It was the last period of practice on Thursday afternoon in Florham Park, N.J., when the Jets went to the goal line in full pads and played football about as physically as it can get without all-out tackling.
It wasn’t “One team; One goal” as the T-shirts worn during training camp suggest. This was the first-team offense versus the first-team defense with plenty of pride at stake. Each time the defense held the offense out of the end zone, it celebrated as if it were a fourth-down stop. When the offense scored, the players celebrated as if the Jets had just won the game in overtime.
Trash talk filled the indoor facility where the team had quickly moved its practice after lightning was spotted during the early moments outdoors. Inside or outside, the essence of football often takes place at the goal line, and the Jets were going at it like it meant something.
“You’ve got to love it,” said cornerback Trumaine Johnson, the free-agent acquisition from the Rams. “It’s the first time going live since we put pads on. The competition makes us better.”
Quarterback Josh McCown rolled out to his right and flipped a short pass to running back Isaiah Crowell for one touchdown that launched a mini-celebration for those wearing white jerseys.
Later rookie quarterback Sam Darnold sprinted to his right and fired a dart that fullback Dimitri Flowers grabbed for another conversion. It got a bit silly when every offensive player on the sideline ran onto the field to congratulate their teammates. After every stop, the defense hooted and hollered.
“It was about 50-50,” Johnson said.
Here’s the thing: Watch the Jets enough and you see an identity building. It’s only training camp, but it’s clear the Jets want to play with a defiant swagger built on confidence and consistency. It’s a work in progress, starting with competitive sessions like they had on the goal line Thursday.
“It builds toughness as a team,” safety Jamal Adams said. “When we’re inside the goal line, the offense wants to push the ball in. And on the defense, we want to take the ball away and make that stop. It just sets the tone. It was a good matchup. We competed hard on both sides. It was definitely fun to get active and live.”
“It’s awesome,” added tight end Eric Tomlinson. “It’s great to bring that kind of energy to practice, almost like a game feel with everybody supporting each other. That’s what we need.”
The spirited practice came a day after defensive lineman Steve McLendon admonished his teammates for their lack of effort during the early portions of practice Wednesday. Adams had something to say after practice as well.
“I called everybody up after practice,” he said. “There’s a standard. If we want to be that great defense, it has to be an everyday thing. It’s got to be all the guys running to the ball and being mean and aggressive and having that attack mode.”
That’s the identity the Jets are trying to build.
“When the pads get popping, that’s when the energy is going to rise up,” Adams said.
The Jets firmly believe that one of their strengths is their camaraderie. It’s a good mesh of players trying to prove themselves in this league whether it’s Adams, linebacker Darron Lee, offensive tackle Brandon Shell or defensive end Leonard Williams.
The annual Green and White game is scheduled for Saturday night at Rutgers, weather permitting. There are sure to be a few live periods for the Jets to build their identity on both sides.
“It’s under the lights and the fans get to come out and watch us at a great university,” Adams said. “What more could you ask for? There’s going to be a lot of energy and a lot of swagger going on out there.”
Get used to it.
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