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The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

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By Scott Dierking 

You know it is coming. The signs are there and they are true. The fescue in the back yard begins to turn a pale brown, and it gives an audible crunch under your feet. The air conditioning is on high, but you still wake up in a puddle of sweat. The dog days of summer have arrived, and that only means one thing to legions of sport fans across the country: Training camp football.

As much as the swallows returning to Capistrano signal the start of spring, the return of football re-charges any true sports fans in a delight of “what ifs� and “how to�.
 
The truest sign is your local sport sections beginning to be dotted with reports with bylines from towns such as Pittsford, NY, River Falls, WI and Latrobe, PA.  These stories grow quickly from mere agate inches to full-page features. Their stories are often empty, without much meat, but they provide a full course meal to ravenous football fans everywhere.
 
Let’s face some facts here.  Your team’s relative and perceived standing and strength within the NFL is directly relational to the approach that you take on training camp as a fan. If your club is perceived as a contender, every day is measured by a tick mark with a positive check if there are no reports of a strained ligament or turned ankle. Pre-season games are a recital of how quickly you can replace your starters and how short you can keep your injury report. For the contenders, it is a matter of fact of “Let’s get this over with, and let’s not get anyone killed out there�.
 
If you are in a “rebuilding� mode, training camp can be more of a “Let’s wing this thing, and see what turns up�. Toss it into a blender, as it where. Positional battles can be fought fiercely and the entire sense of camp can be made to promote competition and establish your new identity. Rookies are expected to contribute immediately. Veterans are expected to take on new roles, or step aside.  Schemes are enhanced and you begin to develop a personality, if your camp is run professionally.
 
Let’s face another fact. The New York Jets fall into the category of the latter, rather than the former. There are no grand illusions of playoff positioning and fine-tuning the machine to include its final parts. This is a re-build of epic proportions. And you know what, that should make for a training camp that is conversational, interesting and unique on many different levels.
 
The morsels for consumption are delectable. Quarterback intrigue? We’ve got it. Can the twice-repaired surgical wing of Chad Pennington place him in the position that he feels is his to claim? Can Patrick Ramsey fulfill his former potential as a first round choice? And what of Kellen Clemens? Is he the latest in a long line of potential saviors?
 
And what of the new staff?  Can this team absorb the pendulum swing again from “players coach� back to “disciplinarian�? Is there now a fertile Bill Belichick coaching tree, with an acorn of new coach Eric Mangini? How will the team react to his presence?
 
Did the Jets do right in putting their muscle where their mouth is, focusing an early draft strategy on offensive line? Is the brain mightier than the brawn, as the Jets focused on “head smarts� and “football� players?
 
This team will unfold itself on the field before our very eyes. Given the lack of committed communication coming from the Jets camp, we will be left to make our own inferences and judgments. We will determine who is “flashing� and what schemes seem to be working. A better football bonanza for the hard-core fan probably does not exist.
 
I believe that the next 2-3 years and the fortunes of the Jets franchise will be determined by the first 30 days of this camp. Mangini will either make his mark, stamp his brand and define his leadership immediately, or we be left back in the vicious doom loop. The nuances of the players and their reaction to this leadership will let us know.
 
Training camp. The mere words can make fans’ hair stand on end and players’ stomachs wretch. For the New York Jets, and certainly their fans, the hope is that this can be the true dawn to a new day and an era. We will know soon enough. It is time.

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