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Westhoff’s Retirement? What Retirement?

Posted by Randy Lange on June 5, 2013 – 3:58 pm

In many ways, Mike Westhoff is as busy as ever.

He’s retired as an NFL assistant coach after his three-decades cup of coffee. He’s reorganized his house in Fort Myers, Fla., for fulltime occupation. He’s done speaking engagements and clinics at Texas A&M, LSU and Notre Dame. He’s been fishing a lot, for tarpon — “I caught an incredible, ‘monster’ tarpon. I’ve hit them before but never successfully got one” — and trout and a half-dozen sharks, all catch-and-release. With his multi-procedure leg finally feeling great, he’s ready to pick up the game of golf again after a 15-year hiatus.

“That’s where it is. That’s enough,” said Coach Westy. “I’m enjoying it.”

Most of all, he seems to be enjoying his new role ahead as a member of the Jets media. He’s signed a contract with ESPN to work the Jets’ pregames this year, both preseason and regular season, and he’ll also be dropping in on ESPN radio shows during the week when needed. Check out Mike at the start of his newly begun radio career on Tuesday afternoon on the Michael Kay Show on ESPN New York 98.7 FM.

That’s one of the things he likes most about his (semi-)retirement: the freedom.

“I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing. I love where I live. I love living in Florida yet still being able to come back to New York,” he said over a quick tuna-melt muffin in the Jets’ second-floor servery at the Atlantic Health Training Center.

“I’m excited about doing radio. I think it’ll be fun. Presenting a certain perspective is what I’m interested in doing,” he said. “It keeps me involved in what I love doing, but not to the degree I did as a coach. Let’s put it this way: I miss a lot of the interaction with the guys, the players and coaches. I don’t miss the scheduling thing.”

Westhoff’s trip to his home away from home since 2001 filled several needs. He’ll visit with his new “signalcallers” at ESPN in New York City this afternoon. He also came by to make the rounds at practice, but only “behind the yellow line” from where the media watched today’s OTA session.

Mike was hired in part for his incredible visibility as the highly successful Jets and Dolphins special teams guru, as well as for his call-‘em-as-I-see-‘em opinions. He’ll have plenty of those beginning tomorrow with Kay, but he had a few positive observations about the Jets’ teams and on Ben Kotwica, who’s succeeded him as the coordinator of those specialists.

“Oh, Ben will do fine,” Westhoff said. “They looked fine today. They’re organized, they know what they’re doing. It’s a challenge, but he’s got some things to work with.”

He mentioned some of the Jets’ holdovers this year that Kotwica and ST assistant Louie Aguiar are working with: K Nick Folk, P Robert Malone, returners Joe McKnight and Jeremy Kerley, blockers and tacklers Nick Bellore, Josh Mauga, Isaiah Trufant, Kenrick Ellis, long-snapper Tanner Purdum.

“They have some very solid ingredients. Now it all has to come together. There’s certainly a good chance that it will,” Westhoff said. “Training camp’s in a couple of weeks. We’ll find out pretty soon.”

Westhoff was also cryptic about a sign he used to hang in his first-floor office: “Real Men Play on Sundays.” We think that has something to do with playing with injuries. We’ll hear more from Mike on that in the coming weeks and months.

As for now, after real men play on enough Sundays, they get to go back to Florida, fish sharks and 200-pound tarpon, play golf on the course where their house is located, and come back to New York to comment on the other real men who are still playing on Sundays. All the best in retirement, Mike.

Rex Cetera

This being a media day, some reporters seemed to want to pin head coach Rex Ryan down to a timetable for declaring his starting quarterback for training camp and the season ahead. Not surprisingly, Rex said it’s not time for that yet.

“I don’t think we’re close to that right now,”: he said after both Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith scrambled for red-zone completions against the defense while throwing to a still banged-up wideout corps. “And I think the process, you don’t have to make that move until we feel 100 percent comfortable with that decision. Until then we’ll just leave to the competition.”

Ryan confirmed, not that it’s a surprise, that it’ll be his call on the starter behind C Nick Mangold for opening day against the Buccaneers.

“It won’t be just my evaluation,” he said. “But at the end of the day I guess it will be. If there’s a split camp, then I will make that decision.”


