CORTLAND – Helmets crashing, pads crunching.
The soundtrack to the season officially began Sunday as the Jets took the field for their first padded practice of 2012. The crowd of 2,835 cheered with excitement after every bone-crushing blow and well-timed completion from Mark Sanchez.
And, of course, for every elaborate Tim Tebow scramble.
“It feels real good,” said LB Bart Scott, who flattened rookie WR Stephen Hill during one of the team drills. “You get a more realistic look. ...That way you can take the next step to being a more complete defense and understanding how to play off each other.”
For Rex Ryan, it felt like an eternity since his players had donned their pads. That’s why he’s been looking forward to this day for months.
“Three straight years, I was a part of a team that went to championship games, albeit it we lost all three,” said Ryan, a former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator. “But you’re used to playing a month later in the season. This one just seemed like it took forever to get here, to get those pads. But it was good. Once we got out here it was fantastic.”
Though they were without their best player, Darrelle Revis, the defense didn’t disappoint. High-flying LB Aaron Maybin – who also was used as a flyer on special teams – was knocking down bodies all over the place. Plus, rookie safety Antonio Allen had two interceptions – one against Matt Simms, the other against Greg McElroy.
Though “Mayhem” Maybin got much of the praise today from Ryan, LB Garrett McIntyre delivered some vicious hits of is own too.
Including the 9-on-7 (no wide receivers) portion, the Jets handed off the ball 22 straight times to start practice. Ryan said their goal from the very beginning is to establish a running game and make opponents take notice.
“But 22 straight? I don’t know if I even envisioned that much,” the coach joked.
Both Sanchez and Tebow struggled during practice and there were a few too many false starts during team drills, Ryan said he was pleased by the team effort.
When he was informed by a reporter that both quarterbacks went 1-for-7, he joked: “I hope we can run the ball.” Later, he expressed unequivocal faith in his starting quarterback. “Mark Sanchez knows this offense so well, that you’d think he’s been playing with Sparano for years,” he said.
Ryan also highlighted the play of RBs Shonn Greene (who “hit a couple of 4, 5, 6-yard runs”), Joe McKnight (had some “big runs for us”), Bilal Powell (who is “showing up”) and Terrence Ganaway, who filled in at tailback and fullback due for the injured Josh Baker.
But Ryan was especially pleased with the efforts of DL Damon Harrison and OT Austin Howard.
Ryan calls Harrison “the wrecking ball” because he has the biggest helmet in franchise history. “He’s a big old dude. …He looked pretty good,” he said of the 340-pound nose tackle. “It was his kind of day – a running day.”
The head coach said he initially was excited about the 6-7 Howard, until he showed up this offseason “ooh, about 20 pounds overweight.” But to Ryan’s delight, the offensive lineman got his weight under 340.
“He was really moving some people off the line today.
Here are some other tidbits/notes from Sunday’s practice:
* FB Josh Baker broke his nose early in practice when his helmet came off and the chin strap got caught and pulled his nose up. He said he had to have it “popped” back into place.
Later, Ryan joked: “If somebody breaks their nose, you know things are going well for ya.”
* Both defensive and offensive players are already talking about the black practice jerseys, according to their head coach. “They’re thinking about it and they’re talking about it. And little things like that, picks up that competition. And that’s great.” Based on how the offense looked, I’m guessing the defense will be sporting the dark unis tomorrow.
* Scotty McKnight’s girlfriend, actress Hayden Panettiere was in the stands today. (Fellas: I tweeted a not-so-great photo of her earlier if you’re interested. LOL)