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Schwartz: Jets Get Helping Hand From Old Friend Chad Pennington

(credit: Tom Berg/NFLPhotoLibrary)

(credit: Tom Berg/NFLPhotoLibrary)

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By Peter Schwartz
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Chad Pennington saved the Jets’ 2002 season when he replaced Vinny Testaverde as the starting quarterback. After New York began the season 2-4, Pennington took over and lost his first start before guiding the Jets to a 9-7 finish and the AFC East title.

Who could forget the final week of the regular season when the Jets needed a win over the Packers coupled with a Dolphins loss to the Patriots. New England rallied past Miami in the early game and then the Pennington and the Jets took care of business against Green Bay at Giants Stadium.

Pennington also notched a playoff victory over Peyton Manning and the Colts.

He would help the Jets get back to the playoffs two more times before he was unceremoniously released during the 2008 preseason when the Jets acquired Brett Favre from the Packers. Pennington would sign with the Dolphins and led Miami to the AFC East championship while Favre and the Jets failed to make the playoffs.

But that was then and this is now — and there are no hard feelings.

Pennington accepted an invitation from general manager Mike Tannenbaum, head coach Rex Ryan, and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano (his head coach in Miami), to attend practice on Tuesday here in Cortland. Pennington had met with Mark Sanchez back in February to go over Sparano’s offense and continues to stay in touch with the starting quarterback.

pennington at jets camp Schwartz: Jets Get Helping Hand From Old Friend Chad Pennington

(credit: Peter Schwartz/WFAN)

“From what I’ve seen from afar and now being here, Mark is throwing the ball better than I’ve ever seen him throw it,” said Pennington.

The connection here is magical for the Jets and they couldn’t have drawn it up any better.

They hired Sparano, who implemented the Wildcat in Miami. The Jets then went out and acquired Tim Tebow to play a huge role in the Wildcat. Then, because of the new CBA, Sanchez was not able to meet with the coaches until offseason workouts began. So he gave Pennington a call and few down to Florida to meet with him and they went over an old Dolphins playbook.

The current Jets quarterback met with the old Jets quarterback to go over the offense of the new coordinator who was the head coach in Miami when the old Jets quarterback was the old Dolphins quarterback.

You can’t make this stuff up!

After Pennington and Sanchez met, the Jets acquired Tebow. Since Pennington knows all about stepping aside to allow the Wildcat to work, he contacted Sanchez to let him know what to expect. As far as this theory that a starting quarterback’s rhythm can be disrupted by the Wildcat, Pennington says that’s nonsense.

“I think that’s selfish,” said Pennington. “If you think as a quarterback that this game is solely about you, then you’re sadly mistaken. This is the greatest team game ever invented.”

Clearly, Sanchez has listened to Pennington because he has said all the right things since Tebow was acquired. He’s in tremendous shape and has had a terrific camp.

Now retired, Pennington can’t keep himself away from football so he traveled to Cortland to see first-hand how Sanchez was doing. But Ryan put him to work by asking him to address the team after practice.

“The guy is sharp,” said Ryan. “It was great today having him out there. It was fantastic. He had a great message for the team. He was absolutely terrific. I always admired him as a quarterback and competitor. He was tough to get, that’s for sure. If we can protect the football like that … oh man.”

After the way that Pennington was treated in 2008, he could have ignored Sanchez’s phone call and told Rex “thanks but no thanks!”

But this is Chad Pennington. Class personified. There was no way that he would say no.

Remember when he signed his contract extension with the Jets? He didn’t want to do a press conference because he thought it would be a distraction for the team. So, aside from a statement, he didn’t address the new deal until after the next game.

Despite being dumped to make way for Favre, Pennington decided to spend some time with the team that drafted him in the first round back in 2000.

What happened four years ago is over and he understands that it came with the territory of being in the NFL.

“There’s certainly no hard feelings there,” said Pennington. “The one thing that you have to learn as a young player is that there’s a difference between the game of football in the NFL and the business of football.”

Pennington was a quality quarterback for the Jets. Sometimes, he wasn’t given enough credit for that. It would be great if he signed a one-day contract and formally retired as a Jet.

It seems like he still bleeds green and his presence around the team can only help. He’s already made a difference with his relationship with Sanchez.

CRO WANTS TO HAVE IT BOTH WAYS

As someone who spent eight years as a broadcaster in the Arena Football League, I can appreciate an Ironman football player. In other words, a player that plays both offense and defense.

I don’t know how Antonio Cromartie would have looked in a New York Dragons uniform, but the Jets cornerback is working hard towards achieving an individual goal. He wants to play wide receiver and Rex Ryan seems to be willing to give it a shot. Ryan says he wants to find hidden depth on the team, so Cromartie, who played wide receiver in high school and college is getting some reps on offense in practice.

