HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (June 15, 2007) -- In many ways, this is the second season of Chad Pennington's career.
Chronologically, it's the eighth year in the NFL for the quarterback. But it's Year 2 under a new regime led by coach Eric Mangini and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
And it's Year 2 following a pair of shoulder operations that threatened his livelihood.
"After my first year with this system, the goal is not only what to do but how to do it and how to improve," Pennington said during the New York Jets' minicamp. "To become expert at the system and understand the details. They are what decide whether you win or lose.
"The first year was learning how to line up and do your assignments. The second year, you do the finer details with adjustments -- find the things you can do better to make those adjustments to do your job better."
For Pennington, mastering the current offensive approach shouldn't be a problem mentally, because he's one of the most cerebral quarterbacks in football. And now that his throwing arm is healthy and possibly stronger than ever, the physical challenge shouldn't be tremendously daunting, either.
A year ago, Pennington had to take baby steps coming off the second surgery. He was part of a four-quarterback rotation during minicamp and didn't truly test the arm until training camp began in late July.
This week, Pennington has made every kind of throw -- and looked quite sharp with all of them.
"Chad's been on-target," top receiver Laveranues Coles said.
"The primary focus has been getting his body more flexible and stronger," Mangini said. "All the things you usually do in a typical offseason, Chad was not able to do because of the rehab. Whenever you have to split time, it's not quite the same. Now he's been able to really focus on that and he has done a great job."
Feeling confident in his arm has led to a spiraling confidence in the offense. Day by day, Pennington is getting a better feel for the nuances of it.
In fact, he and Coles hooked up on a long pass during the morning practice that was semi-improvisational.
"It's within the system," Pennington said. "It's a designed play. It did not happen exactly like on the chalkboard when it's drawn up. When they kind of breakdown or don't seem to go right, as quarterbacks and receivers, you have to be on the same page and if you are, the ball gets to the right spot."
It only gets there if the quarterback can let it fly with no reservations. Pennington couldn't do that 12 months ago. Now, he can.
"Last year, I was trying to make sure I could get on the field, call the plays and make as many throws as possible," he said. "This year, I have all of the confidence in the world to make all of the throws and all of the different types of ball placement that we need to make, and I can work on those.
"Last year, it was physically just a slow process. It actually makes it frustrating. I knew where the ball needed to go, but I wasn't sure it was going to go there. Sometimes it would and sometimes it wouldn't. That's just the kinks you have to work out after you've been through an injury. You're trying to get your body back in shape."
Not that 2006 was a lost year by any means. The Jets stunned many when, under their new coach and coming off a 4-12 season, they won 10 games and earned a wild-card playoff berth. Since Pennington was selected in the first round of the 2000 draft -- he appeared in a total of three games his first two pro seasons, when he backed up Vinny Testaverde -- the Jets have gone to the postseason four times, three with Pennington at the helm.
Mangini appears more certain than ever that Pennington can lead the Jets even deeper into the playoffs.
"On the field, you can see him drawing on the experience of last year, taking things and advancing the system," the coach said. "He is such a smart guy with a great memory, you tell him something once, it may have been three weeks ago, and when that comes up, he nails it."