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Coordinators Talk About ‘Great Challenge’ Ahead

Posted by Randy Lange on March 7, 2013 – 1:12 pm

Today is Coordinators Thursday on newyorkjets.com, but not in the same sense that it was every Thursday during the season. This is the first day the Jets’ three new coordinators will speak publicly about their new gigs. My partner, Eric Allen, interviewed all three this week here at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center and those sitdowns will air this afternoon on Jets Talk Live and then will be archived

Each man — Marty Mornhinweg for the offense, Dennis Thurman for the defense, Ben Kotwica for the special teams — presents a different personality on air and in the building as they continue to work with their staffs while the players are still five weeks away from reporting back to the complex for the offseason strength and conditioning program.

Marty brings a light touch to his teaching, plus a modesty about his résumé that sounds as if it goes all the way back to his own background as a signalcaller.

“I’ll tell you what, I’ve been really fortunate, that’s first. I’ve coached some of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play this game,” he said. “Brett Favre was a great, great player. Of course, Steve Young in San Francisco, a first-ballot Hall of Famer. And then Donovan, that was one reason that Philadelphia at the time was so enticing, because Donovan McNabb was there. What a great quarterback he was. And Michael Vick in 2011 had just an astronomical year.”

Mornhinweg likes to refer mugs of joe when he’s talking about short-lived events. Even though he was with the Eagles for the last decade, he was aware of Favre’s “cup of coffee” with the Jets in ’08. And he described his own time playing for the legendary Mouse Davis in the Arena League as “half a cup of coffee.”

MM’s the only coordinator completely new to Rex Ryan’s staff. DT has been here with Ryan since ’09 and for six seasons coaching alongside Rex on the Ravens. He’s the kind of guy who has that football edge to him, like let’s stop screwing around and do it the right way, yet he also has that bit of playfulness to his persona.

“I’m outgoing, upbeat, love to have fun. But I also know the fun that comes with winning,” Thurman said, adding about his step up from the DBs room to running the entire defense: “I can’t change who I am. It’s just a matter of instead of having 11 or 12 guys, I’m now responsible for probably 30 guys. But it’s no different. Everybody has to do their job, they have to know their job, they have to understand their job, and then they have to go out and perform their job.”

Kotwica’s been with the Jets the longest of the trio, since Eric Mangini brought him out of the Army and on to the specialists under Mike Westhoff. He’s armed with the Westhoff experience plus his own straightforward sense of being able to command a football unit because of his military service as a decorated combat attack helicopter commander and training officer.

“I don’t go too far with the football-is-war approach, but there are parallels and carryovers. Even in the military, you are a coach,” the new Coach K said. “Mike and I are different guys, but first and foremost he was a great mentor to me, not only tactically with X’s and O’s but strategically. And he’s a great friend. I’m very grateful for what he’s taught me.”

It’s no surprise that each coordinator will bring a different approach and style to his unit, different from each other and different from the men they’ve succeeded. But all three will have one very similar guiding principle. They’re all involved in framing a new house on the existing foundation, and they all expressed enthusiasm for the hard work ahead.

“I love challenges,” Mornhinweg said. “This is a great challenge. That’s why I love doing what I do because I get to work with some of the great athletes in the world, really.”

“Leadership is something you either have or you don’t,” said Thurman. “I don’t think you can cultivate it or manufacture it. So we’ll let it play itself out. Yeah, we lost some veteran players, some experience, but some of the guys are going to have to step up and play. And they can be leaders in their own right.”

“Special teams isn’t a solo job. It’s a team effort, and we’re looking forward to it,” Kotwica said. “Things are going to be OK in 2013.”

Enjoy EA’s conversations with the threesome on Jets Talk Live in a few hours.


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STS*: Let’s Think Before Eliminating All KOs

Posted by Randy Lange on December 8, 2012 – 12:24 pm

So what about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell saying this week that the league’s competition committee would consider in the offseason replacing the kickoff.

Really? No kickoffs?

I don’t like it. But it doesn’t much matter what I think. However, two Jets whose opinions on the subject do matter also don’t like what they’re hearing.

“I hope not. I hope not,” ST coordinator Mike Westhoff said pensively this week. “That’s player safety, so I think I’m in tune with that. But I just like the kickoffs. I just believe in it. I know the collision part and I think that’s something you have to be careful of. If you teach it the right way, it can be done properly.”

