This is the time of year that tries Jets fans’ souls. It’s dark out, not just outside my window at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center but for the short-term future. The improvements will get made, but they’ll be made slowly, often beneath the radar, with no competitive evidence until the games begin again in August and September.
Until then, we’ll get you the information we can as soon while we go about the other business we do on the business side of the Jets’ operations. That means covering free agency and the draft as we can, introducing you to the new coaches as we will in the coming weeks, providing player stories before and after they return to the complex in April.
All the while we’ll be working on the 2013 Yearbook. This provides the opportunities to dig up some things that were hidden during the ’12 season or to give more credit — and more hope for the future — than might have been given out during the 6-10 campaign past.
One of those early amazing notes has to do with Joe McKnight’s kickoff returning. This was a hot topic after the 2011 season’s 31.6-yard average, the best by a qualifying returner in the last quarter of a century. McKnight didn’t have quite as explosive a ’12, but his 27.5 average was still third in the league.
“Devin Hester’s the best now. Hopefully I can have my name next to his or around his somewhere. That’d be great,” McKnight told me earnestly back in November in the middle of that second season as the Jets’ prime kick returner. “I used to look up to him. He wore No. 4 and I wore No. 4 [in high school]. I always wanted to go to the University of Miami. I was a big Clinton Portis fan and a big Devin Hester fan.”
McKnight may want to readjust his sites because while Hester’s excellent, Gale Sayers is historic. Joe accomplished something that hadn’t been done in the NFL since “the Kansas Comet” hit the scene in 1965-66.
McKnight’s 29.4-yard kickoff-return average in ’11-12 combined is the best average in back-to-back seasons in the NFL (minimum of 40 total returns) since Sayers’ 31.3 mark in those first two years of his too-short Pro Football Hall of Fame career. Here are the top six returners’ numbers in this category in the last 50 seasons:
|Gale Sayers, CHI||1965-66||44||1378||31.3||3|
|Abe Woodson, SF||1963-64||61||1815||29.8||3|
|Joe McKnight, NYJ||2011-12||73||2145||29.4||2|
|Travis Williams, GB||1967-68||46||1338||29.1||4|
|Jerry Azumah, CHI||2002-03||41||1191||29.05||2|
|Brad Smith, NYJ||2009-10||60||1742||29.03||3|
One question might well arise in regard to this factoid: Was Joe helped by the new rule that placed kickoffs on the kicking team’s 35 again with the 2011 season? In fact, that could be argued. The average return in the NFL in ’11 was 23.8, the average in ’12 was 23.6. Those are two of the best three season averages for the league since 1960. A high tide lifts all boats and surely McKnight’s average benefited.
Yet on the other hand, where are all the other 29-yard returners in 2011-12? McKnight’s the only one, so while his 29.4 isn’t as impressive compared to the league as even Brad Smith’s 29.03 for the Jets in 2009-10, it still stands on its own merits as one of the best two-season kickoff-return efforts since the birth of the AFL.
Now if Joe can avoid injury and avoid putting the ball on the turf better — and the NFL doesn’t legislate kickoffs out of existence — he’ll start to build his rep as one of pro football’s best return men over a three-year period as the 2013 season unfolds.
We Hardly Knew Ye
A few ex-Jets sightings on the transaction wire: DL Marcus Dixon and WR Mardy Gilyard both signed with Kansas City on Monday. In case anyone missed it, LB Aaron Maybin signed with Cincinnati on Jan. 25.
Tags: Aaron Maybin, Abe Woodson, Brad Smith, Gale Sayers, joe McKnight, Kansas Comet, Travis Williams
Posted in Randy Lange, Uncategorized | 164 Comments »
Joe McKnight revealed a great attitude about his role, his playing time and his pro career this season, and the NFL’s leading kickoff returner is taking that with him into this postseason, during which he’s hoping to play in one more game.
“I’m going to be in New Jersey now and I’m going to still work out,” McKnight said Monday as he and his teammates were packing up and moving out after the end of their season the day before. “I’m the first alternate to the Pro Bowl and I want to be ready in case they call me to play in the game.”
McKnight was the fans’ choice for the AFC’s kick returner in the Jan. 29 Pro Bowl in Hawaii, but that accounts for only 33 percent of the all-star voting. When the players’ and coaches’ votes were factored in, McKnight came up No. 2 behind the Steelers’ Antonio Brown, the Steelers’ regular kickoff and punt man.
Still, Joe’s showing in his first year as the Jets’ kickoff returner was sparkling. On his 34 returns, he averaged 31.6 yards, almost a full four yards better than the No. 2 man, Packers rookie Randall Cobb.
