The solution for a divided Jets locker room last year might just be going away to camp. At least that’s what the Jets are hoping will come out of training camp in upstate New York.
For head coach Rex Ryan’s first two training camps, the team went four hours away from New York City to Cortland, a city with a population of roughly 19,000 and precious few distractions. The result from those first two years was a tight knit team and consecutive AFC Championship game appearances. Last year the NFL lockout cut into the offseason and the Jets used their team facility in northern New Jersey.
“We’re up here. I don’t know if it is a coincidence that we went to the AFC Championship twice,” nose tackle Sione Pouha said. “I’m not going to jinx myself, knock on wood on that. But there are some bonding experiences that you have in Cortland that you otherwise won’t have somewhere else or in the comforts of your home.”
The Jets spent the offseason focused on repairing the wounds from 2011. It was as bad of a locker room as seen in sports in a long time, with teammates calling each other out, players going to Ryan to complain about the coaching staff and an on-field altercation between Dustin Keller and Santonio Holmes in Week 17.
“This is where we need to be,” Mark Sanchez said. “This is the best place for us to shut the doors, focus on us, focus on football and really start something special.”
Tight end Hayden Smith, hoping to make the transition from rugby to the NFL, is going through his first football training camp of any kind. He said he talked to the team’s veteran players about what to expect and watched episodes of the HBO series Hard Knocks to prepare for what’s to come. But the team’s veterans, such as Brandon Moore, know that camp can be a grind.
Pouha packed his essentials, including his blanket, with Moore bringing up several books to read, including the Bible and a biography on baseball legend Willie Mays.
Keller in particular is excited about one new addition to the training camp down time activities.
“Right now with a pretty new offense, hopefully we’ll spend most of our time studying plays. But besides that, I saw a new Ping-Pong table down there so there will be some people getting their butts whooped,” Keller said.
He acknowledges that spending down time with each other might have been what was missing from last year’s team and could explain the inability of the Jets locker room to jell.
“That may be it. I think this is a really important time for us and obviously when we were in training camp in New Jersey at the facility, we weren’t able to have to that because guys could go home afterwards, spend time with their families,” Keller said.
“That’s all good and great, but I think this time spending extra time with your teammates — you’ve got no choice here. You got to spend time with your teammates.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer for live coverage of training camp in Cortland.