“No, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” said Joe McKnight, who had a phenomenal year of returning kickoffs last season and is doing very well again this year. “What about the guys that aren’t starting. Where are they going to start? You start on kickoffs and special teams.”

Two different points of view, both agreeing that a flat-out removal of kickoffs from the game is not what we’re looking for. Safety has been the primary mover for last year’s rules revisions, which have resulted in about 50 percent of kickoffs now resulting in touchbacks and a reduction in the number of concussions and other injuries incurred on the balls that are returned.

“You already moved the kick from the 30 to the 35, which gives us 5 yards less to run instead of a whole lot of room,” McKnight said of himself and his fellow returners and coverers. “Now you’re trying to take it out of the game? People like me and Ellis [Lankster] need these special teams for us to build for later on, the next couple of years when we’re trying to win our positions on offense and defense.”

Westhoff is serious about his concern for players’ health and safety. While Greg Schiano, Tampa Bay’s first-year coach, has gotten some publicity attached to this subject with his proposal to turn all kickoff situations into fourth-and-15 punt situations (the fourth-and-15 conversion rate is about the same as the successful onsides-kick rate), Westhoff said he and assistant ST coach Ben Kotwica have canvassed the league’s teams coaches and put together their own kickoff proposal, which he said the league was interested in.

“I hope it doesn’t happen, but if it does, there are also alternative methods that I think would be very productive and very competitive, so I would hope they’d go with that,” said Westhoff, who didn’t want to go into details of that plan for reporters until after the season. But he said one thing that can be done immediately in lieu of cutting kickoffs out of the game entirely is to cutting back even more on violent hits on unsuspecting players during returns.

“Blocks in the back, those types of things, used to be legal. We eliminated them from punts, but they’re still legal on kickoffs. The kickoff team can smack the blockers in the back and it’s legal,” Westhoff said. “My thing is, when is it ever good to hit somebody in the back?”

McKnight has a warrior-type mentality about returns. He didn’t talk about concussions but more the general “nicks and nacks” that returners get and playing through them, as he’s had to do this year with several injuries, such as an ankle sprain and last week’s rib injury.

“I can’t worry about injuries,” he said. “I’m still trying to make a name for myself.”

It would be a sin if an important slice of the game is made to disappear. As Westhoff reminded, “Can you imagine the Super Bowl? You’ve seen those pictures of the opening kickoff and all the bulbs are flashing? ‘Well, here we are, put the ball down, let’s go.’ C’mon, guys.”

But external and internal pressures on the game will dictate what the NFL does about kickoffs in future years. For now, the play is still alive despite the tinkering, McKnight is probable for Sunday’s game, the Jets are seventh in the league in average returns while the Jaguars are 29th in the league in average returns allowed. You know Joe and the Jets’ specialists want to do a little more reputation-building before this season is done.

*Special Teams Saturday


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Folk Keeps Cool as the Temperature Rises

Posted by Randy Lange on June 19, 2012 – 12:26 pm

It may say something about the exclusive fraternity of NFL placekickers or the increasingly interwoven pro football storylines, but Nick Folk and Josh Brown got together this year before they were brought together formally as competitors for the Jets’ kicking job.

“We worked out in San Diego this offseason before this whole thing even went down,” Folk said of the signing of Brown early last month. “We picked up some things from each other, just by working with each other out there, then this happened. We’ve been good ever since. We’ve been pretty close, helping each other out. It’s been good so far and I think it’ll just get better come training camp.”

You might think Folk is guarding his words now that he’s facing some serious competition for his job from a kicker who is just as skilled and more experienced. But that’s not the way Nick rolls.

“He’s going to push me to the limit. He’s doing a great job. He’s been to the Super Bowl, had a bunch of great years in a row,” Folk said. “Having him here is good. We’re having a good time out there, which I think is important for everyone.”

In truth, as a sidebar to Rex Ryan IV, Sanchez/Tebow, Tony Sparano coordinating the offense and the Mike Pettine defense looking to rediscover its swagger, Folk vs. Brown should be a dandy Cortland competition in a little over a month.

