CORTLAND, N.Y. (AP) — Tebowmania is heading home, along with those tussling teammates and top-secret wildcat practices.
The New York Jets wrapped up a busy training camp at SUNY Cortland on Thursday after three weeks filled with headlines and all eyes on Tim Tebow — all the time. In between all that, the Jets managed to get plenty of work done, and they feel pretty good about where they’re at just a few weeks before the regular season.
“I think it was the best camp I’ve been a part of,” quarterback Mark Sanchez said.
That’s saying a lot, especially since many wondered how the Jets, and Sanchez in particular, would handle the heightened attention on the team with Tebow in town. The fact that ESPN camped out for a week and showed live look-ins at practice just added to what was hardly the quiet, little getaway that coach Rex Ryan enjoys about being in central New York.
“I think we grew a lot as a team, on and off the field,” Sanchez said.
Perhaps that was no more evident than with Sanchez himself. He deftly handled constant questions about his job security and the presence of the NFL’s most popular backup quarterback. Sanchez also showed increased poise in the huddle, something that had linebacker Bart Scott thinking his quarterback could be in the top 10 at his position this season.
“Sure, you have to think that,” Sanchez said when he was asked if he agreed. “You have to play like that and as soon as you get on the field, you have to be the baddest guy out there. The toughest, the best, the most accurate and you have to want to win. I think we have a lot of guys like that, so that’s good for us.”
Last season was marked by locker room turmoil and the perception that Sanchez was not a leader on the team.
His actions during the last three weeks appear to have changed all that.
“One of the things I felt more comfortable doing, especially with the young wideout group was getting on those guys and letting them know that when you come in the huddle, and I’m not being selfish here, that this is my huddle,” he said. “Don’t talk, get in your position quickly and get lined up because there are a lot of things I need to go through to put us in the right position to be successful and Coach is expecting me to do that.”
That approach hasn’t been easy for Sanchez, whom cornerback Darrelle Revis suggested is the biggest factor in the team’s success this season.
“It’s not necessarily in my genetic makeup to start yelling at guys, but there’s a time and a place to give somebody a hug, to jump up and give him a chest bump and high-five and there are other times where you have to get on guys,” Sanchez said. “You have to find the right way to reach different people. I think I’m navigating that a lot better now.”
There was plenty of other stuff the Jets had to work their way around during training camp, including Tebow setting the internet abuzz early in camp when he tore off his shirt after practice and ran barechested off the field in the rain.
Cornerback Antonio Cromartie rubbed teammates the wrong way when he suggested he might be the No. 2 wide receiver on the Jets. Funny thing is, with so many injuries to the position, he might just be after taking some snaps in team drills — and even catching a touchdown pass.
A wrestling match broke out on the sideline during one early practice, when about 20 players piled up after a fight between Joe McKnight and D’Anton Lynn. The next day, after a few more skirmishes, Ryan made his team run laps as punishment.
And there were also the clandestine wildcat practices, the tricky offensive scheme that Tebow is expected to be a large part of this season. Media members were allowed to watch the sessions — one Monday and another Thursday — but were restricted from reporting details of how it was used and with whom — only that it was happening.
Tebow is happy with how he’s progressing as the Jets’ do-it-all backup quarterback, also flawlessly handling the last three weeks as the most popular guy in town.
“Well, besides the personal (punt) protector, the rest has always just been pretty natural and easy and stuff I’ve done for, gosh, the last 10 or 12 years, so that really wasn’t an adjustment,” he said. “Some of the (personal protector) stuff was. I never ran on special teams in my life, so that was a first, but it really didn’t take too much of an adjustment.”
Just how the Jets will use Tebow remains to be seen, since they have revealed very little while trying to keep opponents — and everyone else — on their toes.
The Jets have their next test Saturday night when they take on the Giants in a game which the starters will play about a half. Ryan has been most frustrated by the number of nagging injuries the players have suffered, but otherwise thinks the Jets are headed in the right direction.
After all, the last two times they were in Cortland for camp, they finished the season in the AFC title game.
“We’ll see if our streak continues and we make the playoffs,” Ryan said. “That would be nice, but really, I couldn’t ask anything more of Cortland and the community. Everyone was terrific.”
NOTES: Tebow said the Jets asked him about former Florida teammate Jeff Demps, the Olympic silver medalist and track star who was a running back with the Gators. “I talk to him as a friend, but the Jets are a great organization and a great place,” Tebow said. “Would we love to have him? Absolutely. I would as a teammate just because I know how hard he works and what he could bring to the table.” Demps was expected to choose among several interested teams sometime Thursday night. … Rookie WR Jordan White has swelling in a knee and might not play against the Giants. Santonio Holmes (rib), Jeremy Kerley (hamstring) and Chaz Schilens (ankle) are also out, so the Jets are extremely thin at the position.
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