Tight end Hayden Smith got a lot of help from a lot of teammates and coaches in his newest sporting endeavor.
But Smith had a good base of his own to build on. Playing basketball in Australia and on the U.S. small-college level, moving on to professional rugby in England and to the U.S. national rugby team, and then graduating in April to an NFL roster shows he knows how to cross-train. And he was a football rookie who certainly knew how to act like a pro in the Jets’ locker room this past season.
That last is in fact one of the requirements for the Bill Hampton Award. And Smith this week was informed that he was the ninth winner of the Hampton Award, presented annually by equipment director Gus Granneman and his staff.
“It feels good. We have a great group of equipment people, and I guess they were happy with me in the locker room this year,” Smith told me today. “I didn’t know specifically about Bill Hampton, but I had seen Josh Baker’s jersey hanging in the equipment room, and I wanted why that was. Now I know.”
Hampton was the former longtime Jets equipment director who retired to Florida in 2001. Clay, his son, took over running the equipment room then, and remains with the club as the senior director of operations. Granneman has been with the team since ’94 as well and has run the equipment room since ’06.
Gus said this year’s final vote, taken among the five-member staff and the three previous award-winners still with the team — Darrelle Revis, Matt Slauson and, last year, Baker — was the closest since the award was first presented to S Erik Coleman in 2004, with Smith edging rookie DT Damon “Snacks” Harrison by a single vote.
“Hayden had a built-in advantage, being an older guy that had played a professional sport already,” Granneman said. “We try to take into account how they are with their teammates, not just the support staff, and a lot of times rookies coming in don’t realize that. Hayden was the kind of guy that worked hard and had a positive, friendly attitude every day, whether it was first thing in the morning or he was walking in from the practice field. It’s always nice when you have several guys that are deserving of the award, like Hayden and Damon.”
Smith, 27, acknowledged the hard work it took to make the transition from rugby to getting that all-important toe- and handhold on an NFL roster.
“It was, I guess, quite a big transition to make, probably mentally more than physically. I had a lot to contend with in really learning the sport and its intricacies, learning the different techniques and coming to terms with exactly what was required,” said Hayden, often the last player off the practice field during the season. “Slowly but surely, I became more comfortable as the season progressed.”
Smith looked like a big (6’7″, 245), raw rugby player in his first OTA practices in May, but he quickly made adjustments and began looking the part on into training camp. He was a final cut on Aug. 31, cleared waivers and was signed to the Jets’ practice squad the next day. In late October he was signed to the active roster.
He got his feet wet with four plays in the home game against Miami on Oct. 28, was inactive the next four games, then played in the final four games, getting in 32 plays for the season. His most noticeable contribution was his 16-yard reception on a behind-the-line throwback from Greg McElroy to convert third-and-9 in the second quarter of the final home game against San Diego. But he said the Jacksonville game two weeks earlier, when he got in half his plays for the season, was quite meaningful to him.
“I got to get in that game and get a little momentum,” he said. “It definitely makes a difference, being able to have a few plays on special teams, then a few more on offense. That also gets you to stop overanalyzing things and just getting into the flow.”
The Jets, like all teams, occasionally take an extended look at players from other sports. Pete Carroll brought in U.S. World Cup goalkeeper Tony Meola as a potential kickoff man in 1994. Eric Mangini invited college heavyweight wrestlers Cole Konrad and Tommy Rowlands in for tryouts at the 2007 rookie minicamp. Cleveland State basketballer J’Nathan Bullock got a look in Rex Ryan’s first offseason as head coach in ’09.
Most of them wash out quickly. The fact that Smith has survived through an entire NFL season indicates that the Jets like his prospects and he just might be tougher to run off. But he knows the hard work has just begun. After taking a few weeks to reunite with his old Saracens rugby mates in England, he is now back in Chicago to begin his personal training and will return to North Jersey when the Jets’ offseason strength and conditioning program commences in a few months.
“I think going into any of these situations, you have to make a conscious decision that you’re going to be a success with it,” he said. “If you’re not willing to do the work that’s required, you have zero chance of success. Obviously, even with the work, it’s not guaranteed. Going into it, I knew I had to work as hard as I could physically and academically to give myself any sort of a chance. I felt I’ve done that this year, just to be in the position where I am now. But it’s the same dilemma. I’m going to have to work as hard as I can in the classroom and on the field to continue to progress and get where I want to go.”
