Jets stay on 'looking ahead' message
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets came together Monday for the first time since their locker room imploded at the end of the season, with the central figure in the turmoil -- Santonio Holmes -- turning snippy when asked to revisit the ugly chapter.
"It happened down in Miami, and that's where it's going to stay, down in Miami," Holmes said on a conference call with reporters, his first interview since the season-ending loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Holmes was benched late in that game after nearly coming to blows with tackle Wayne Hunter in the huddle, the seminal moment in a season of discord.
Holmes was accused by some teammates of quitting in the game, and the next day a rift with quarterback Mark Sanchez was exposed in the media.
On Day 1 of the Jets' offseason program, Holmes showed no remorse for the way the season ended. Asked if he harbors any personal regrets, he replied, "Why should I?"
Holmes said he didn't attempt to reach out after the season to Hunter or any other offensive linemen, the unit that was most upset with his actions. Holmes said he "had no reason to" contact them, adding he didn't seek out anybody on the team.
"We don't have anything to say on that subject," he said. "We're talking about the 2012 New York Jets. If you're not concerned with that, we don't have anything else to talk about."
The team's talking point Monday was to look ahead, not back.
Coach Rex Ryan and center Nick Mangold, both of whom were made available to the media, echoed that sentiment -- repeatedly.
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"We're not bickering little school children," Mangold said. "We understand that things happen in the moment. ... This is a new team. This isn't the 2011 Jets, this is the 2012 Jets. We're looking forward."
There was talk in recent weeks of having a players-only meeting on the first day of the offseason program, in an attempt to clear the foul air from last season, but no such meeting occurred, according to Mangold.
Ryan made brief remarks to the team at 8 a.m., emphasizing a "new year, new beginning" theme, Mangold said. "It was almost like a long, lost family coming together again," left guard Matt Slauson told reporters at a charity event Monday night. "There wasn't any reference to the past. I feel like everybody has put that to bed. We saw what getting wrapped up in all that junk will do, so we don't want any part of that now. All we want to do is win."
Afterward, the players split up into offense and defense for brief meetings and the distribution of playbooks. The first two weeks will focus on strength and conditioning, according to the new collective bargaining agreement.
"Players' meetings are usually reserved for when everything is going downhill," Mangold said. "Right now, we're looking uphill. We're looking at the future, which we perceive as bright. There's no reason to dredge up things that happened in the past."
This marked Tim Tebow's first official day with the entire team. Both Mangold and Holmes offered positive assessments of the ballyhooed trade, claiming Tebow will make contributions to the offense as a "non-traditional backup quarterback," as Mangold called him.
Tebow is the No. 2 quarterback, behind Sanchez, but he will be used in a wildcat-type package.
Ryan again clearly defined the roles for Sanchez and Tebow.
"Of course, Mark's the starter," Ryan said during a conference call Monday. "There's no question about it. That's how we look at it, but we know that Tim can help us, too. There's no doubt. ... Mark is our starting quarterback. We've said that. We understand Tim is a backup quarterback, but we also recognize the fact that this guy's an excellent football player and we're going to use his abilities."
Mangold doesn't think Tebow's presence and high profile will cause Sanchez added anxiety.
"I think Mark's going to continue to be the same player and he's going to work his butt off, and he's going to be the quarterback that we need him to be," Mangold said. "If Mark was wishy-washy in his thoughts of his abilities and what his role was, I could see that creeping in, but Mark understands what he needs to do. And I think that sets the clear line. There's a lot of great backups in the league who can do the same things, but just don't have the same following that Tim does."
Added Ryan: "We're extremely happy to have both of them."
Two players didn't show up for the first voluntary workout, according to Ryan, who refused to name them. The no-shows were recently signed safety LaRon Landry and running back Joe McKnight, sources confirmed.
Landry is recovering from an Achilles tendon injury.
Ryan said the priority is to rebuild the team's chemistry.
"I know we're going to build a great (team)," he said. "I don't care what you call it -- a brotherhood, a tribe, whatever -- but we want to be special. That starts right now with the off-season program."
Ryan said they "want to be OTA champions this year," mocking an old line from former Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder, who once criticized the Jets for being obsessed with making offseason splashes.
This time, the Jets splashed for all the wrong reasons. The Sanchez-Holmes relationship, which frayed early last season, was one of the main story lines.
Holmes refused to discuss last season's strife, which included Holmes not showing up for after-hours meetings that were organized by Sanchez before the final game.
Asked to describe how their relationship has evolved over the last three months, Holmes said matter-of-factly, "He's still here as our starting quarterback and I'm still here as our starting wide receiver, so I think our relationship has revolved around that."
Sanchez extended an olive branch in February, flying to Holmes' home in Orlando to clear the air. Just last week, they worked out together, along with a handful of other players, at ESPN's Wide World of Sports facility near Orlando.
Holmes praised Sanchez for reaching out in February.
"He's portraying those leadership qualities of a guy that's going to be here for a while, spending some time with me and just chit-chatting and putting everything behind us," he said.
The workouts last week, Holmes said, were designed to build chemistry in advance of the off-season program. Curiously, Tebow, who lives in nearby Jacksonville, didn't receive an invitation. Holmes passed the buck, saying Sanchez was responsible for the invitations.
Sanchez, Holmes and four other players were captains last season, but there will be no captains on this year's team. Ryan delivered that edict the day after the season, realizing it backfired with the Holmes implosion.
Holmes said the leaders of the team -- he included himself -- will still act as captains, adding that "even if we don't have that 'C' on our chest, we're still going to be the vocal leaders of the team."
A couple of hours after he made that comment, Holmes tweeted a photo of himself. He was wearing a shirt with one word, written in cursive, across the chest: Captain.
Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.