FLORHAM PARK — More than 2,700 fans stood along the sidelines — in some spots as many as six or seven deep — to catch a glimpse of the first Jets practice open to the public on Tuesday afternoon.
Playing without stars like Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress, LaDanian Tomlinson and Bart Scott — whom cannot practice until Thursday after signing new contracts — the Jets did their best to get quality work in. Wearing shoulder pads and helmets, the team ran about a dozen 11-on-11 sets as well as several kickoff returns and red-zone plays.
Quarterback Mark Sanchez completed only one of his five passes in the full-speed 11-on-11 sets, a short touchdown over the middle to a slanting Logan Payne. Shonn Greene and Joe McKnight ran the ball a couple times each at tailback.
Without Holmes, Burress or injured receiver Jerrico Cotchery, fourth-string wideout Patrick Turner got to match up with Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis. Rookie Jeremy Kerley also took some snaps at receiver.
Kerley appears to be the early favorite as a kick returner, and the former Mountain West special teams player of the year out of TCU has already impressed special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff.
“Westy’s excited, he thinks that the Kerley kid’s got a chance,” Ryan said. “This guy’s an excellent athlete.”
One of the themes for this new preseason format, with no two-a-days allowed, is the effect it may have on rookies being thrown into the mix early on. On the surface, that would not seem like a beneficial transition.
But lineman Brandon Moore has a different take, thinking that with the additional classroom time and less on-field physical time, younger players can actually be coaxed into the league more easily.
“I think guys are going to be more in tuned to what’s being asked of them,” Moore said. “For rookies, it’s a slower pace for them, which is good — it’s not all being crammed down. There’s more teaching, which is something we can all use.”
On Tuesday, first-round pick Muhammad Wilkerson got plenty of action in the middle of the team’s 3-4 defense, and undrafted signee Byron Landor had two interceptions at safety. Rookie tight end Josh Baker also caught multiple passes from backup quarterback Drew Willy.
Practice lasted about two hours under a baking sun on the field here at the team’s practice facility. That didn’t discourage the 2,775 fans that turned out despite the lack of seating, shade or star power.
Watching it all was the new signee, Burress, who seemed to draw the most interest from fans here. After practice, Burress stirred up a frenzy jogging along the sidelines before stopping for autographs.
It’ll be one more day before he can suit up, too.
Then the real practicing can arguably begin.