NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) – Mark Sanchez walked to the line of scrimmage and checked out the receivers lined up in front of him.
Santonio Holmes. Plaxico Burress. Derrick Mason.
It’s the Jets’ revamped receiving corps, and the third-year quarterback believes it can be even better than the group he threw to last season.
“No doubt, it definitely can,” Sanchez said Monday. “One, it’s going to take me being better, and that’s one of the most important things.”
Gone are Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery and Brad Smith, who combined for 98 catches last season. The guys being asked to replace them are Burress, who hasn’t played in nearly three years because of a 20-month prison term on a gun charge, and Mason, who is 37 and in his 15th NFL season.
“We’re getting pros,” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “We’re getting guys that have played. Mark’s going into Year 3 and is taking on more responsibility, but there’s no pressure. They’re all pros, they’re all working and we’ve got plenty of time to get it all put in place.”
Monday’s practice was a big one for the Jets, who saw Burress get his most action since signing with them. Mason was also busy on his first day on the field with New York.
“It felt good, getting pushed around a little bit, catch a few balls, run a few routes,” Mason said. “It felt good to be out there.”
Burress has been recovering from a tweaked left ankle suffered last week while running routes with Holmes. He sneaked onto the field for one play during 11-on-11 team drills Sunday, and was still limited Monday but participated in a handful of plays.
“I want to take it slow,” coach Rex Ryan said before practice. “We don’t want to have any setbacks and all that. We’re going to see how he progresses, but we’ll definitely keep an eye on him.”
Burress anticipates some rust after such a long layoff, but intends to be ready for the regular-season opener on Sept. 11 against Dallas. Not only that, he expects to re-establish himself as one of the game’s best receivers. He’ll also fill the role Edwards had the past two seasons as the tall target who creates matchup nightmares for defenses.
“It’s just picking up the terminology,” the 6-foot-5 Burress said. “I’ve seen all the defenses. I understand the coverages. It’s just about me getting comfortable with Mark and where he wants me to be. I’ll tell him when I get to that spot, just turn it loose. It may take a little bit of time. I expect that and I think he does, too.”
Mason caught 61 passes for 802 yards and seven touchdowns last season, but was cut by Baltimore on July 28. He considered going back to the Ravens for a lesser salary and Tennessee was interested, too. But Mason chose the Jets because he thought they gave him the best chance to win a Super Bowl. He’ll also help replace Cotchery, who was a consistent sure-handed receiver – much like Mason – for the Jets.
“I’ve just got to get my legs up under me,” Mason said. “They started to go a little bit in the middle of practice, but I’m not worried about that. Give me a few more practices and I’ll be fine.”
The one constant is Holmes, who re-signed with the Jets after they made him their top priority in the offseason. He has often taken Burress aside to help him get more familiar with the offense, and did more of the same Monday with Mason.
“When the team is doing special teams and it’s just me and Santonio and Plaxico and Mason, that’s what we’ll be working on, getting familiar with each other,” Sanchez said. “These guys have played a lot of ball and they picked up our system very quickly, so I think the most important thing for me is to get comfortable with their route running, understand what they’re thinking, talking things out and then go play it out in the preseason and see how we do.”
The Jets’ defense has been giving the offense fits early in camp, which Sanchez thinks provides a great test.
“We’re playing against what seems like the `85 Bears,” he said. “This defense, it looks like they’ve practiced every day of this lockout.”
For the record, Ryan – whose father, Buddy, was the defensive coordinator for that team – disagrees with his quarterback.
“No,” he said shaking his head and smiling. “This team is not there.”
Still, the offense has to be on its toes, even in practice. That means everyone quickly getting comfortable on offense, and that includes Jeremy Kerley, the team’s fifth-round pick who has been impressive, and tight end Dustin Keller. Schottenheimer added that the Jets will likely use more multiple receiver sets this season.
The Jets also need to improve on their efficiency in the red zone. Only St. Louis and Carolina ranked worse than New York from inside the 20-yard line, and that’s something they hope Tom Moore, the former Indianapolis offensive coordinator, will help with in his role as a consultant.
“The talent we have is unbelievable,” Sanchez said. “Now it’s time to realize our potential and talent and really get this thing going full speed and as soon as possible because this defense looks pretty good. We need to get this thing going.”
Notes: Mason received permission from Ryan to wear pink cleats during practice and LB Bart Scott razzed him immediately: “Hey, you’ve got Barbie cleats on!” Turns out, Mason wears them in honor of his mother, who is in remission from her second bout with breast cancer. … CB Marquice Cole has not reported for camp yet while attending to an undisclosed family matter.
Will Plax and Mason replace the production from Edwards and Cotchery? Sound off in the comments below…
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