Shortly after Brown arrived, we chatted in the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center locker room. In that story I put together a “tale of the instep” chart that showed how evenly matched this kick-off could be. Folk’s a little bigger, Brown’s older. Brown’s leg seems slightly stronger, Folk’s had far fewer kicks blocked in his career. Under last year’s kickoff rules, Brown had more touchbacks, Folk’s kicks had opponents starting drives slightly closer to their goal lines.

Another kicking angle I threw out in that piece, and again to Folk last week, was the clutch accuracy of both. Folk (94.9 percent) and Brown (90.4) are two of four NFL kickers since 1991 whose career fourth-quarter accuracy is above 90 percent.

“That’s not bad,” Folk agreed, then added, “You tell me all these things, then I start thinking about it, you know?”

Yeah, we know. But Folk also thinks about his crunch-time kicking quite a bit on his own, which has informed how he prepares in general for each season.

“I try to put myself in that situation as much as I can when I’m training,” he said. “I don’t know how other guys do it, but I just try to get myself mentally focused for that type of situation. That way, when it comes to that, it’s take a deep breath and let’s go have some fun,”

Specifically, the one-time Cowboy who was born in Hollywood, Calif., hasn’t been trading on his celebrating while training. He said this year he’s been concentrating on his right leg velocity.

“I’ve worked a little bit more this offseason on leg speed to complement my strength,” he said. “You’ve got to have that quickness in there, too. I’ve worked on a lot of leg speed, a lot of explosive stuff.”

Folk and Brown have been having fun so far, and Folk says that has nothing to do with tough-love special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff being away from practices after his latest left leg surgery.

“I haven’t seen Mike since it happened,” Folk said. “He’s trying to get his leg rehabbed so he can come back full-strength to training camp. And from what I hear, he’s doing a real good job. I wish him all the best. He’s a great coach. I have a lot of respect for him. And I think he’ll be excited to get back on the football field and get us all going in the direction he wants us to go.”

But while Westhoff was away, Ben Kotwica took over “teams” coordination at the OTAs and full-squad minicamp.

“Ben’s done a great job doing what Westy does,” Folk said. “I think the guys have responded really well to Ben and Ben’s responded well to the guys. It’s good for Mike to not be out here on his leg so he can actually rehab it. He trusts Ben to get it done and Ben’s been doing a great job.”

Then in five weeks in upstate New York, Folk and Brown will push each other to the limit.


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Odds Aren’t Quite as Long for Bellore This Time

Posted by Randy Lange on May 30, 2012 – 3:35 pm

We’ve been hearing a lot about the bodily transformations going on in the Jets locker room thanks in part to the guidance from strength coach Bill Hughan and his staff. Bart Scott’s dropped 20 pounds and is looking, in Mike Pettine’s words, “is running around like a young Bart.” Kenrick Ellis has shed 15 pounds from last year’s 346-pound playing weight and wants to get rid of 5 more. Joe McKnight told us he’s added 15 pounds of muscle and lost no speed.

Add Nick Bellore to the list. As he walks through the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center locker room, there’s a sense that his back muscles are rippling just a little bit more than the mind’s eye recalled a year ago, when he was the Jets’ undrafted rookie find out of Central Michigan.

But the Jets’ second-year linebacker and kick-coverage leader said the numbers in his case might lie.

“I weigh about the same as last year, around 245,” Bellore said. “But I’ve improved my body. Moving around, I can tell how I’m looking and how I feel. I’ve got the size to be able to handle my linebacker duties and I still have my speed for all the special-teams stuff.”

For Bellore, that’s important. Mike Westhoff and Ben Kotwica, watching glumly as the Jets had to release their top three ST tacklers/performers from the ’10 team in Lance Laury, James Ihedigbo and Brad Smith, needed some holdovers and new talent to step up and fill the void. They got that from the likes of Josh Mauga, Garrett McIntyre and Jamaal Westerman … and Bellore.

The Jets early on noted that Bellore could be one of their undrafted signees who might be able to break through to the roster. And they were right. He led the Jets with 22 solo and 31 total kick-coverage tackles (Mauga was second with 14 and 20). Many of the stops came for the kickoff team, which was sixth in the NFL in opponents’ average start after kickoffs (21.2-yard line) and third in the league in inside-the-20 stops on KO returns (26, behind New England’s 30 and Atlanta’s 28).

