Postcard from camp: New York Jets
HBO's 'Hard Knocks' has been the talk of Jets training camp
LaDainian Tomlinson drew raves from teammates after goal-line leap
Antonio Cromartie is trying to shed the soft label he earned in San Diego
SI.com has dispatched writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. Here's what Peter King had to say about the Jets camp in Cortland, N.Y. For an archive of all camp postcards, click here.
In Cortland, N.Y., site of two things: the bucolic campus of the State University of New York at Cortland and the reality show known as HBO's "Hard Knocks.'' The place was buzzing over the first episode of the series, shown Wednesday night to much critical acclaim. When I met coach Rex Ryan in his office this afternoon (with a remote camera and mini-microphone capturing everything we said and did), he didn't sound like he had much regret over anything in the 52-minute show, not even the 10 f-bombs (I counted) that he unleashed. "We want to showcase to the league what we're about,'' Ryan told me, "and I'm not afraid to give an accurate view of exactly what goes on here. We don't have anything to hide. In America, we all have the right to free speech. I want my players and my coaches to be able to portray what this football life is really like. It's not all work. It's not all play. And it's not all happy either. Not everyone's going to make the team, and you saw two guys the other night get cut. That's life. Thirty guys, 33 guys, are not leaving here with us, but that's a fact of the life in the National Football League.''
I mentioned bucolic ... When you sit in the press box and look beyond one of the end zones, a herd of Herefords graze, almost close enough for an errant field goal to doink them in the rear end.
1. Who know what this means exactly one month from opening night against Baltimore, but LaDainian Tomlinson continued to show some age-defying moves this morning in the one padded full practice of the day. (Special teams worked in the afternoon.) In the full-contact, goal-line period, he leaped over the top of the first offensive line, and over the starting defensive line, for a touchdown. "Did you see him out there?' safety Jim Leonhard said. "He's still got trampolines for legs.''
2. Though holdover Matt Slauson is the likely opening-night starter at left guard (replacing Alan Faneca), second-round pick Vladimir Ducasse worked with the first unit today and looked impressive. Why then would Slauson have the edge? Because this is his fifth year working closely with line coach Bill Callahan -- two with the Jets and three at Nebraska, where Callahan was head coach -- and he clearly can step in and know the position mentally better than Ducasse at the start of the season.
3. If Darrelle Revis holds out through the opener, there's no doubt the opening-night starters at corner would be Antonio Cromartie and rookie first-round pick Kyle Wilson from Boise State. Dwight Lowery has been passed in the coaches' eyes by Wilson.
Santonio Holmes is practicing like a rookie trying to earn a spot, not a veteran with a Super Bowl MVP on his résumé. This morning, running a "9 Stop'' -- a 9 route is basically a deep go pattern, and the receiver sprints off the line as though he's running a regular 9, then stops suddenly at 10 yards and whirls around for the ball -- Holmes went to stop and slipped on the dewy turf. He slapped his hands angrily and cursed himself for the misstep. "Who's the smart son of a b---- who traded for him?'' GM Mike Tannenbaum said on the sidelines of practice the other day, captured by the NFL Films cameras for "Hard Knocks.'' We'll see how it turns out, but getting Holmes for 12 games (he's suspended for the first four for violating the league's substance-abuse policy) in a contract year for a fifth-round pick could be a huge boost to quarterback Mark Sanchez. Of course, it could be a waste if Holmes acts up or beefs about not getting the ball too.
Fullback John Conner, a fifth-round pick from Kentucky, is pushing vet Tony Richardson for the starting job -- and judging by the love he's getting from Ryan, he's a lock to make the roster. A bruising blocker showing good hands so far in camp, he probably leads training camp so far in Times Praised By the Head Coach.
The book on Antonio Cromartie was he wouldn't hit anybody -- or at least he wouldn't hit anybody hard -- late in his four-year run at San Diego. This morning, in a light-contact drill, Cromartie forearmed-shivered wideout Jerricho Cotchery, who clearly wasn't expecting it, out of bounds. The ball got tossed angrily at Cromartie, and Mark Sanchez yapped at Cromartie, and the offense and defense woofed at each other for five seconds. But it was a healthy thing. Cromartie needs to prove he can stand up to the physical demands of a Rex Ryan defense.
GM Mike Tannenbaum took me off-campus to a memorable Cortland luncheonette -- Doug's Fish Fry, run by the Mark Braun family (don't worry, ethicsmeisters; I paid) -- where we had the fried cod with onion rings and a side of fries. "You've got to try the fish chowder and the lobster bisque!'' Mrs. Braun said, and we did (light and delicious -- at least the fish chowder). Then their daughter brought over green Jets/Doug's Fish Fry T-shirts, and the party was on. "These people are the salt of the earth,'' said Tannenbaum. "All they do is give, and they want nothing in return. It's like this town. You can't believe how well we're being treated.'' Excellent fries, and not-too-fried fish. I overdid it at lunch, but for $27 for the food that never stopped, you can't beat ol' Doug's. Grade: A-minus.
1. Beautiful fields, good facilities, temps in the low 80s today, mostly sunny, lots of team bonding ... come here and you wonder why more teams don't continue the time-honored practice of going away for camp to get closer as a team and be in an all-football atmosphere.
2. Still have my doubts that one great player or another with some age on him (Tomlinson, Jason Taylor, Shaun Ellis) or one of the receivers in a contract year (Holmes, Braylon Edwards) could become a problem at some point, unhappy with his role or playing time on touches.
3. Nick Folk at kicker? I would have kept Jay Feely. Don't trust Folk.
4. Mark Brunell's nickname: "Stetson Man.'' Look like a distinguished young Wyoming senator, with salt invading his pepper hair. Also looks like the backup quarterback. He was working with the twos this morning.
5. The locals estimated the Jets added $4 million to the local economy last year. With the 60-member HBO/NFL Films crew, and more fans around because of the anticipation for a big season, that number should be above $5 million this summer.