, as we walked through the winding maze and past the practice field, the chatter from 6,000 fans was exactly the same; “We need Geno to start, we can’t afford another year of the Sanchize.” Once at my seat, there were a handful of Jets players out on the field, mostly practice squad guys, loosening up and signing a few autographs for fans. Then, at the 50 yard line, I see a guy in Jets uniform pants, a grey cutoff Jets shirt and a pair of bright red Beats headphones. “Who is that?” my wife asked as she is putting names with faces. I only said one word, “GENO.”
Yes, I was one of the first to bash the Jets front office for drafting this kid. I was afraid of the work ethic; I didn’t want ANOTHER rookie QB to take the team over, like a certain 6th overall pick four years ago that will remain nameless until later in this piece, and have him fall from grace just as fast. It’s just not fair to a kid, as much as I bash Sanchez; it’s not fair to him either. He was put in this position to fail, after two AFC championship game seasons, Jets front office started to gut what was left of the Mangini era leaving crumbs for Sanchez to work with. Geno finished up the pre game workout and went in the “locker room”. Fast forward to 5:55 pm est. (game started at 6 on the dot) and here comes the cavalry, a sea of green and white gave the beleaguered Jets fan chills. Make no mistake, I’m an NFL guy, but I’m a proud Jets FAN. The quarterbacks were in their customary red jerseys (no contact for QB’s in camp) and took to the side of the field that the white team was on. The PA announcer called for the Jets first team offense and first team defence, and all 6,000 fans at SUNY Cortland perked up to see who was going to be the field general for that first drive. Yes, it was Geno, and the crowd erupted like we just won the division. I settled in and took in the first Geno Smith experience; completion after completion, firing on all cylinders, Geno had this offensive unit humming. Showing only teasing glimpses of his footwork and his ability to break the pocket and scamper for yards, Geno was 4/5 for 45 yards faster than anyone could blink. Smith only finished the day throwing for 77 yards and leading his units to 3 scrimmage points, however, 3 penalties and a couple dropped passes led to the few number of points put up.
Then there’s Mark, with a headband full of perfectly messy hair and a cavalcade of baggage, seemingly without a care in the world as he took the helm of the 2nd team unit and then the 1st team unit. Sanchez looked lost at times, VERY lost, and I understand that this is his 3rd offensive coordinator in three years, but if you want to be taken seriously as an NFL QB you need to roll with change and adapt to your surroundings. Mark started off ice cold, tripping over his feet in what people were calling “butt stumble”, but even he soon found a groove throwing for over 100 yards on the day and leading the offense to 10 scrimmage points. The two points of the day, one high and one low were a 65 yard strike to Stephen Hill on a “go route” down the sideline, and a 10 yard overthrow interception to Antonio Cromartie. It was a nice over the shoulder grab by “Cro”, but the Gang Green die-hards in attendance didn’t seem to care. As soon as the ball hit Cromarties’ hands, boos cascaded from person to person seemingly drowning Mark in a song he has heard for far too long. From “we want Tebow” to “we want Geno”, the last year has been a low point in an even lower career both on and off the field. If I can give Sanchez ANY credit through all of this, it’s that he has grown some very thick skin dealing with the Jets faithful.
The surprise of camp that day was Greg McElroy. Greg, with the 3rd team and practice squads, connected on two touchdown passes raising some eyebrows for the 3rd string battle. A couple of names not dressed for the game were Kellen Winslow, Chris Ivory and Santonio Holmes. Ricky Sapp had the hit of the day absolutely rocking a backup running back with a shoulder hit that sent up an “OWWWWWW” from the Cortland crowd. My overall take on the day was a positive one, the defence looked solid. Sheldon Richardson has a good sense of where he should be on every play and the retooled secondary handled the receivers quite well. There were some good blitz packages from the linebackers and DeMario Davis seemed to have more hop in his step than everyone else. On the offensive side of the ball, I’m pretty sure Sanchez will start the season as the starter barring some major collapse. I will go on record though and make a prediction; Geno Smith will be the Jets starting QB by week 5 and the Jets will have better offensive numbers with Geno under center.