In fact, McKnight’s 31.6 is the most by a qualifying returner in the NFL in a long time. Ron Brown packed a 32.8 with three TDs for the 1985 Rams. And McKnight also becomes the fourth Jet to lead the league in KOR average, along with Justin Miller (28.3 in 2006), Ron Carpenter (27.7 in ’95) and Bobby Humphery (30.7 in ’84).
McKnight didn’t finish as strongly as he wanted. Problem No. 1 was that his fast start — returns of 50, a franchise-long 107 and 88 during that three-loss road trip in September-October — alerted opposing cover teams to his prowess.
Then came a series of physical mishaps — a dislocated finger, a knee, a toe, an elbow at Washington and a shoulder at Philadelphia. Mixed in among that were the muffed punt against New England and the fumbled kickoff at Denver.
“I think I left a couple of yards on the field,” he evaluated himself. “I got a little heavy this year, put too much weight on. I want to make sure I say in tune with everything, running, catching. I muffed a few kicks and I want to work on that. I feel like I can do more.”
He said he’s continuing treatments for his elbow and shoulder but that he won’t need any procedures done.
McKnight said he’d hate to lose one of his guiding lights on this Jets team if LaDainian Tomlinson moves on to another team or into his post-football career.
“I would love to see LT the rest of my years playing football,” he said. “I’m always going to be talking to him, keeping in contact with him. He’s basically been my mentor since I’ve been here.
“But I know this is a business. If LT’s not back, I’m the next one in line. Ad if he is, I’ve still got to do my job.”
Kerley’s Big Game
Jeremy Kerley’s 41-yard bull’s-eye completion to Matt Mulligan out of the Wildcat//Seminole/Mizzou/Texas formation in the first quarter of the Miami game was the second-longest by a non-quarterback in Jets franchise history.
The longest came in the 2009 AFC Championship Game in Lucas Oil Stadium when Brad Smith came onto the field, Mark Sanchez went off for just that play, and Smith, out of the shotgun, cranked up his 45-yard completion to Jerricho Cotchery against the Colts.
Smith that year, like Kerley this year, was listed by the Jets as a wide receiver. One could argue that Smith was more QB than WR from his four years under center at Missouri, but on the other hand, even though he got a good amount of exposure as the quarterback running the ‘Cat, I remember only one game where he got more than two plays in a row as “the man,” in the slushbowl game at New England in 2007. And that was only for a couple of series.
One thing is certain: Kerley, in the final game of his rookie season, turned in one of the most versatile performances by a Jet, along the lines of Smith and Leon Washington. Kerley had a 16-yard run, 71 yards on four receptions, the 41-yard completion and 26 yards on two punt returns. That’s 154 yards of offensive plus return yardage (it’s more than all-purpose yardage, which doesn’t include passing yardage, and more than total offense, which includes passing yardage but not returns).
The 154 yards are the most ever in a game by a player with at least one rush, reception, completion and punt return in Jets franchise history.
Tags: Brad Smith, Jeremy Kerley, joe McKnight, LaDainian Tomlinson, Leon Washington, Miami Dolphins
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Several wrinkles went into the Jets’ necessary Sunday triumph over the Redskins. Some were familiar friends such as another Mark Sanchez fourth-quarter rally and Santonio Holmes game-winning grab and another strong defensive rebound after giving up 10 points on their first two series.
One was a long-lost relative we hadn’t seen for a while: the Wildcat.
“I think it’s tough to defend some of that if you’re not really focused on it,” head coach Rex Ryan said today in a conference call with reporters. “This was a good team, really good against the run, and we thought we could challenge them by putting in some of those things. That was my feeling on it and Schotty said, ‘Yeah, that sounds like a great idea, let’s go for it” and Bill Callahan did a good job putting in the blocking schemes for it. I thought it was successful.”
Ryan, a defensive coach born and bred, downplayed the idea that he contributed a main component of the offensive game plan to coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
“We’re just trying to help. We’re all on the same page. If there’s something I see that might be decent for us, whether it’s a play or something like that, we’ll mention it,” he said. “We’ll have our defensive coaches sometimes come up with suggestions for the offense and vice versa. We don’t care where we get it from — even though I wanted credit after the touchdown … no, I’m kidding.”
The TD in question was Shonn Greene’s second scoring run to make it 27-16, coming with 3:42 to play, two plays after the Aaron Maybin/Calvin Pace strip sack and recovery against Rex Grossman 9 yards from a big shovelful of paydirt on the Redskins’ grave for this game.
