Jets looking for more firepower

If the Jets are to take the next step, they will need greater production from their offense, starting with the quarterback position.

Originally Published: June 15, 2007
By William Bendetson | ESPN.com

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- New York Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma has always understood quarterback Chad Pennington's potential.

"Chad has always had the mental part of the game," said Vilma, who has played against Pennington in practice the past three seasons. "It is just a question of executing."

Translation: Pennington understands the Jets' offense and reads defenses well, but will his arm be strong enough to throw the ball well during the season? One Jets receiver thinks arm strength will not be an issue this season for Pennington, who has had two rotator cuff surgeries on his throwing shoulder.

"It is something I don't even think about anymore," Justin McCareins said.

The knock on Pennington throughout his career has been his inability to throw the deep ball and a lack of velocity on his midrange passes. Last year, the Jets' offense consisted primarily of running and short passes. With the acquisition of running back Thomas Jones, who rushed for 1,210 yards for Chicago last season, the Jets might have better luck throwing the ball downfield.

"That is the hope," said Pennington, who threw for 3,352 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2006. "You will always want to have a balanced offense."

Pennington, however, shied away this week from giving his opinion about whether the Jets' offense should include more passing this season, or whether the offense should center on Jones or himself.

If the Jets are to improve on last season's 10-6 record, more production in the passing game would help. In their 37-16 loss to the New England Patriots that eliminated them from the playoffs, the Jets scored just six points in the second half. New York showed little indication of a long passing game that was needed for a comeback.

Chad Pennington
David Drapkin/Getty ImagesChad Pennington has never been known for his arm strength.
Based on minicamp, which will conclude Saturday, it is tough to judge whether Pennington's arm strength has improved. A lot of Pennington's long passes Friday were floaters, but some of the receivers may have run incorrect routes. A few of his passes were intercepted, but the defense knew many of the plays the offense ran.

Pennington led the offense on a touchdown drive in a two-minute drill at the end of Thursday's morning practice. He looked sharp in the drill, completing a touchdown pass to Laveranues Coles, who was surrounded by three defenders.

Three factors should help Pennington to improve in 2007. The first is that he was able to go through a normal offseason program. Pennington spent the previous two offseasons rehabilitating his shoulder, sometimes working eight hours a day on rehab. And Pennington was able to participate in organized team activity drills over the past two weeks, which should give him a better working relationship with his receivers. He also is much more familiar with the Jets' offense in Year Two of the Mangini era.

"This focus from this year to last year has switched from learning the basics to focusing on nuances," Mangini said.

Pennington's familiarity with the offense showed Friday, as he was often directing rookie receivers when they ran the wrong routes. Pennington admitted that last year was about learning the basics, but this season he is grasping the more complicated elements of the Jets' offense.

Besides Pennington, the Jets' offensive line also seems more in sync than a year ago. The improved communication was a good sign considering Mangini mandated that loud music be played throughout Thursday's morning practice.

"Even with multiple groups of personnel, there was excellent communication," Mangini said.

Pennington had two rookie offensive linemen last year, center Nick Mangold and tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson. Both played well, especially Mangold, but another year of experience won't hurt. If guard Pete Kendall can resolve his contract dispute, the Jets should have a talented offensive line.

A healthy Pennington would help, too.

William Bendetson is an intern for ESPN.com