Bellore acknowledges he’s got a leg up on all the new guys in green trying to gain spots on the six special units.

“I think camp’s going to be easier for me,” he said after the last OTA practice of last week. “I know what’s around the corner. I’m more comfortable. I can just play football. That first year, you’ve got to meet everybody, get to know everybody.”

Now he’s got to fend off those who are out to bump him down the depth chart if not off the roster. The most dangerous player for Bellore probably is third-round rookie Demario Davis, whom Westhoff was very pleased to hear had fallen to the Jets with the 77th pick of last month’s draft. He has the speed and smarts to make an impact on specials right away and the upside to grow into a player at inside ‘backer behind David Harris and Scott, which is where Mauga and Bellore now reside.

“Demario’s a nice kid and a good football player. He picks things up fast,” Bellore assessed. “I have to take special teams and lead the group by making plays. Dave’s in front of me and he’s a great player. We have a bunch of great inside linebackers. I’m just continuing to learn so I don’t miss a beat.”

Bellore knows what’s ahead. He knows it won’t be easy. But he knows he’s done it before and he plans to do it again.

“It’s never going to be easy for me,” he said. “I’m always going to have to fight the odds.”


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STS*: Purdum Back to Feeling Fine for This Big Ride

Posted by Randy Lange on December 17, 2011 – 10:11 am

Tanner Purdum readily admits that “When you don’t hear my name, it’s a good day.” That is the fate of top-shelf long snappers such as Purdum and, before him on the Jets, James Dearth.

It was also a good week for the Jets’ specialists and coaches because they didn’t hear Purdum’s name on the team’s injury report, as they did the week before and two weeks earlier in the season. Purdum didn’t say he was close to not being able to snap any of those weeks, but all three weeks his low back issue was not a triviality for the Green & White.

“They do a great job in the training room, putting in, it’s got to be 80 man-hours on me in my three days in there,” Purdum calculated. “They do a good job of getting you right, and Coach Westhoff and Ben [Kotwica], they’re both good enough to realize, ‘Get through the practice because we need  you but we won’t kill you with reps.’ Even this week they tell me, ‘Take it easy. You might feel 100 percent but we don’t want it to relapse.’ “

Purdum’s injury is probably a common condition in the snappers’ upside-down world.

“It’s one of those things where you just get tight hips at my position, being bent over all the time,” he analyzed. “Most of my power is in the nips. Once those get too tight, your back flares up and slips out or, in my case, spasms. It just happens. This time I happened to be lifting. Last time it was at practice.”

Sounds like a job for your friendly chiropractor. And Tanner’s one of those people you’ll meet occasionally who recommends chiropractic for what ails you, because it’s helped what ails him over the years. In fact, his father-in-law is award-winning Dr. Mark Pick out of Dodge City, Kans., who has worked with the Chiefs and at the NFL combine.

“I’m pretty picky” when it comes to chiropractors, said Purdum, no pun intended. “He does a very, very good job, and when I’m in that area I always go to him. But here these guys step up and do the job right too. They know what they have to do to have me fixed before the game.”

Dr. Pick also has treated bull riders over the years, which prompted me to ask Tanner if he’s ever gotten on a bull back in his multifaceted Midwestern upbringing.

“I saddle-broke horses in high school and college,” he said. “He had bucking stock for a long time and I think he just sold them off this year. I’ve helped him with them a little when I was out there. I’ve gotten on a bull once or twice, and it’s not exactly the best time of your life. I lasted about three seconds, which is better than most, I guess.”

But he’s never survived an eight-second eternity, ridden a bull to the bell?

“Noooo,” he said. “That’s like putting an entire offensive line into one and then trying to ride their back.”

Doesn’t sound like an exciting prospect. But then again, who’s to say with a long snapper? His highlights often go unnoticed as he snaps one ball after another unerringly into the hands of holder Mark Brunell for a Nick Folk placement or into the hands of punter T.J. Conley.

But Purdum did enjoy this past Sunday’s game against the Chiefs, which was his only other NFL employer, a team that worked him through the 2009 preseason and then waived him, ultimately so he could sign with the Jets before last season.

