(Long Island, NY) One week can make a world of a difference, especially if you happen to be one of the players selected at the NFL Draft. The whirlwind of hearing your name read on stage, to getting on the practice field for the very first time as a professional can be exhilarating, to say the least. For the six players selected by the New York Jets, it became business as usual.
Last weekend, the team held their first mini camp of the offseason at Hofstra University. Vernon Gholston, the Jets’ first round pick and sixth overall, tried to keep his expectations in perspective at this early juncture. “Just to learn the system,” the former Ohio State defensive end said. “Obviously, being at rookie camp, we’re all rookies here. Some guys are fighting to make the team. The thing is to just learn and grow and to take everything you can from this.”
Besides the draftees, there were 10 undrafted free agents, 34 in for tryouts, and seven veterans from the active roster participating in the two-day event. Two of those players were quarterbacks – one being the team’s fifth round draft pick out of Tennessee (Erik Ainge) and Brett Ratliff, who has been with the team before and is listed on the roster. Both do not figure in the team’s plans for the starting position, which will be decided over the summer in training camp between Chad Pennington and Kellen Clemens.
The rookie Ainge, who appears to be the frontrunner for the third string job, knows enough even as a rookie where to get tips. “If I can be a good worker and I can learn how to work like Chad (Pennington) and like Kellen (Clemens) and like Brett (Ratliff) do right now, if I can learn how to do that at the NFL level with the coaching staff and everything else, all that stuff will take care of itself.”
One of the players that had many eyes focused on him was Dustin Keller, the tight end out of Purdue. Because the Jets traded up to draft him with the 30th pick in Round One, much is expected from the converted wideout.
“I was surprised by the trade,” Keller said. “I was on the phone as the trade was going on, so I did not know they were going to move up. I had an idea that in the second round they might pick me.”
Chris Baker, the incumbent at the position, has been outspoken of late regarding his contract and should be on his way out of New York. Although he is a talented player, head coach Eric Mangini is not one to accept one of his players talking to the media about what could be done behind closed doors. (Example: Pete Kendall during 2007 training camp.)
With Bubba Franks signed as a free agent, there are three players at tight end right now. According to Mangini, the numbers give the team different options. “All those guys will just have to see how it works out during the course of OTAs (Organized Team Activities) and training camp and what the different roles are,” he said. “We’ve developed packages in the past where you may have different combinations of those guys in (the game) based on what you’re trying to get done offensively. You just try to see where they best fit, what the best combinations are, and how you want to use them most effectively.”
Sort of a microcosm of mini camp itself.