If the Jets rookie heads weren’t spinning following last week’s NFL draft, they certainly were when they hit the team’s training facility for the opening of a three-day mini-camp on Friday morning.
First they pressed their noses into their playbooks and then they hit the practice field for the first time. And the first lesson was how to practice like an NFL player.
That point was stressed after linebacker Trevor Reilly nailed someone during one of the drills.
“Today we had to get on him because he went and I guess tagged a guy off a little bit too hard for our liking. That’s part of it, too,’’ said Rex Ryan. “These guys are learning how to practice like a pro. When you come back in here, you’re not going to make the team by going out and making a tackle today. You’ve got to take care of each other and learn to take care of your teammates. Way more than half the practices in the NFL are without shoulder pads, so you have to change it up a little bit and take care of your teammates. So that’s part of it.’’
It will be up to Ryan to mold the rookies into shape and then fold them into a team that surprised everyone in the NFL by finishing 8-8 last season. With the offseason acquisitions of veteran free agents like quarterback Michael Vick, receiver Eric Decker and running back Chris Johnson to bolster the offense added to an already strong defense, the Jets look like they could make some noise in the AFC East this year.
After watching some of the rookies go through their paces for the first time, Ryan was impressed with the group that he has brought in for the 2014 season.
First round pick, safety Calvin Pryor, appeared to be as advertised in his appearance at the rookie mini-camp on Friday.
“He looks pretty good but I told him today, “You could have picked one today. We’d be OK if we picked that ball, you don’t have to go hit somebody,” Ryan said. “I’ve been really impressed with him mentally. That’s all that we’ve really had. But mentally sharp. He’s into it. He did some personal protector on the punt team. He really he’s catching it to where he doesn’t just learn his position but he’s learning how the defense works and I think that’s been impressive.’’
Pryor said his whole goal on the first day was to make a statement.
“That they brought me here for a reason," said Pryor. "With the 18th pick, I have to come in here and get respect from the older guys and the vets, and I feel like I have to just earn their respect and earn everything. Right now, that's what I'm focused on, just learning the system so I'll be ready to go."
Tight end Jace Amaro, the second round pick, was a highlight during the workout on Friday.
“I don’t know how many balls he caught…but it was a bunch. And I was like, “Hmm, looks like Marty (offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg) thinks we’ve got a new toy and we’re trying to feature him,” which was pretty obvious to me,’’ Ryan said. “But really, a guy with that kind of size, his kind of receiving skills, excellent route runner, I think absolutely will add to our passing game.’’
“And those guys are hard to cover. You’re almost in between. If you cover with a small guy, they put small guys out there you’re able to run the football. If they put bigger guys, then you’re able to throw it on people. Even with those kinds of matchup issues that it presents, certainly I’ve had to face that before against certain teams.’’
It’s obvious that the Jets are thinking that Amaro, a 6-5, 265-pound tight end who signed a four-year, $4.3 million deal on Friday, can do for them what Rob Gronkowski has done for the Patriots.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd is joining an already crowded meeting room with Vick, starter Geno Smith and back up Chris Simms. But his experience on Friday was much different than he thought it would be.
“I thought that the relationship wouldn’t be what it was, because these guys, they’ve been very helpful - Mike, Geno, Matt Simms,’’ Boyd said. “You get to a particular team and you’ve got all these guys, competition and competing. It has a certain perception, aura of what you think is going to happen. When I got here it was totally different, like those guys were pretty excited that I was in the room. They were helpful. Any questions I needed answered, they answered them for me and it’s been good working with those guys.’’
Of course the real heat of battle won’t start until training camp starts in July. Then the veterans and the rookies will be competing for the limited number of spots on the team. That’s when Ryan will see what he really has gotten from this 2014 draft class.