CORTLAND, N.Y. – After the first day of training camp, Rex Ryan declared wide receiver Clyde Gates the MVP of the Jets offense. Caught after practice, Gates smiled slowly and said a lot of people played well.
Yes, but MVP?
“It’s just one day,” Gates said.
Now starting his second season with the Jets, the publicly soft-spoken, privately funny Gates has filled a void as several of the team's free-agent receivers and running backs sit during team drills at training camp. Ryan again lauded Gates after Day 2, and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg added his praise on Sunday.
“You talk about Clyde Gates, most track guys are guys that are super fast, aren’t route runners,” Ryan said. “I think Clyde’s a route runner.”
First of all, Clyde isn’t his real name. His full name is Edmond Darell Gates. "Clyde" is just a nickname that stuck. He grew up playing basketball, which you can see from the way he goes for the ball. The Miami Dolphins drafted him in 2011 and cut him in 2012. But he impressed enough that former offensive coordinator Tony Sparano brought him to the Jets soon after.
Sparano is gone, but the 5-foot-11, 197-pound Gates is winning over the coaches with speed and acumen.
“And with that speed he has, the number one thing -- well, you’re going to press him at the line,” Ryan said. “Well, if you miss him, you’re in trouble. The other thing is he’s able to get off the press and he does a great job even on the top of his route. So we’ll see. I think the big thing is availability in this league is probably as important as athletic ability and so proving that he can be durable and all that kind of stuff is going to be part of it as well.”
Last season, Gates had a concussion that caused him to wear sunglasses indoors to reduce light exposure. He was the player quarterback Greg McElroy confided in on Christmas night before telling the team about his own concussion. Gates’ advice to McElroy was clear: "You can't go against a concussion injury.”
In the spring, an injured hamstring kept him from practices. It was frustrating for him and the coaching staff, judging from Ryan’s durability comment.
“That’s not rough, that’s part of the game,” Gates said.
Yes, but the rehab part of the game was keeping him from getting to know his new coordinator.
“I didn’t get to see much at all in the minicamps,” Mornhinweg said. “He was in the tub. ... The little I did get to see him, towards the end of minicamps, he flashed big.”
Gates spent his weeks before camp in Texas with his 5-year-old son. Since then, he’s been snatching deep passes from Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith, and giving the diehard fans who have trekked to Cortland this year something to cheer about.
“He’s hungry and he’s showing it,” Sanchez said, “Showing that he wants to be on the field. He’s making his presence known. He’s going up and getting the ball. He’s running great routes. You can tell he’s really worked in the offseason. I’m proud of him.”
But just as Gates cautioned against too much optimism after one day, it’s hard to claim victory after a week.
“Up to date, he’s done a heck of a job,” Mornhinweg said. “Up to date. Now his challenge is to continue to progress.”
He will have competition as WR Braylon Edwards plays more and TE Kellen Winslow Jr. gets back on the field. At some point, WR Santonio Holmes could create more of a crowd. But Gates seems like he doesn’t quite trust that this streak of good practices will hold out, and knows what to do if it doesn’t.
“There’s going to be bumps in the road,” Gates said. “And it’s up to you either you’re going to lay down or you’re going to bounce back.
“And I’m going to bounce back regardless.”