NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) – The return of Plaxico Burress will have to wait. Mark Sanchez has work to do with his other receivers anyway when the Jets open their preseason against Houston on Monday night.
Monday’s game would’ve been notable for the resurfacing of Burress, who signed with the Jets on July 31 after serving a 20-month prison sentence on a gun charge. But Burress won’t even make the trip to Texas after spraining his left ankle in practice last week.
The other stars on both teams aren’t expected to see much action, either.
Jets Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold will not travel, either, after hurting his neck Thursday, and Texans breakout star Arian Foster, the NFL’s leading rusher in 2010, is also not expected to see action because of a hamstring strain.
Backup quarterback Mark Brunell traveled with the Jets but won’t play after injuring a finger on his left hand during practice Saturday. With the starters likely just going a quarter, that should leave most of the snaps to Greg McElroy, the team’s seventh-round pick, and undrafted free agent Drew Willy.
In his limited time Monday, Sanchez can focus on building chemistry with free-agent pickup Derrick Mason, brought in to essentially replace Jerricho Cotchery, who was surprisingly cut during training camp.
New York also lost Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith in free agency, but re-signed go-to receiver Santonio Holmes.
“I’m well prepared. I think this team has the potential to surpass what we did last year,” Sanchez said, “but it starts with this first game.”
Mason, entering his 15th season, has been hastily learning the playbook after spending his last six years in Baltimore.
“It’s going to take a lot of work,” the 37-year-old Mason said. “It’s going to take countless hours in the classroom. And then once we get into the classroom, we got to make sure that we take what we learn in the classroom onto the field.”
The Jets ranked 22nd in passing offense last season (202.6 yards per game), and Sanchez ranked 27th in passer rating among starters (75.3). Mason is projecting major improvement in the passing game, though he acknowledges that it may take some time to click.
“It’s not going to happen overnight. I wish it did,” he said. “It’s going to take a minute, but I think me knowing the system the way I do, I think it’s going to be quicker than what a lot of people anticipated.
“And then Plax, he’s only been here a week or two, and he’s picked up on the offense very well,” Mason said. “Once I get the nooks and crannies of the offense, I think we’re going to be very good.”
The Texans, meanwhile, are eager to see how well they’ve learned Wade Phillips’ new 3-4 defensive scheme. Houston’s defense can only improve after ranking last against the pass last season (267.5 yards per game), the main culprit in a 6-10 record.
Houston overhauled its defensive personnel, acquiring cornerback Johnathan Joseph and safety Danieal Manning in free agency, and using six of eight draft picks on defensive players, including end J.J. Watt in the first round.
And with no offseason to spend with his players because of the lockout, Phillips has been working overtime to teach his new scheme.
“Defensively, I think Wade is very basic in what we’re fixing to go do Monday night,” Houston coach Gary Kubiak said. “We just want to see guys play, make sure they’re in the right spot. We’ve come a long way here in the first two weeks and we’ve got a grasp of the base stuff. That’s what we’re looking for.”
At the moment, Kubiak has more concerns on the offensive side, specifically at running back. Along with Foster, backups Steve Slaton and Ben Tate are also nursing hamstring injuries. That will leave most of the carries Monday night to Derrick Ward and former Texas star Chris Ogbonnaya, who’s impressed coaches in camp.
Kubiak says Matt Leinart will take the bulk of the snaps for the Texans. Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner, was a free agent and chose to return for a second season in Houston because he was comfortable with Kubiak and familiar with the system.
Leinart is expected to back up Matt Schaub this season, but openly says he wants to work his way into a starting role in the near future.
“I hope to carry over what I’ve been doing in practice to the game, just move the ball and score some points and play confident,” said Leinart, who didn’t throw a pass in 2010. “I want to get the guys in the right situations.”
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