Posted by Randy Lange on January 16, 2012 – 2:12 pm
With the arrival of Tony Sparano as the Jets' offensive coordinator, it's not a reach at all to wonder what Chad Pennington thought about the move. That was an immediate thought of our reporter, Andrew LeRay, and mine as well. So why not give Chad a call and find out? Which is what we did.
"Tony's a fiery Italian and he loves football. He's what we call a football head," Pennington said from his Tennessee home the other night. "He enjoys it. I think he enjoys being around the players. He enjoys that part of the game. He certainly understands it's not just about the X's and O's."
But Sparano does know the X's and O's are important. Combining all of it, he came from Dallas as Miami's new head coach in 2008. That was the year he guided the Dolphins to their remarkable rebound from 1-15 to 11-5 and the AFC East title and helped Pennington, in his first season as an ex-Jet, to career bests in completions (321), yards (3,653), interception rate (1.47 percent), 19 TD passes to seven INTs and one fumble lost, and a 97.4 passer rating.
"Well, knowing him as a head coach, I think he will require his offense to do three things," Pennington enumerated. "No. 1, be physical. No. 2, avoid turnovers. And No. 3, avoid negative plays. And that's kind of what our recipe for success was in 2008 and we were able to make NFL history."
A phrase that has come into the NFL lexicon of late is "chunk plays," plays that pick up a bundle of yardage on the way to a length-of-field touchdown drive. As noted here and elsewhere, those were missing from the Jets' attack this past season, but they were in evidence with the 2009 and '10 'Fins. Pennington explained the philosophy.
"It doesn't necessarily have to be a 40-yard throw down the field. It can be short or intermediate throws that turn into chunk plays," he said. "Coach recognizes the importance of chunk plays. It allows your offense to breathe a little bit and have more success. In the NFL you can't methodically move the ball down the field every drive. You need chunk plays to make it a little easier."
I asked Chad to wear his analyst's hat, which he donned for Fox Sports this season as he worked his way back from shoulder and knee injuries, and offer a glimpse of what he sees ahead for Mark Sanchez.
"I watched the Jets a little bit on and off this season," he said. "I think the biggest thing for Mark is to use 2011 as a learning experience, really dive into the film this offseason. Learn from the film and just focus totally on the film and the work at hand, and use the year as a steppingstone to getting better. That's the No. 1 key. You can't just erase it and move away from it."
Pennington also put on his QB's hat to remind fans of something else he thinks is important for Sanchez.
"You've got to remember he only played one year of college ball as a starter. He's a young guy, only in his third year in the league. He never had the chance to make mistakes behind closed doors.
He's always been out in front of everybody because he's been the starter. He must get better and mature. I just think it's a matter of time. The ball's in his court."
I asked Chad about the little matter of time that has turned him from the Jets' first-round QB of 2000 and their Montana-esque (one of the adjectives used for him at the time) starter in that almost-great '02 season into a fellow wrestling with his football future a mere decade later.
"It just shows you how much time flies. You don't really believe it until you get on this end of it," he said with a laugh. "I'm doing great. I'm really enjoying being the father of three boys. I'm just trying to work through all the emotions of playing or not playing, moving on with my life. That's what I'm dealing with right now. It's not the hardest thing to go through … it certainly provides some challenges."
So does that mean that the rumors we heard this season, that the one-time NFL Comeback Player of the Year would try to come back one more time for the '12 season, aren't true?
"I don't know if I'll play again," he said. "Some days I feel like I can, some days I don't. I think the biggest question is whether I can trust my shoulder or not, whether I can look my coach in the eye and say, 'You can trust me.' "
Trusting Pennington's shoulder to hold up to the rigors of an entire NFL season is one thing.
Trusting his word is never in doubt. And he says Tony Sparano is a keeper for the Jets.
"I have a lot of respect and love for Coach Sparano. I think he's a fantastic coach," he said. "What he brings to the table is the right fit for the Jets."