For the better part of the next month, New York Jets players have an opportunity — their final one until January — to immerse themselves in something other than football.
Like grade schoolers on summer break, this is their chance to enjoy summer activities with friends and family. Barbeques, vacations, and beaches. Anything but cleats, pads, and the pigskin.
They better value the time, because the summer fun comes to a strict end on July 23 in upstate New York. Every last Jet will be cramped into the dorm rooms of SUNY Cortland, site of the team’s training camp for the fifth time in the last six years.
Sure, they already went through Organized Team Activities and minicamp practices, but those were scripted and mundane, amounting to little more than walk-throughs.
Training camp is where the real fun begins; full-speed sessions rife with compelling narratives. Players will be trying to one-up each other, earn the trust of their coaches, and, perhaps, save their careers.
Neither Geno Smith nor Michael Vick have much to worry about in terms of job security, but the impending battle for New York’s starting quarterback job will surely be a storyline worth keeping tabs on.
Think about it: Smith, the 23-year-old young gun, trying to hold off Vick, the grizzled veteran ten years his senior. Both signal-callers have a lot to prove. Both bring different skill-sets to the table. Both prefer not to hold a clipboard this season.
The Jets brought Vick aboard this offseason on a one-year contract, effectively to mentor Smith, whose rollercoaster rookie campaign in 2013 left something to be desired.
But the teacher isn’t ready to succumb to the student.
Vick, one of the most polarizing quarterbacks in NFL history, considers himself a trailblazer who “changed the game.” This trailblazer still thinks pretty highly of himself.
“I still consider myself one of the 32 [top quarterbacks],” Vick said, via ESPNNewYork.com. “People might want to argue that, but I think there are a lot of people who understand where I come from when I say that. I’ve been playing at a high level for a long time.”
Vick is speaking out of opposite ends of his mouth. Last month, he all but conceded the starting role to Smith, throwing his support behind the second-year pro. While it will take an overwhelming victory to unseat the incumbent, it’s far from impossible.
Vick is entering a familiar scheme led by coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, whom he worked with in Philadelphia. And thanks to the Jets’ emphasis on offense in recent months, the talent is there to succeed.
Vick turned in a lackluster minicamp, highlighted by overthrows and mistimed passes, but, as I said, those practices were largely meaningless. However, he can’t repeat the same mistakes in training camp, where the scrutiny (and pressure) will be much higher.
Meanwhile, Smith seemingly has a sizable lead in the race. Jets coaches have raved about his leadership and command of the huddle, two qualities that he struggled with last season. He’s reportedly developing a good rapport with the many new additions, including wide receiver Eric Decker, who’s penciled in atop the depth chart.
Smith closed out 2013 on a high note, winning three of the last four games. The jury is still out on whether he’s a true franchise QB, but the potential is evident. Now more comfortable in a conventional offense — a stark contrast from West Virginia’s “Air Raid” setup — Smith is expected to make a big leap.
Hedging my bets a bit, I’ll allow that this competition might end as quickly as it begins; an injury could give Smith the job by default, as would continued bad showings by Vick. Heck, coach Rex Ryan could just come right out and declare Smith the starter, ending all speculation.
But if Vick turns his game up a notch, and Ryan gives him a fair shot to surpass Smith, things would get very interesting.
Before we know it, school will be back in session, and we’ll get to see who’s the apple and who’s the worm.