On Tuesday, Cromartie caught a touchdown pass from Greg McElroy. Linebacker Bart Scott didn’t waste any time calling Cromartie a traitor.

“I’m not a traitor when we’re on the same team,” said a laughing Cromartie. “I feel like I can help, so yeah I feel like I’m a traitor for the day, but I can take it.”

Ryan may have no choice but to give Cromartie a look since the Jets’ group of wide receivers now resembles a MASH unit. With Santonio Holmes (rib) and Jeremy Kerley (hamstring) already on the shelf, 2nd round pick Stephen Hill hurt his right ring finger in practice Tuesday, but x-rays were negative.

Cromartie might just have to play some offense on Saturday night against the Giants.

“You see the skill that he has,” said Ryan. “He’s an impressive guy. We’ll find out if Kenny Phillips (of the Giants) gets him or one of these big safeties.”

However, Ryan points out that there could be a negative if Cromartie has success playing wide receiver. The head coach fears that it might get to Cro’s head.

“The problem that I have with Cro right now playing him so much at wide receiver if we do that, is that I think he could be a diva,” joked Ryan. “I see him hanging his head if he doesn’t get the football.”

As a natural cornerback, Cromartie might have a unique advantage when he plays wide receiver. He knows what kind of moves can cause trouble for a defensive back.

“Yeah, I think so,” said Cromartie. “I mean just facing up against a defensive back, you know the “ins and outs” and also on how you want to try to get the defensive back to turn his hips and things like that. So I think that will help me out when I line up at receiver a lot more.”

Cromartie is a very good athlete so you can’t completely rule out him being successful. However, let’s see him go up against Darrelle Revis in practice!

MCKNIGHT HAS BEEN MCGOOD

Last season, Joe McKnight established himself as one of the best kick returners in the NFL. He led the entire league with a 31.6 KOR average and recorded the longest play in Jets history with a 107-yard return for a touchdown against the Ravens. Entering his third season, McKnight has come a long way since 2010. He vomited during one of his first workouts at rookie minicamp in the spring and then proceeded to have about as bad of a preseason as one could have.

After the preseason finale in Philadelphia, Rex Ryan was beside himself not knowing what to do with the team’s fourth-round pick. McKnight had lost a fumble for the third straight game and Ryan wasn’t about to trust him with any regular season action. Let’s be honest: it’s not a stretch to say that if McKnight was not a draft pick, he would have been cut.

“Joe McKnight’s got to hold on to the football,” said Ryan on September 2, 2010 at Lincoln Financial Field. “That was disappointing. Here’s a guy that’s on the bubble of making the active roster and I don’t have confidence in him. I don’t see how he can make the active roster. That’s how I feel about it. He’s going to make the team, but we’re not going to play him until we have more confidence in him.”

Now, fast forward to this week when Ryan detailed McKnight’s amazing transformation.

“Well I think he’s doing really well,” said Ryan. “He’s always had a great deal of talent. The kind of speed that he has, very few people in the league have that kind of speed. It’s good, and you try to get that speed on the field. You see this in natural maturation in a player. Before, it was like he was there on natural ability, not taking a note on a kickoff return, “Hey I got it I’m going here”. Now he wants to know where everybody is, where every block is, and he’s drawing it up himself. I think that’s what you see and I think that’s what becoming a pro really is, so I see Joe headed in that direction. He’s not there 100% yet, but he is certainly working in that direction.”

Give McKnight credit. He’s worked his tail off to become a serviceable NFL player.

This week, I caught up with him after practice:

The former USC Trojan is currently listed on the Jets depth chart as their backup running back and could also see action as a wide receiver.

METLIFE STADIUM GOES SOLAR

On Saturday night, a custom-designed Solar Ring at MetLife Stadium will be unveiled during the Jets-Giants game on Saturday night. NRG Solar created the ring that will encircle the top the stadium. It is made up of of 1,356 solar panels that generate 25 times the amount of electricity needed to power an integrated LED light system that can display team colors and an infinite array of hues. Former Jets Wayne Chrebet and Joe Klecko will be on hand for the unveiling.

The Jets will hold one final practice here in Cortland on Thursday (closed to the public) before heading home to New Jersey to get ready for Saturday night’s preseason game against the Giants at MetLife Stadium. The Jets will be looking to make it two straight “MetLife Bowl” victories.

After a day off on Sunday, training camp resumes on Monday at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center in Florham Park. On Tuesday, the Jets will practice at MetLife Stadium at 5:30 p.m.

That’s all for now! Check back soon for more!

What was your favorite Pennington moment? Let Schwartz know in the comments below!