On the surface, the Jets’ backup center spot could be viewed as similar to when Colin Baxter was Nick Mangold’s immediate backup for a short span early last season.
But while the Jets’ current reserves — Caleb Schlauderaff and Matt Kroul — have no pro regular-season snaps on their résumés, which is the same as Baxter had when he arrived via waivers last September, both Jets have had more pro practice reps at this stage of their careers.
For Kroul in particular, this is a crucial offseason and training camp ahead. And the trenchman from the nation’s heartland is eager to proceed with this latest development on his unpredictable pro career path.
“It’s going well,” he said at the end of last week’s full-squad minicamp. “I’ve got Nick. He helps out a lot, and that’s kind of where I’m focused now is center. In drills I’m with Nick, in team periods I’m coming in behind him. He’s a good asset.”
Kroul’s assets never used to included snapping a football between his legs unerringly into a quarterback’s hands. He had been a starting defensive tackle at the University of Iowa and at Mount Vernon (Iowa) High School, where his offensive exposure came as a two-year, 2,000-yard, 36-TD running back. He came to the Jets as an undrafted DT in 2009.
His transition to offense began last July after the lockout ended.
“It was guard in camp, and then I played scout center all last season,” he said. “I’ve pretty much been center these first three phases [of the offseason schedule].”
What are the toughest tasks for him as a center?
“Just seeing the entire field, reading defenses,” he said. “As a defensive player, you’re very focused on one guy for sure, maybe two or three. And now your vision’s broadened to reading maybe eight guys. That’s probably the hardest thing and the biggest difference.”
And so the snapping thing is … a snap?
“Sometimes it’s tough, being a two or three [center] because there are three or four different quarterbacks,” he replied. “Every quarterback’s kind of different and you’ve just got to get enough snaps with those guys.”
Besides Mangold’s guiding hand, there has been a changeup in coaching styles with new OL coach Dave DeGuglielmo.
“He’s good. It’s a different style. I had kind of the same thing in college,” Kroul recalled. “We had a kind of quiet guy in Coach Callahan and now ‘Guge’ is a different coaching style. But offensive line is offensive line. A few different techniques here and there, different ways of coaching stuff, and that’s the way it’s going to be.”
That may also sum up Kroul’s philosophy. He’s a tough, durable player (he set the Hawkeyes record by starting 50 consecutive games). He’s got leadership skills as a former college captain. He’s got the size at 6’3″ and 300 pounds. He’s clearly smart and versatile. And there’s something about him that has prompted head coach Rex Ryan and his evolving staff to bring back the now 26-year-old “kid.”
“I think Matt has that kind of ability where he can be in that mix,” Ryan said last summer in revealing that Kroul was not only an offensive lineman now but a center. “I’m excited about him. I think he can do it.”
Ryan said last week that Schlauderaff, the guard who came to the Jets last September in a trade with the Packers, is the first backup. And fans will remember in that difficult primetime loss to the Ravens that left guard Matt Slauson spelled Baxter at center for a few midgame series.
The depth chart behind Mangold will sort itself out at Cortland beginning in five weeks. But Kroul has the physicality and the mentality to stick on the roster this time around.
“I just went home one weekend, Memorial Day, and that was it. I’ve been here playing ball. That’s about it,” he said of his offseason schedule. “It’s exciting every day you’re competing. Now it’s almost time to go into camp ready to rock.”
Tags: backup center, Bill Callahan, Caleb Schlauderaff, Colin Baxter, Dave DeGuglielmo, Matt Kroul, Nick Mangold, Rex Ryan
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