2006-09-08 / Sports

Jets New Era Begins On Opening Day in Music City

By Elio Velez

Jets head coach Eric Mangini yells from the sidelines.  Photo by Pete Borriello
Jets head coach Eric Mangini yells from the sidelines. Photo by Pete Borriello When New York Jets head coach Eric Mangini laughs, it is a rare occurrence for a man whose face and demeanor at times can be compared to a statue at Stonehenge. In his preparation for his first regular season game in Nashville, Tennessee on Sunday afternoon, Mangini made sure to make a joke to switch up the usual seriousness in his press conferences.

Last Wednesday, he announced his team captains and one of them, Australian born second year punter Ben Graham was the material for Mangini's joking toward the media assembled at Weeb Ewbank Hall.

"I have been trying to research this, maybe you guys can help me, I don't know if Ben is the first Australian captain of an American professional sports team. I couldn't find it anywhere. I couldn't find out whether he's the only guy to be a captain of a professional team in two different pro sports. If anybody has any insight there... Google didn't really help me last night," Mangini said with a curt smile.

All joking aside, Mangini is as a serious as a heart attack about. If that's dire a description, it is almost accurate. He is serious in getting off to a good start after assembling a revamped roster who he believes should implement his gameplan and get themselves ready to compete.

"I think the important thing is how we approach the week and how we approach each day, the preparation each day, the focus each day. I think that's a consistent formula for progress. It's something that I've stressed to the team countless times, something I'll stress every single day," Mangini said.

The blueprint has been laid down by Mangini and new GM Mike Tannebaum both try to resurrect a franchise that had made the playoffs three seasons ago but fallen through hard times with former head coach Herman Edwards. The transition has taken place but at times hasn't been a smooth ride. WR Justin McCareins, who will most likely start opposite Laveraneus Coles on Sunday was placed on the physically unable to participate list before training camp.

It was a move to give the underperforming McCareins a lesson in that no one is immune to not being prepared and in shape. And that told the players that they would not be favored or held in an esteemed status without proving themselves to him. And that includes high earning first round picks.

In their pre-season loss to the Giants, tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson committed two holding penalties in the first quarter which is a sin in Mangini's book and yanked the tackle out of the game.

So with accountability in order throughout the Jets, getting healthy was another concern. They've made it through the pre-season without any major injuries especially when it concerns QB Chad Pennington, who has not finished an NFL campaign in two seasons but is the opening day starter.

"I'm excited. With all the hard work I've put in, all the hard work my teammates have put in all season, I think we're excited to get out on the field and take our first step to being the team that we want to be," Pennington says.

"...That's why I'm happy to be here. After two injuries, I don't take anything for granted. I don't take for granted just walking out there one more time and having to experience another opening day, because we never know when that's going to end, and I am excited about that."

The arm strength is still a concern because at times during pre-season, he was shaky throwing balls longer than 10-15 yards. It remains to be seen where he can be effective for an entire season but the starter will be happy to be snapping the ball from rookie center Nick Mangold on Sunday. Pennington, born in Knoxville, Tennessee, tries to see an optimistic outlook instead of believing most media predictions that the Jets will finish below .500.

"Well, I think people on the outside may not know what to expect, but I think on the inside, we have expectations for ourselves. We have a lot of competitive guys in this locker room that we expect ourselves to execute well and ultimately to win," Pennington said.

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