“They cut me, fine,” he said without bitterness. “I wound up in a better place. I’m much happier here than I was there, so they did me a favor.”

This Sunday Purdum can do the Jets a major favor by keeping the ropes coming to give the Jets their best chance against dangerous Eagles punt returner DeSean Jackson (whose average nevertheless has slipped from 15.2 yards in 2009 to 11.6 last year to 6.7 so far this season).

“The Eagles come over the middle, mostly, a seven-man front,” he described Philadelphia’s punt block approach. “They like to rush the center, or at least to come across me to the guard. They like to stuff us up front so Jackson can get something going in the back. You’ve got a good returner, that’s what you want to do. You want to create a pile, a big cloud of dust up front so he has some room to run.”

It’ll be up to Purdum and his linemates to defeat the cloud of dust and get downfield quickly to keep Jackson at bay. And with his back back to some semblance of normal, it sounds just like the kind of ride he likes.

*Special Teams Saturday


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STS*: Bellore Tackling the Pros with Relish

Posted by Randy Lange on October 15, 2011 – 9:49 am

Updated, 2:40 p.m. ET

Nick Bellore bundled 472 tackles in his career as a Central Michigan linebacker, third-most in Chippewas history. It should be no surprise that he’s showing his tackling skills at the next level.

“I’m confident in my abilities,” the free agent rookie said this week about establishing himself on the Jets’ special teams. “I knew that no matter where I went after the lockout, I was going there to play. Obviously some things are out of your control, but the Jets have given me a great opportunity here and I’ve been able to make the best of it.”

Bellore has yet to display his LB skills in the regular season, but his tackling remains sharp. His 11 tackles on kick coverage, from the video breakdown by coaches Mike Westhoff and Ben Kotwica, lead the Jets heading into Monday’s very important return to MetLife Stadium to play the Dolphins.

He’s taken down other teams’ punt returners and kickoff returners, with the latter being in particular danger from a Bellore wrapup. His solo tackle in Game 2 started the Jaguars at their 15 after a Nick Folk kickoff, and an assist the next week at Oakland gave the Raiders the same starting spot. He’s been one of the main contributors to the kickoff coverage unit, which is second in the NFL in opponents’ return average (18.0) and third in opponents’ average drive start (19.5).

“Every week I learn something new, a few techniques, little stuff that you can’t necessarily get from reading the playbook, just by experience,” Bellore said. “I’ve got to be ready to play defense, but I’m going to be playing a lot of snaps on special teams, so just learning what the opponent does, what I have to do, how to best use my techniques. so it is a little different from college, but it’s something I’ve embraced and I really enjoy.”

Something he doesn’t enjoy as much is getting flagged, which is what happened when he shoved Wes Welker at the Patriots 41 on the boundary on a punt return at the top of the second quarter last Sunday. Unnecessary roughness, 15 yards.

The shame of it was that Bellore’s hit shouldn’t have been penalized. Welker was striding toward the Jets sideline but his left foot had not yet touched down when Bellore made contact. No. 83 was still inbounds.

Yet this was another one of those pro learning experiences for the young man from Whitefish Bay, Wis. There are no replay challenges on penalties. Welker is legendarily elusive but sure appeared to be heading out of bounds. Was the reward worth the risk?

“Things like that will happen when you’re trying to play fast and make a play,” Bellore said. “Obviously, I’ll learn as I get older. Some things you’ve just got to kind of let go and maybe don’t hit him there. It was a bang-bang play and you can’t be committing penalties like that, especially at that part of the field. … There’s really nothing gained in that, so I know now.”

Bellore’s postgraduate work continues. Next class: Monday night.

Saturday Injury Updates

With a Monday night game come Saturday injury reports. The Jets listed four players as out for the Dolphins: DT Ropati Pitoitua (knee), CB Isaiah Trufant (hamstring), CB Donald Strickland (concussion) and WR Logan Payne (wrist). Pitoitua and Trufant didn’t practice today, Strickland was limited. C Nick Mangold was also limited and is listed as questionable. The eight other Jets on the injury list were full participants in practice and are listed as probable.

For Miami, four players were limited at practice in South Florida and are questionable for the game: CB Nolan Carroll (hamstring), S Chris Clemons (hamstring), RB Daniel Thomas (hamstring) and TE Will Yeatman (shoulder). CB Vontae Davis (hamstring) practiced full and is probable. 