It was the seventh and last direct snap of the game and it was the most successful of the bunch. On the first six ‘Cats, three snaps went to Greene, two to Jeremy Kerley and one to LaDainian Tomlinson, the Jets gained only 17 yards and no first downs. But three of them were used on the Jets’ first opening-drive TD in 10 games, which also was their longest scoring drive of the season in plays (17) and time (9:06).
And LT’s 5-yard gain was the play immediately preceding the dam-breaker, Sanchez’s and Holmes’ 30-yard pump-fake Sluggo (slant-and-go) TD play that gave the Jets’ their first lead at 20-16 with 4:49 to play.
So it’s hard to say definitively that the Wildcat turned the tide for the Green & White, but perhaps it worked just enough for things to loosen up when they did. But after Brad Smith ran the TurDucKen, er, the Wildcat/Seminole/Tiger more than 35 times last year, often to great effect, and after Ryan and Schottenheimer talked about working Tomlinson and Kerley into that role this preseason, the Jets may have called for the ‘Cat maybe twice in the first 11 games?
And considering the lack of use of the formation for most of the year, perhaps it will go back in mothballs for the final four-game push toward the playoffs. But it was a good example of the Jets coaches’ and players’ reliance on one another now that there’s no more wiggle left in the room they’ve left for themselves.
“We all want the same thing. We built this team, Mike Tannenbaum and myself and everybody else, on respect, about building people up. That’s who we are,” Ryan said. “We have a great deal of confidence in the people we have in this building. When we pull in the same direction, we’re tough to beat, no doubt about it. Are we perfect? No. Green Bay’s got a perfect record but even they’re not perfect. We recognize that. But we’ve just got to be true to ourselves and stay the course. We know what works for us and that’s basically what we do.”
Ryan gave an early preview of the injury questions that could be facing the Jets this week as they attempt to get to 8-5 at MetLife Stadium against the Chiefs on Sunday.
Tomlinson came away with his aggravated knee, but he did return to the game after twisting the knee on the Redskins sideline.
“I thought he got hurt because of a horsecollar tackle,” Ryan said, “but really, when he was getting up, he slipped on that little carpet or whatever they put on the sideline. He kind of slipped. I think he’ll be OK.
“He was able to finish, did a great job protecting the quarterback on third down. … In typical LT fashion, he said, ‘I can block. I’ll be fine.’ Here’s one of the greatest running backs in the history of the game — ‘I’ll go in and block.’ “
Joe McKnight was limited due to a hyperextended elbow. Ryan wasn’t sure today about the MRI results. “We’ll see how it is,” the coach said. “I probably don’t anticipate him practicing Wednesday. His status for the game, I’m not sure.”
And DT Mike DeVito, who sat out with his new knee injury, “was out jogging today” at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center, Ryan said. “I think his status is probably uncertain. I know DeVito’s going to do whatever he can to get back and play.”
In Search of Happier Returns
Ryan said that Kerley, who suffered his third punt fumble of the season, his second muff and his first lost fumble late in the second quarter, was at the complex today fielding punts. The coach is impressed with his rookie’s work habits and his athleticism, but that may not prevent him and ST coordinator Mike Westhoff from turning to Jim Leonhard in that role down the home stretch.
“I feel really comfortable with having Jim Leonhard back there,” Ryan said. “I know Westy and I feel the same way. I think that’s how we’re going to go.”
Mighty Red Zone Machine
RZ juggernaut might be overdoing it, but the Jets, with their two TDs in two opportunities vs. the ‘Skins, are now the No. 1 red zone offense in the NFL.
Sanchez and the Jets have now converted seven consecutive drives inside the opponents’ 20 into touchdowns — their longest streak since the end of the 2002 season, when they went 9-for-9 — and are 25-for-37 on the season, a 67.6 TD-drive percentage that tops No. 2 Tennessee (18-for-27, 66.7 percent) and No. 3 New England (35-for-53, 66.0 percent). And it is likely the Jets will retain the top spot once San Diego and Jacksonville are finished tonight and Week 13 is in the books.
The Jets are also 6-for-6 in their last two games, the first time they’ve been 6-for-6 or better in back-to-back games since the start of the 1993 season.
Tags: Bill Callahan, Brad Smith, Brian Schottenheimer, Jeremy Kerley, joe McKnight, LaDainian Tomlinson, Mike DeVito, Rex Ryan, Shonn Greene, Washington Redskins
Posted in Randy Lange | 58 Comments »
Kickoff returns and kickoff coverage will be under the Green & White microscope Sunday at Buffalo.
Joe McKnight, packing an NFL-leading 40.3-yard kickoff return average and coming off of Thursday’s announcement that he is the AFC Special Teams Player of the Month for October, will be trying to crack the Bills’ coverage unit, fourth in the league in opponents’ return average and sixth in opponents’ average start after return (20.1).
