Left to right: Mark Sanchez, Greg McElroy, center, and Geno...

Left to right: Mark Sanchez, Greg McElroy, center, and Geno Smith. (James Escher) Credit: Left to right: Mark Sanchez, Greg McElroy, center, and Geno Smith. (James Escher)

CORTLAND -- A small smattering of fans at SUNY Cortland witnessed the first day of the 2013 Jets, cheering every acrobatic catch and applauding the hustle of their team.

The stands were practically empty Friday – a stark contrast to the circus-like atmosphere that enveloped upstate New York a year ago thanks to Tebowmania. But that’s how the Jets, and particular Mark Sanchez, like it.

The quarterback competition between him and rookie Geno Smith is far from over, but both signal-callers looked decent on Day 1. They each made some beautiful throws, and also lofted some off-target passes. (Meaning: it's far too early to discern who's got the edge.)

Smith said he’s pretty comfortable with the playbook at this point, and hasn’t had any trouble going through his reads and progressions. He threaded the needle a couple of times in practice, hitting receivers in stride. But the rookie cautioned: “It's like learning the dictionary. You'll never know everything."

Asked if there were any nerves on his first day, however, Smith smiled: “Not at all.”

“I had errors,” he later said. “But the thing is, there’s always room for improvement. I’ve always been a confident guy. I hope you guys have realized that I’m always going to be confident.”

Rex Ryan said Smith didn’t look like a rookie on the field, adding: “He can throw it with anybody.”

Sanchez, meanwhile, looked solid on the day. To no surprise, he took the first-team reps. The fifth-year signal-caller was intercepted, however, when a pass to Kellen Winslow popped out of the tight end’s hands and into Antonio Garay’s arms.

"I thought they looked great," Sanchez said of his receiving corps. "Kellen Winslow made a big catch at the end of practice. Braylon (Edwards) looks good, like he never left. He hasn’t lost a step at all. We’ll get Tone back. A lot of those receivers looked good. Jeremy Kerley, Clyde Gates looked good. There’s guys running all over the field and there are some big-time catches for us."

GATES IMPRESSES: The Jets receiving corps is a work in progress, but Clyde Gates seemed determined to prove he’s got playmaking ability. The wide receiver made several nice catches in practice, including a diving catch on a Sanchez 7-on-7 pass that caught Antonio Cromartie’s attention. “That's how you catch the ball!” the cornerback yelled after Gates’ tumbling/diving catch.

Gates’ Day 1 performance was so good, Ryan named the wideout the MVP of the offense.

"I thought I had him overthrown by a yard-and-a-half and he clicked it into an extra gear," Sanchez said. "Made a fingertip catch. Those are the kinds of plays we expect from Clyde. That’s the kind of receiver he can be. When you put it on the practice field, that’s encouraging for him. It will boost his confidence."


Titus Ryan also showcased some skills, beating second-year safety Antonio Allen on a couple deep passes and hauling down a deep throw from Smith while keeping his feet in bounds.

…WR Santonio Holmes, RB Chris Ivory and WR Rontez Miles spent practice pedaling on the stationary bikes. Ivory said he experienced hamstring tightness right before camp, but being sidelined was just a precautionary measure.

Aaron Berry crumpled to the ground after colliding with receiver Joe Collins during a drill period and lay motionless for about a minute. Berry appeared to be writhing in pain, clutching one of his legs. He limped off the field under the watchful eye of the trainers. 

…Gates wasn’t the only player to catch Rex’s attention. The Jets head coach complimented young running back John Griffin, saying: “The lil’ Griffin guy is showing out a lil bit.”

…The first fisticuffs of training camp came courtesy of Garay and J.B. Shugarts, who traded blows during a team period.

…As expected, the Jets sprinkled in some Wildcat reps during a team period. (Hey, remember Tim Tebow?!) 

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