*Special Teams Saturday


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Posted in Randy Lange | 43 Comments »

STS*: Capt. Kotwica’s Contribution to Teams

Posted by Nick Gallo on November 20, 2010 – 12:54 pm

Jets assistant special teams coach Ben Kotwica and his squad’s “battle rhythm” is not readily apparent to the dozens of media members along the sideline during practices and in the pressbox at games. To the members of five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces who attended the Jets’ practice on Friday, it may have been more noticeable.

“I think the background that I have not only going to West Point and being an officer for eight years has provided huge dividends,” said Kotwica, the fourth-year Jets coach, a U.S. Army veteran and a standout linebacker for the Black Knights, “not only in organization and leadership and communicating skills, but being able to multitask and get a couple of things done at once. That’s something that we had to do on a daily basis in the military and some of those skills are transferrable to what we do not only during practice but on gameday as well.”

When at Army, Kotwica played under current Jets linebackers coach Bob Sutton, and since that time the two have shared a special bond that is part coach, friend and mentor. Since joining the Jets, Kotwica, who toured in South Korea, Bosnia and Iraq, has worked under legendary coordinator Mike Westhoff.

The Green & White celebrate their 11th annual Military Appreciation Day when they play the Texans on Sunday, but last week, prior to Veterans Day, Westhoff and crew made sure to honor Kotwica with a special “Captain’s Chair” during a practice session.

“I have the utmost respect for Ben,” Westhoff said. “Coming out of West Point and serving in the military … I couldn’t be happier for us to give him some type of tribute. Everybody cracked up and it was great. I have the utmost respect for what Ben did.”

The chair was labeled “Captain Kotwica” and punter Steve Weatherford even asked if he could get his decorated assistant coach a cup of coffee during a break in practice. The man who was promoted after only two seasons as a defensive quality control coach is mostly in charge on working with Weatherford, kicker Nick Folk and long snapper Tanner Purdum, not only on gameday but even this past week when he took them to New Meadowlands Stadium after practice to gauge conditions inside the stadium.

“He’s a great mediator between us and Coach Westhoff,” Purdum said. “He does a lot of work with us. The first thing he asks us is our opinion and what we think since we’re the ones doing it. That’s something I really like in a coach and really respect.”

The idea that the former defensive coordinator at USMA Prep is a mediator is pervasive throughout the locker room, confirmed by safeties James Ihedigbo and Eric Smith, who double as special teams aces. From taking players aside when they come off the field to making in-game corrections to developing that aforementioned “battle rhythm” with the kickers starting in pregame, Kotwica’s experience in the military has helped him become a better coach and a balance for the fiery Westhoff.

“I think there is a close correlation between being in the military and doing what we do now on a weekly basis,” Kotwica said. “What we do now isn’t life and death, but I do believe that there is something to be said about getting a group of guys together, focused on a common goal and executing a mission. That’s what happens in the military and that’s what happens here.”

In speaking with the former Apache attack helicopter pilot, you can feel the sincerity and seriousness with which he takes not only his job but his relationship with his players. The Chicago native has earned the respect and the trust of those around him, particularly among other dedicated and selfless “soldiers” within the Jets locker room.

“I think it’s the way he carries himself and conducts himself,” Smith said. “He’ll joke around but usually he’s pretty serious and on top of things. You know when he’s telling you something, it’s going to be right.”

Maybe that’s why Kotwica naturally gravitated to special teams — it’s a branch of the Jets “army” that puts all ego aside and sacrifices personal gain not only for the team but for one another.

Kotwica said his military service was “extremely rewarding,” not just because of the tasks he carried out and the places he went but mostly because of the people he served alongside. It’s a sentiment he hopes continues to flourish in Florham Park.

“The stronger that you can develop that bond amongst your team or your unit in the military, the more success you’re going to have,” Kotwica said. “If you can get a group of guys to be fighting for someone instead of something, you can accomplish tremendous things. I was fortunate enough to be a part of a military group that did that in Iraq, and I think there are clear markings of that happening here this year.”

*Special Teams Saturday


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Posted in Nick Gallo | 8 Comments »
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