And when the Bills drop back for Nick Folk’s kickoffs, it’ll be Brad Smith in the end zone. Jets fans all know what Smitty can do, although the Buffalo approach to running kicks out of the end zone has been conservative and has led to Smith averaging 20.6 yards on only five returns. And he’ll be trying to slice through the Jets’ coverage, which is second in the NFL in opponents’ average drive start (19.5) with a league-high 14 inside-the-20 starts.
Can you say key matchup?
Jets ST coordinator Mike Westhoff said this week that at first, when McKnight replaced Antonio Cromartie for the final return at Oakland, he didn’t expect him to blossom into his latest monster returner.
“Now as I watched Joe develop and saw how hard he worked in practice, and you do see that speed and ability, then yes, then I believed he could do it,” Westhoff said. “He deserves the accolade but there’s a whole group of guys that when they go out they have a firm belief and they practice exceptionally hard. So I have a lot of confidence in them. To me it’s a singular award but it ends up showing what a whole group can get done.”
Many of those blockers also opened those seams for Smith to rip through last season, when he came in second in the NFL with his 28.6-yard average. And many of the Jets cover men haven’t had a chance to take a whack at Smith before as they may get to do Sunday.
“I talk to Eric [Smith] all the time and I thought I told him he’s not allowed to hit me,” Brad said about Eric’s offer to hit him on the opening kickoff. “I’m looking forward to seeing him. It’s going to be different. They’re football players that know what they’re capable of. Special teams is a really good unit and we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
Smith said the philosophy of Buffalo and its ST guru, Bruce DeHaven, is different than Westhoff’s approach of “We run ‘em from the bleachers.” The Bills have taken touchbacks on 25 of the 31 kickoffs they’ve received, an 80.6 percent rate that’s highest in the NFL. And all TBs plus returns have given them an average drive start of their 19.2-yard line, next-to-last in the league.
“It’s tough, if I’m being honest with you, knowing we can make plays,” Smith said, “but at the same time it’s more about the team. There are times when you can take a chance and hit a couple but at the same time, you get tackled at the 10- or 15-yard line, that hurts the team. So we have to be smart back there. We’ll do our best.”
There’s no question all returners get to do their best under Westhoff, who head coach Rex Ryan touted for the assistant coaches’ wing of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
This prompted my good friend Rod Boone of Newsday to ask the coach if he’d rank those seven returners he’s had since 2002 who have run back at least one kickoff for a touchdown. “Someday maybe I’ll rank them,” said Westhoff. “I don’t want to do that right know. Each guy’s different.”
Yet while he put off the ranking, he still provided a skinny on most of those returners:
McKnight — “The thing that Joe’s done the best, that he’s doing right now very well, is he’s believing in his reads. As he hits it, he hits it really hard. … Unfortunately last week he didn’t believe in his second read [vs. San Diego]. They only had one guy who could’ve tackled him and he runs the other way. He could’ve [scored] easily. But that’s what he’s done well and he’s gotten better and better at it.”
Smith — “Brad would see things a little bit and then burst.”
Leon Washington — “Leon was just a real natural running back who had great running skills.”
Justin Miller — “He had incredible speed. He just exploded. Before you knew it, he was past you.”
One thing Westhoff took playful issue with Smith on was about Smith saying of Westhoff on his conference call with Jets reporters this week that “Sometimes he can be very harsh.”
“I was disappointed he said that, to tell you the truth,” the coach said. “I don’t think I’m harsh … I don’t know, maybe I am.”
Maybe “gruff” fits Westhoff better. Gruff but always with the ulterior motive of optimizing his players’ individual skills and his team’s ability to win a particular game. He used to guide Smith, who returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in his two years handling that job. Now on Sunday Smith will be the bad guy in white with blue and red trim that the Jets want to shut down, McKnight, the good guy in green they want to turn loose.
That’s the Westhoff way.
*Special Teams Saturday
Tags: Brad Smith, Bruce DeHaven, Eric Smith, joe McKnight, kickoff returns, Mike Westhoff
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The way the week’s hype has gone, you might think Aaron Maybin had been traded for Brad Smith and those two are the only ones playing against their former teams in Sunday’s Jets-Bills matchup.
But the Jets have two other former Bills on the roster, and one who’s been contributing on special teams the past two games, in Ellis Lankster.
“At Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Bills have a great crowd, a great situation,” Lankster told me today. “I enjoyed my time there but now I’m a Jet all the way and I’m ready to get at Buffalo.”
