FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – The hotel bar is off limits and there is a room check at 11 P.M. Welcome to New York Jets training camp in north Jersey, where is life is different than in years past for this team. There are no cows to tip over, for one. Gone also is ping pong, a favorite among players in training camps past.
With a new head coach in Todd Bowles and first-year general manager Mike Maccagnan, the Jets eschewed their usual training camp locale in upstate New York, trading in Cortland for the suburbia that is Morris County. And with that, the logistical set-up of training camp is different.
No more four hour rides to farm country in New York just to get to training camp, no more living in dorms and gone is a set-up that was a hodgepodge of facilities designed to handle college athletics and not suited for a professional sports team. Cold tubs set-up in a parking lot under a canopy are a thing of the past. Now the team is based out of Atlantic Health Jets Training Center, which center Nick Mangold calls “the best facility in the NFL.”
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But the switch from a campus site to the training facility comes with some headaches. The team doesn't have a dorm set-up so they are utilizing a nearby hotel and players either drive or take a shuttle to the facility. This is different then in 2011, the one year under former head coach Rex Ryan that the Jets didn't go to Cortland and used their facility, where players lived at home and commuted every day to camp.
In Cortland, the players all dormed on campus and either walked or rode a bicycle to get to the practice fields. It is a change in life to say the least.
As such, there are rules in place for a team living in a hotel. The sports bar is off limits and there is a curfew set at 11 P.M., which can be conducted by members of the coaching staff or team security. And security is present throughout the night, not only to make sure no one is sneaking around but to ensure that no hotel guests disembark off the elevator on the wrong floor.
“Obviously it is different, when you are four hours away, it compartmentalizes yourself from the outside,” center Nick Mangold told Metro. “Like right now - and my wife has always done this - my wife takes the kids back to Ohio to be with her parents. I just noticed today that's it is very weird knowing that they're not right down the street whereas in Cortland, it doesn't matter because I can't get home anyway. So that's weird. I'm used to being here, at the facility and then coming back home and they are there.
“But there are definite advantages as well. It is nice to be familiar with everything here in our place. I remember the first time I went to Cortland, it was like 'Where am I? Where is the meeting room?' Guys who came in this year, already know where things are. You know where stuff is. There isn't that big room for a learning curve.”
There is one hurdle, perhaps one disadvantage between being in upstate New York and now in Florham Park. Cortland was literally in the middle of nowhere, a state college surrounded by cow pastures and apple farms. It was picturesque with a lovely downtown and some quality dining.
But there was nothing else there. No major cities, no clubs, no temptations. In essence, no distractions.
“Cortland was far away, there wasn't much to do,” tight end Jace Amarouge said. “There is not that much of a difference, you're just in the hotel to sleep. For me, it isn't a huge difference. By the time we get out, I'm too tired to do much of anything.”
Now 40 minutes from New York City, distractions in the metropolitan area abound at every corner. But the Jets, as Amaro alludes to, have seen to limiting the exposure for temptation by making a schedule that is tight and compact.
The day at the facility begins early and ends late, giving just a precious few minutes for players to take a deep breath and relax from football. With a room check late in the evening, most players have just enough time to drive back to the hotel or take a shuttle and plop into bed in time for a bed check. Going out isn't on their radar.
Practice begins early in the afternoon at 1:50 P.M. sharp and is over a couple hours later with autographs for fans as well as interview sessions with the media that follow the final whistle. After practice, there is a recovery time such as stretching and cold tubs followed by meetings that go from 6 P.M. till around 9:30 P.M. After that, most players are too pooped to pop out and head straight to bed. Room check is at 11 P.M. and with most players back at the facility by 8:30 A.M. the next day, some down time in the hotel room is key.
They can shower and stretch before getting into bed. The television gets revved up for a few minutes and more than one player says he wakes up in the morning and finds that the set is still on. They are so tired they just fall asleep and don't turn off the television.
Veteran players don't have a roommate but those with three years of experience or less in the league are required to have a roommate. Fullback Tommy Bohanon, for instance, rooms with offensive lineman Dalton Freeman. He likes having a roommate so they can talk through the day and hang out.
The two players requested each other, he said, and they were roommates two years ago when both were rookies.
If there is one true negative to training camp this year, the team-building component of Cortland is lost. Being in a dorm and having to “rough-it” built a certain bond among the team. Ryan credited those shared humbling experiences with playing a role in the team's playoff runs in 2009 and 2010. He said the team came together then.
It remains to be seen if under Bowles if that happens again or if that magic is lost with the move back to Jersey.
The current set-up is more plush, a hotel is better than a dorm and the team's facility is state-of-the-art. But there isn't as much downtime and the hotel isn't conducive for players to lounge and hang out away from the public eye. They go straight to bed most nights and those fun moments from Cortland are lost.
No more ping pong tournaments or shuffleboard, moments where players laugh and joke and come close.
“I think camaraderie is there but you have to work harder at it,” Mangold said. “There, you didn't have to work at it, the doors were open in the dorm, you were just walking around. Here, there is added effort to get that camaraderie and bonding done.”
Drafted in 2006, Mangold has had training camp at Hofstra in Long Island as well as Cortland and Florham Park. The Jets did have training camp at their facility once during the Ryan years in 2011 when the NFL lockout necessitated a quick and easy solution for logistical purposes.