HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. - The New York Jets’ quarterback competition officially started with a coin toss.
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer flipped a coin Monday and asked Chad Pennington to call it in the air. The winner would earn the right to work with the first-team offense on the opening day of organized team activities.
“Chad called heads and I thought I had a good chance because I’m a guy that generally calls tails,” Kellen Clemens said Thursday after the Jets’ third OTA session, but first open to the media. “It was heads all the way.”
Score one for Pennington, who spent the offseason hearing trade rumors and wondering what his role would be if he remained with New York. Well, he’s still with the Jets — a surprise to some — and hasn’t considered whether he’d accept being a backup this year.
“That’s just not in my thought process,” said Pennington, entering his ninth season. “I think anytime you think about that, you’re already there.”
So begins what’s expected to be a summer-long competition between Pennington and Clemens for the starting job.
“It’s been clearly communicated there’s a quarterback controversy right now, an awesome competition,” Clemens said.
When asked if it’s actually a controversy, Clemens quickly backtracked.
“I used the wrong word on that,” said Clemens who started seven of the final eight games last season. “It’s a competition. It really is. Some people will try to make it a controversy between Chad and I. It’s a friendly competition.”
Neither quarterback had numbers to be excited about last season. Pennington threw for 1,765 yards, 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions, while Clemens had 1,529 yards passing with five TDs and 10 INTs in his second NFL season. The Jets improved their offensive line this offseason, signing left guard Alan Faneca and right tackle Damien Woody, which could open the running game more — and, in turn, help the passing game.
“A quarterback controversy is not new to me,” said Faneca, who saw his share of them with Pittsburgh. “I’ve seen it work out well, and it’s a part of this business.”
Pennington, who turns 32 next month, was benched in Week 9 and appeared to have played his last game for New York against Tennessee in Week 16 while filling in for an injured Clemens. At the scouting combine in February, Pennington’s agent, Tom Condon, and Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum discussed whether the team intended to deal the quarterback. New York had no plans to do so, and Pennington made no trade demands.
“You know what? This is the place for me to be,” Pennington said. “I feel good about my situation.”
Coach Eric Mangini has spoken with both quarterbacks and maintains that the competition will be judged on simple criteria.
“It’ll come down to the same sort of evaluation of who manages the game the best, and then also who gives us the best chance to win,” Mangini said.
Pennington, who’s alternating with Clemens leading the first-teamers through the team’s 15 scheduled OTAs, has been through this before. He beat out popular veteran Vinny Testaverde in 2002, and then held off Clemens, Brooks Bollinger and Patrick Ramsey in 2006 while recovering from a second major shoulder operation.
“If you were here in ’06, then you know what the deal is,” Pennington said. “It’s nothing new. Nothing is surprising.”
The Jets know exactly what they have in Pennington. He’s a terrific game manager who tends to keep mistakes to a minimum, and makes most of the throws, albeit without the strongest of arms. Pennington also is a winner, going 32-29 as a starter and leading New York to three playoff appearances.
“I believe in myself,” he said. “I believe that when I play quarterback, our team has an excellent chance to win. That’s not me making it up. That’s proven, that’s on record, and I believe in that strongly.”
Clemens’ body of work is obviously more limited and the Jets are unsure if the 2006 second-rounder is truly the future of the team. He showed some flashes last season and has a strong arm, but his pocket presence and decision-making have been questioned.
“It certainly isn’t the first time that I’ve competed for a spot or that Chad has competed for a spot,” he said. “It’s something that we embrace.”
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