Lankster began his NFL career as the Bills’ seventh-round selection in 2009 and played in 10 games that season with three tackles and a pass defense. He was a final cut by Buffalo last year and filled his 2010 season by signing on with the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He came to the Jets as a reserve-future signing in January, then was a final cut again this September.
But the coaches and the front office didn’t forget Lankster’s major preseason contribution, the 67-yard interception-return TD in the summer finale against the Eagles. He was re-signed Oct. 11 and played against the Patriots and Dolphins, contributing four special teams tackles in those two games.
With Isaiah Trufant (hamstring) missing time (Trufant is questionable for Sunday), Lankster has also been getting time as a flyer in the Jets’ vise, and if he gets to reprise that role again vs. the Bills, he’ll be going up against an old friend.
“I’ll get to go up against Leodis McKelvin,” he said. “He was a good friend when I was there. In training camp, me and Leodis, our rooms were right across from each other. I used to take pointers from him and [safety] George Wilson all the time.”
Now he’ll be trying to wire McKelvin along with his vise partner so that Jeremy Kerley can shake and bake on a punt return or three up at Ralph Wilson.
The two other ex-Bills on the Jets are Maybin, whom I visited with today in the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center locker room and will write about in my Sunday morning advance on the game, and TE Shawn Nelson, who will be profiled in a story by Andrew LeRay later this afternoon. Head coach Rex Ryan said Nelson is not yet ready to suit up and won’t play against the Bills, whom he played for in 2009 and last year.
The Jets’ four players who had been limited in team drills at Thursday’s practice were limited again today and all four are listed as questionable for the Bills.
Regarding WR Plaxico Burress (low back), Rex Ryan said at today’s news conference, “The thing with Plax is that he’s sore. … You think he’ll be fine but sometimes those backs are troublesome. So hopefully he’s feeling good when we play on Sunday.”
It’s a similar view for both D-linemen on the list, Mike DeVito (knee) and Kenrick Ellis (ankle).
“I don’t feel great about it right now,” Ryan said. “If we were going to play tomorrow, I would say probably not. This one could really be a gametime decision for both those guys.”
The five other injured Jets all practiced full and are probable for the Bills: LB David Harris, DT Marcus Dixon, C Nick Mangold, LB Calvin Pace and DE Ropati Pitoitua.
For the Bills, DT Kyle Williams (foot), T Demetrius Bell (shoulder) and CB Aaron Williams (chest) have been listed as out by coach Chan Gailey. LB Chris Kelsay (calf) and T Chris Hairston (ankle) are questionable. And QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, with his reported chest bruise, WR Donald Jones (ankle) and G Andy Levitre (shoulder) and RB Johnny White (illness) are all probable.
Tags: Aaron Maybin, Brad Smith, Buffalo Bills, Ellis Lankster, Kenrick Ellis, Leodis McKelvin, Mike DeVito, Plaxico Burress, Shawn Nelson
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Updated, 4:35 p.m. ET
Heading into November, Joe McKnight has been on a return roll, and that roll continues today with word that the NFL has named the Jets’ second-year man its AFC Special Teams Player of the Month for October.
“It feels good,” McKnight said after practice today. “It was a long road to get here and I just want to keep thriving off of this and just keep making plays.”
McKnight took over the kickoff return duties from Antonio Cromartie with the Jets’ first game of the 10th month and promptly turned in the longest play in franchise history and the third-longest kickoff return in NFL history, a 107-yard runback for a TD that enabled the Jets to tie the Ravens early in their Sunday night affair. He also erupted for an 88-yard return to set up a 20-yard touchdown drive the next week at New England.
For the four games in October, McKnight had 11 returns for 443 yards, a rocking 40.3-yard average. Add in two September returns and his 40.0 mark is almost 10 yards ahead of the field for the league leadership in return average.
The NFL began naming AFC and NFC Players of the Month for offense, defense and special teams in 1986. In that span the Jets have gained 17 POM awards. Four of the last six of those have gone to players on coordinator Mike Westhoff’s special teams — KR Justin Miller (October 2006), K Mike Nugent (December 2006), KR Brad Smith (December 2010) and now McKnight.
McKnight is happy now to be one of Coach Westy’s big contributors.
“Coach Westhoff believes in me, so if he believes in me, I know I can do it because Coach Westhoff doesn’t give anybody the time of day,” McKnight said with a chuckle. “When he believed in me, that I could do it, that’s when I knew I could do it and go out there and make plays.”
Perhaps November will open McKnight for more plays and more honors. As head coach Rex Ryan said this week about using No. 25 on offense more at Buffalo on Sunday, “Yes, absolutely, he’ll get more opportunities this week.”
