Pennington-Clemens compete for Jets QB job
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Kellen Clemens was finished talking to reporters when he turned and looked for his jersey and shoulder pads, which he had set down a few feet behind him.
They were gone, and the culprit was Chad Pennington, who mistakenly was carrying Clemens' red No. 11 jersey through the gate at the New York Jets' practice field after the opening of training camp Thursday.
"Come on, now!" Clemens yelled playfully at a puzzled Pennington.
It was just an accident -- Pennington's stuff was in a nearby tent -- but it was a humorous capper to the start of the quarterbacks' summer showdown. The two are in an open competition to win the Jets' starting job after neither seized the role last season.
"I'm no stranger to competition," said Pennington, who revealed for the first time that he was hobbled last season by two torn ligaments in his right ankle. "I've had it through the last three years and you have to react as a professional. You act accordingly, handle your business, handle it with class and move on."
Formerly disgruntled tight end Chris Baker must have gotten that memo. After taking shots at the organization for refusing to re-negotiate his contract, Baker toned down his scathing comments from minicamp and said his agent is in discussions with the Jets.
"At least they're talking now, so that's a good thing, as opposed to a month and a half ago when there wasn't much of anything," said Baker, who's on the physically unable to perform list after tweaking his back in minicamp.
While dealing with Baker's contract, general manager Mike Tannenbaum is also trying to get top pick Vernon Gholston signed. The sixth overall pick missed both practices Thursday as a holdout, but coach Eric Mangini was optimistic that the defensive end-linebacker would soon take the field with his teammates.
"We may have a Vernon Gholston sighting here in the near future," Mangini said. "I'll keep you posted on that, but I think we have a shot to see that."
A few published reports said the Jets and Gholston had reached an agreement on a five-year deal, but the team said it would have no announcement late Thursday night. The holdup might be because the NFL needs to approve the contract.
The hulking Gholston, who set an Ohio State record with 14 sacks last season, is expected to immediately improve the Jets' pass rush despite not reporting with rookie players last week. It's the second straight year the Jets' top pick wasn't signed at the start of camp: Cornerback Darrelle Revis missed 22 practices before signing.
Pennington injured his ankle in Week 2 -- it was then thought to be a high ankle sprain -- and was benched in Week 9. Pennington appeared to have played his last game for New York against Tennessee in Week 16 while filling in for an injured Clemens.
"It looked rather slim, to be honest," Pennington said of returning with the Jets. "It didn't look too bright for No. 10 to be standing in green, but here I am. So, let's take advantage of it and roll with it."
Neither Pennington nor Clemens had eye-popping numbers: Pennington threw for 1,765 yards, 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions, while Clemens had 1,529 yards passing with five TDs and 10 INTs. Still, the Jets claim they aren't at all intrigued by the possibility of trading for Brett Favre.
"I'm really happy with the quarterbacks we have on our roster right now and the quarterbacks we have in camp competing," Mangini said.
Pennington, who worked with the first-team offense in the wet and windy morning practice, has worked on his mechanics in the offseason while trying to develop more velocity and becoming what he called, "a full-bodied thrower." Clemens has an extremely strong arm, but needs to be more accurate and poised in the pocket.
"Ultimately, it's going to come down, for me personally, to be efficient," Clemens said. "Moving the football, taking the checkdown when it's there and just ball control."
Neither appeared very sharp in their first practice, but the competition may last weeks.
"I haven't really set a timetable," Mangini said. "I dated Julie a long time before we got engaged."
Baker will likely still be a target for whoever wins the job, despite the tight end asking for a trade a few months ago -- a request he has since dropped.
"I want to be here," he said Thursday.
Baker, who had career highs with 41 catches and 409 yards last season, was angry in minicamp because he insisted the Jets said they would look into redoing his contract and then refused. The situation appeared similar to what happened with Pete Kendall last season, when the guard sulked throughout minicamp and training camp before being traded to Washington.
Baker, who said his stance changed within the last week, doesn't expect a repeat of that situation.
"Whatever the resolution is, at least it's something and they're working toward something," he said, "as opposed to it being just a stalemate thing."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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