By Kristian Dyer
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After a season where the Jets finished up losing their final three games, a team that went out with a whimper is showing a backbone. Monday morning’s melee in Cortland involving rookie cornerback D’Anton Lynn and running back Joe McKnight caused a 20 player pileup along the sidelines, and took several minutes to pull the players apart. Some of the Jets got involved in the fracas, while some pulled other players apart and tried to play the role of peacemaker.
No matter their involvement it is a good thing, despite quarterback Mark Sanchez’s high and mighty statements to the contrary.
It is a good thing because these Jets needed a sign of life. Coming on the heels of last year’s 8-8 season, a team supposedly too talented to fail in 2011 ended up missing the playoffs and showed signs of locker room discord. A team filled with enigmatic stars and prima donnas played, not unsurprisingly, like individuals.
This isn’t about locker room discord or a three-ring circus; instead, this is about a team taking sides and, no matter the side, willing to stick up for each other. Whether it was the offense sticking up for McKnight, who was shoved by Lynn when he was already out-of-bounds, or the defense rallying around the young rookie after the ball was thrown at his head by McKnight, the Jets are sticking up not just for themselves.
They are sticking up for each other. Even if it is the offense and defense coming together, at least they are coming together.
That certainly wasn’t the case last year. Instead, the locker room disintegrated into finger-pointing, with reports of players going behind the backs of position coaches and coordinators to complain straight to head coach Rex Ryan. That wasn’t the makeup and caliber of a playoff team, let alone a squad with Super Bowl ambitions. It was a team that degenerated into bickering and toxicity and failed to live up to the hype and potential.
It was a team that deserved its fate and now is forced to rebuild. And perhaps it needs more days like Monday, where players piled on top of each other, peeling Lynn and McKnight –- and others –- away from the melee. Maybe, the Jets need to fight with each other in order to learn how to fight for each other.
Maybe they need more training camp fights so that, when adversity comes in the regular season, they know how to respond. From the fists thrown and the blows absorbed can come an esprit de corps that can carry them beyond their abysmal showing a season ago.
The dog days of training camp and the summer heat are primed for such an explosion as seen on Monday. There is such a thing as “too close,” and the Jets in Cortland are beginning to feel that. It is the Jets and only the Jets up there in the college dorms, with football the only distraction. This time of bonding is necessary for the 16 regular-season games that will follow. But in order to bond, there must be something to make it all stick.
And how better to do that than stick your fist in your teammate’s face?
It isn’t ideal, but after an offseason of preaching unity and peace the Jets are due for emotions and physicality to spill over. Fighting is never a good thing, but it is a part of life, and certainly a part of the locker room dynamic in almost any sport. That the Jets actually care enough to throw a fist is a sign that this team isn’t the same one that laid down during last year’s stretch run, with losses in Philadelphia and Miami and a flat performance against their crosstown rivals in New York.
Call it what it is, but this fight isn’t a circus. It isn’t the fault of the players or the coaching staff and it isn’t a sign of a pending locker room meltdown. It was a team that cared enough to stick up for each other to the point of coming to blows. It wasn’t an undisciplined motley crew brawling in the street — this incident shouldn’t be confused with the DUI arrest of two years ago or the locker room backstabbing of a season past.
Instead, it was the fight of a team hungry to prove a point. It is a point that they might just make with the rest of the league in Week 1.
Kristian R. Dyer covers the NFL and college football for Metro New York and contributes to Yahoo! Sports as well as WFAN. You can follow him here.
Jets fans, was the training camp fight actually a good sign for this team? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below…