Tags: Baltimore Ravens, Brad Smith, joe McKnight, New England Patriots, Rex Ryan
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Nobody’s issued a 100 percent ironclad official statement to the effect that sore-chested Antonio Cromartie will give his kickoff-return career a rest and focus on cornerback beginning Sunday night at Baltimore.
“I’m prepared to go a lot of ways,” special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff said Thursday. And Rex Ryan offered his view of Cro continuing to return kicks with his bruised rib and lung: “No way … unless we need him.”
To all of that Joe McKnight said of Cromartie on returns, “I don’t think we need him. I’m good. I can do it.”
McKnight showed how ready he is with a 50-yard return with 2:37 to play that, under different circumstances, could have done for the Jets’ comeback effort at Oakland what Cromartie’s 47-yarder did for their wild-card comeback at Indianapolis last season.
“The ball bounced,” Westhoff said. “It was kind of hard to field. Joe was a little slow to get going because of the way the ball hit. But he did a real nice job. We blocked it very well but he ran it well.”
McKnight agreed with both premises.
“I’m trying to keep moving on, making progress off of every turn,” he said. “And I’ve got Westerman in front of me setting blocks, PT [Patrick Turner], I got Mully [Matt Mulligan] back there. They really make it easy for me.”
CBS’ end zone replay showed the beauty of how well the Jets blocked it and McKnight returned it. Nick Bellore, Mulligan and John Conner — the latter two linking hands as the Jets’ two-man wedge — mowed down three Raiders as McKnight veered right around them. Garrett McIntyre kicked his man out left and Westerman his guy right. McKnight angled back left through that gap and behind blocks from Kyle Wilson, Josh Mauga, Turner and Brodney Pool to get to the left sideline before he ran out of room.
The only player on the return team not in that shot was Marquice Cole, who was on the far right but also walled off his man off-camera.
Under Westhoff, of course, 50-yard-plus returns have become business as usual. But it is perhaps significant from a small sampling that since Brad Smith ran back the opening kickoff 97 yards at Pittsburgh in Week 15 last season, the Jets, except for two Cromartie 40-yarders, has been kind of average, with an average on the next 31 returns of 20.7 yards.
Then along came McKnight with the longest kickoff return of his pro career in any game, showing the Jets there is a direction they can go besides Cro.
McKnight still chuckles about his relationship with Westhoff, which started out rockily but has reached a stage of mutual respect.
“It’s tough, but he always wants you to be your best. That’s what I get out of it,” McKnight said. “It might make you mad, but he wants you to give your full effort. He wants your best from you.”
The 23-year-old second-year man from Southern Cal and River Ridge, La., wants the same from himself, it seems, because he’s eager but not anxious about getting his full NFL career, including a greater offensive role, off and running.
“I’m doing a way better job of everything, really,” he said. “I’ve just got to be patient and my time will come,” he said. “It’s still the beginning part of the season. We have a lot more games to play.”
As for the fourth game of the season at Baltimore’s loud and proud M&T Bank Stadium, it looks as if he’ll get his chance to expand on his kickoff curriculum vitae. The last word on the subject from Westhoff will have to suffice until tomorrow night.
“Joe’s taken almost all the reps in practice this week, and I’m probably more prepared to go that way,” the coach said. “But we’ll see Cro’s doing and go from there and make a decision.”
Heimerdinger Passes Away
Mike Heimerdinger, the Jets’ offensive coordinator in 2005 as well as the coordinator for the Titans and Broncos, died Friday after a year-long battle with a rare form of cancer. He was 58. We offer our condolences to his immediate family and to his NFL family.
*Special Teams Saturday
Tags: Antonio Cromartie, Baltimore Ravens, Brad Smith, joe McKnight, Mike Westhoff, Oakland Raiders, Rex Ryan
Posted in Randy Lange | 36 Comments »
After the Jets reportedly came to terms with two of their own unrestricted free agents — WR Santonio Holmes and T Wayne Hunter — this week, numerous media outlets reported Thursday that UFA Brad Smith is set to join the Buffalo Bills. While clubs have been able to negotiate or extend offer sheets to UFAs, RFAs and non-exclusive franchise players, they won’t be able to officially sign those eligible players until Friday at 6 p.m. ET.
Smith , a fourth-round pick from Missouri in 2006, finished second in the NFL last season with a 28.6-yard kick-return average and scored on two returns. Used in the “Seminole” formation, he also rushed for a career-high 299 yards on his 38 carries. Listed as a wide receiver, Smith had a personal-best 32 catches in 2007, then combined for just 11 receptions over the past two seasons.
