- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Jets' 10th and final OTA practice session was scheduled for Thursday morning, but they took the day off for a team outing: paintball. Some thoughts and observations on the OTAs, based on the three practices that were open to the media:
New York Jets
1. No slack for Sanchez: Mark Sanchez has won 37 games for this franchise, including four playoff victories, but none of that matters anymore. Judging from Rex Ryan's comments, Sanchez is on equal footing with rookie Geno Smith. Ryan, fiercely supportive of Sanchez in the past, was noticeably lukewarm in his public comments, even chiding Sanchez three weeks ago when he threw three interceptions in one practice. On Wednesday, Ryan painted it as an even competition -- and that was telling. When the only experienced QB on the roster can't get an early hat-tip from the coach, it speaks volumes.
Based on the distribution of reps, you'd have to say Sanchez is slightly ahead of Smith, but that doesn't mean a whole lot at this stage of the competition. The real story will be told in training camp. For those obsessed with stats, here you go: In the three open practices, Sanchez was 23-for-42 (55 percent) with three INTs, unofficially. Smith was 16-for-28 (57 percent) with two interceptions. Despite some speculation, Ryan was never going to name a starter before training camp. It became a story Wednesday because, well, it was a slow football day in June.
2. Old times on defense: A few themes emerged. Ryan was hands-on in every practice and ran the defensive meetings, confirming what we've known for a few months: He will run the show on defense, as he did in 2009. New coordinator Dennis Thurman will have a key role in game planning, but the play calling will be handled by Ryan. It also became apparent the defense will be more multiple than last season. Ryan changed fronts, mixed personnel and showed different looks, keeping the offense off-balance. He said the goal is to "create more confusion." Shades of '09, when the Jets led the league in total defense. There was a noticeable drop-off in their blitzing over the past two seasons. Ryan wants to crank it up again.
New York Jets
3. Walking on thin ice: It's too early to panic about the wide-receiver situation, but the recent spate of injuries should send a message to GM John Idzik: Don't make the same mistake your predecessor, Mike Tannenbaum, made last season. Tannenbaum admittedly failed to address the depth issue, and it came back to burn him. Let's face it, Santonio Holmes is a question mark because of his surgically repaired foot; he likely will begin training camp on the PUP list. Stephen Hill, too, is a question. Do we really know if he can cut it as a starting receiver? Now there's a nagging knee issue. The only sure thing is Jeremy Kerley, but as we learned last season, you can't build a passing attack around a slot receiver. Idzik needs to import a veteran. Otherwise, it could be a repeat of last season.
4. MartyBall: New OC Marty Mornhinweg will bring some creativity to the offense, an element that was sorely lacking last year under Tony Sparano. In OTAs, we saw the return of the screen pass -- slip screens, bubble screens, you name it. Most of the passing game was quick and safe -- relatively safe, that is. When you have a rookie QB and a veteran who committed 26 turnovers last season, including a butt fumble, there's no such thing as completely safe. Mornhinweg also called some moving-pocket plays, allowing the offense to be less predictable by changing the launch point. He was known as a pass-happy coach with the Eagles; it'll be interesting to see how that style meshes with Ryan's defensive-minded, ball-control philosophy.
5. Here come the kids: First-round DT Sheldon Richardson was one of the stars in OTAs, demonstrating versatility and explosiveness. Yeah, he looked good in a helmet and shorts. Then again, what high draft pick doesn't? First-round CB Dee Milliner didn't participate, as he's still rehabbing from pre-draft shoulder surgery. A starting spot is waiting for him upon his return because it looks like Kyle Wilson will return to his nickelback role. Third-round G Brian Winters got some reps with the starters, but he's behind Willie Colon at left guard. It's early, but Idzik's first draft will have at least two major contributors in Week 1: Milliner and Richardson. Smith could be the third.