If Smith does sign with the Jets’ division rival, there will be a vacancy at kickoff returner. Running back Joe McKnight, a second-year player from USC, and rookie wideout Jeremy Kerley, who averaged 27.2 yards on 37 kickoff returns at TCU, may be candidates to fill the role. Dwight Lowery has some collegiate return experience as well and there is still plenty of time before the regular season kicks off on Sept. 11.
The Jets are fortunate to have one of the top special teams coordinators in pro football history and Mike Westhoff seems to excel no matter whose name — Smith, (Leon) Washington, (Justin) Miller, (Craig) Yeast, (Chad) Morton — is on the back of the uniform. You should also consider the NFL has moved up kickoffs from the 30 to the 35-yard line and Westhoff estimates that approximately 40 percent of kicks will result in touchbacks.
Smith was a versatile weapon, but his snaps at quarterback meant the ball was coming out of Mark Sanchez’s hands. Rex Ryan has already anointed the franchise signalcaller as one of his team captains and said the Jets would be Sanchez’s team in 2011.
Meanwhile the Nnamdi Asomugha watch continues. NFL.com reported Thursday that “the Houston Texans appear to be the leaders” for the free agent cornerback. The same website has also stated that “the Jets are serious negotiations with Asomugha.”
But we remind everyone here this evening that the Jets haven’t confirmed any free agency developments and that they — and all 31 other clubs — won’t be able to sign UFAs, RFAs and non-exclusive franchise players until Friday. Further, players who sign contracts with new teams won’t be able to practice with those teams until the start of the league year on Thursday, Aug. 4.
Tags: Brad Smith, Jeremy Kerley, joe McKnight, Nnamdi Asomugha
Posted in Eric Allen | 61 Comments »
The first week of the Jets’ offseason is under way as the Green & White have a large contingent of scouts at the Senior Bowl proceedings down in Mobile, Ala. The NFL’s annual draft will take place April 28-30 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, but nobody knows when free agency will begin as the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement is set to expire on March 3.
When an agreement is eventually reached, the Jets potentially could have as many as 17 unrestricted free agents. They had just seven UFAs last year because only players who had been in the league six years or more qualified for free agency. But that number had always been four years in the past and the six-year model, which rendered hundreds of players restricted rather than unrestricted free agents in 2010, is expected revert to its old standard.
If that’s the case, the Jets UFA list would stand at 17 and would include QB Kellen Clemens, CB Drew Coleman, CB Antonio Cromartie, WR Braylon Edwards, DE Shaun Ellis, K Nick Folk, ILB David Harris, WR Santonio Holmes, T Wayne Hunter, S James Ihedigbo, LB Lance Laury, S Brodney Pool, DL Trevor Pryce, FB Tony Richardson, WR Brad Smith, S Eric Smith and P Steve Weatherford.
Only Rob Turner, with three accrued seasons, would be an RFA, meaning the Jets could place a tender on the veteran lineman and protect themselves from losing him by earning the right to match another team’s contract offer and/or guaranteeing compensation in return for his departure.
Six of the aforementioned 17 possible UFAs — Edwards, Ellis, Hunter, Pool, Pryce and Richardson — will have at least six accrued seasons on their résumés so you can definitely pen them in as unrestricted. The only catch here is the Jets are free to conduct normal contract negotiations with any of these players until the current CBA expires.
But there are limitations that include the 30 percent rule and a possible return of the salary cap. It should also be noted that there is no guarantee that a cap, which placed not only a ceiling but a floor on teams’ spending, will return.
“You still have budgets you have to hit,” said GM Mike Tannenbaum on the prospect of no cap before free agency commenced in ’10. “You still have targets that you have to be at.”
Tannenbaum and the Jets’ brass are already hard at work with the goal of getting the Jets to Indianapolis and Super Bowl XLVI after two consecutive appearances in the AFC Championship Game. Once a new CBA is reached, they’ll have to make a number of interesting decisions …
“Hitman” Harris is one of the NFL’s top linebackers and his teammates voted him the Curtis Martin Team MVP. His 119 tackles in ’10 led the Jets for the third time in four seasons and he also added three sacks. The Jets like to keep their young stars in house as evidenced by the recent extensions of D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold and Darrelle Revis.
Will it be possible to keep both Edwards and Holmes? If not, which playmaker will the Jets attempt to lock down?
Are Kyle Wilson and Vladimir Ducasse ready for prime time?
Wilson, selected No. 29 overall out of Boise State last April, and Ducasse, the club’s second -round pick (No. 61 overall) out of UMass, could be in line for prominent roles in 2011. Cromartie had a solid season as the Jets’ No. 2 corner, but he could command a big deal on the open market and Wilson could pair up with the NFL’s top corner, Darrelle Revis, on the outside.
Hunter played very well down the stretch and he could find some suitors. Ducasse is a raw talent who will benefit from a year under his belt under coach Bill Callahan. Speaking of Coach Cally, lots of folks were worried about what the Jets would do at LG after Alan Faneca moved on. Matt Slauson performed pretty well, didn’t he?
Is the Big Katt still prowling in Florham Park come 2011? Shaun Ellis, whose 72.5 regular-season sacks rank third in franchise history, can still play at a high level as we saw in his dominant performance in the Jets’ AFC Divisional Round win over the Patriots.
Jim Leonhard is under contract, but the Jets’ postseason starting safety pair — Smith and Pool — are both set to become UFAs.
The versatile Brad Smith, who played a big role on offense and was the NFL’s second-leading KR man, is on the list of UFAs as well. He joins K Nick Folk and P Steve Weatherford in the special teams conversation.
There are lots of questions that will be answered in due time for this Super Bowl contender. Tannenbaum is scheduled to hold a season ending conference call with the media on Friday.
Tags: Brad Smith, David Harris, NFL Draft, offseason, Senior Bowl
Posted in Eric Allen | 53 Comments »
You expected Rex Ryan to pull back from the rhetoric now?
True, on Monday, Ryan and his frequent competitor Mike Tomlin, the Steelers head coach, made it sound like Sunday’s AFC Championship Game at Heinz Field would feature a lovefest at halftime. But the respect for friends and foes always yields as the game approaches, and Wednesday at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center was no different for Rex.
“It feels a little different this year than it did last year, ” Ryan said at the first big news conference of Championship Week in front of the red, bestarred AFC backdrop. “I think the difference is that we were the only ones really who believed in ourselves last year.
“I think expectations are high, not just by us and our organization in this building, but with people around the country who notice the Jets are an excellent football team.
Ryan acknowledged the challenge posed by Tomlin’s side and that this is going to be “a triple-chinstrap game, a straight-ahead-no-fair-dodgin’ game,” not to mention “a huge challenge.” But he also acknowledged some more of his inner thoughts and passions about his vision for the Jets.
“I want that green and white confetti coming down. I want to hold the trophy for the AFC, the Lamar Hunt Trophy. We want that to be ours,” he said. “We want the hats, we want the T-shirts. We want to experience that. We know it’s going to be one heck of a battle, we understand that. But this is our mission. We want to accomplish that.”
If they accomplish something only one other Jets team has before — winning a league or conference crown to advance to the Super Bowl — they should be doing it in as good health as they can be in.
Taylor, Smith and the Injury Report
The most serious situation sounded like LB Jason Taylor, who came out of the Patriots game with a slight concussion. But Ryan said that while Taylor didn’t practice today, “it’s obvious he’s going to play on Sunday.
“He finished the game,” Rex said. “There were some signs of a concussion later that night, so we’re just being, however you want to say it, cautious. But he’s passed all the tests, he’s been cleared, so he’s ready to go.”
Perhaps the other big name with the aching body is Brad Smith, the wideout/Seminole QB/kickoff returner who pulled a groin muscle at Indianapolis. But Smith said he feels a lot better this week and Ryan listed him as “limited” for today’s team drills. I’ll have a separate story on Smith a little later this afternoon.
Other limited Jets are CB Drew Coleman, LB Darrelle Revis, S James Ihedigbo. Then there are six full-go players: Antonio Cromartie, Mike DeVito, Santonio Holmes, Nick Mangold, Sione Pouha and Mark Sanchez.
Update, 5:30 p.m.: The Steelers report lists five players, four who didn’t participate in team drills, and all five were mentioned Tuesday by Tomlin.
The DNPs were S Troy Polamalu (Achilles), CB Bryant McFadden (abdomen), WR Arnaz Battle (illness) and S Will Allen (knee). The limited player is DE Aaron Smith (triceps), the former Pro Bowler who’s been battling that muscle tear since October.
Next on Revis Island?
Ryan said one of the beauties of having Revis working the corner is that “a lot of times they’ll take a shot over there,” at their best receiver being covered by No. 24. “We want them to. We think we have as good a chance of catching that ball as you do. Only one other time do I remember seeing that in my life, and that was with Deion Sanders.”
Which of Pitt’s talented WRs will Revis be covering on Sunday? “I’ll say this right now — we’re not going to line him up on Kemoeatu.” As in Chris Kemoeatu, the Steelers’ 6’3″, 344-pound left guard.
Tags: Brad Smith, Chris Kemoeatu, Darrelle Revis, Jason Taylor, Mike Tomlin, PIttsburgh Steelers, Rex Ryan
Posted in Randy Lange | 17 Comments »