There are clearly a few goals ahead for the one of the first Aussies to stick in the NFL at a position other than punter. One is to make it onto the Jets’ active roster for a full season. And if he’s done that, at this time next year he’ll get an added bonus. He’ll get to vote on the 2013 Hampton Award.
Tags: Bill Hampton, Greg McElroy, Gus Granneman, Hayden Smith, Josh Baker
Posted in Randy Lange | 93 Comments »
Green & White insiders know that the Jets’ equipment staff has a quality similar to the Steelers’ head-coaching lineage and the current British monarchy — lots of stability over the past five decades. Equipment manager Bill Hampton took the baton in the Sixties and passed it to son Clay, who passed it to Gus Granneman, who holds it today.
And the rock-steadiness filtered down to the room’s assistants, none steadier and more beloved than Mickey Rendine, a lifelong Long Islander and New Yorker who died last week at the age of 92.
"Mickey was a good friend of mine — I knew him over 40 years," said Bill Hampton from his Jacksonville home today. "He was great. He was serious at times but he could be funny as anything at other times."
Hamp recalled hiring Rendine, who also worked as the Yankees’ longtime visiting clubhouse manager and for the Mets for a while, back in the Jets’ Shea days.
"I actually met him our first year in Shea Stadium ," Hampton said. "He didn’t work for the Mets for very long, but he was away for a year and when I saw him again, I said, ‘Heck, why don’t you come work for me?’ He did and it was a great combo."
Clay, the Jets’ senior director of operations, remembered when he started hanging out at Shea and in the Jets’ small Hofstra University equipment room and how Rendine took him under his wing.
"Mickey really went out of his way to show me things, to teach me about the business all the way through," Clay recalled today. "He was really good with people. He really went out of his way to help me, and he had the Midas touch with the players. We went through some rough years and he always had a way of keeping the guys as upbeat as possible in tough times."
Bill reminisced about one of those lighthearted moments during Walt Michaels’ head-coaching regime.
"It was very cold late in the season and Walt suggested to me that I should go out and get pantyhose for the players to wear while they were practicing. Mickey actually put on a pair of the pantyhose and did his job in the locker room that way," Hampton recalled. "He made me laugh."
Rendine’s verbal calling card to the Jets players from 1968 through the 1996 season was "Remember one thing, young man, when you leave New York, you’re camping out." And to all who visited the Jets’ Hofstra locker room such as this reporter who was getting noticeably older at the time, he shortened that advice to a universal greeting: "Hello, young man."
That was hardly his only one-liner. Granneman, who began working with Rendine in 1994, said when former assistants gather to chat, their favorite Mickey lines always come up.
"One of our favorites was ‘Let me hear the music, boys!’ which meant to get the vacuum out and start the cleanup after practice," Gus said. "Everything was in baseball terms. Something small was a single and something that was really great or big was a home run — which was rare as there were a lot more triples. ‘On the express’ meant ASAP and ‘take the local’ meant we could take our time in doing it."
Rendine also was a veritable concierge, helping to steer Jets players to the best restaurants, procuring tickets to Broadway shows, and advising the rookies where to go and where not to go. Whenever he took Granneman out for a bite, Gus never paid. "You’re on scholarship," Rendine would tell him.
In the Nineties, Mickey and Marvin Jones would always talk trash. And another Marvin from that decade, Marvin Washington, sent this message up from Dallas to Newsday’s legacy.com Guest Book:
Young Man, you were one of the "good people" who even though we didn’t win as much as we all wanted to, made Fulton Ave a great place to go to. The lockerroom, dinners and long plane rides I will always remember. GOD Bless your soul Mickey Rendine!
"Mickey was a very unique person," Granneman said from the spacious Atlantic Health Jets Training Center equipment room that Rendine missed working in by a dozen years but whose influence lives on. "He will certainly be missed."
Tags: Gus Granneman
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Equipment manager Gus Granneman and his staff are busy today with a hamperful of newly assigned uniform numbers to recently assigned players. But we could have seen one player/number combination coming down One Jets Drive:
LaDainian Tomlinson will wear No. 21 in green and white.
Tomlinson, of course, has worn 21 since he entered the NFL as the San Diego Chargers’ fifth pick overall in the 2001 draft.
To get that winning blackjack hand, LT had to fight off a few new teammates who also had connections to the number. CB Dwight Lowery began his Jets career in 2008 as No. 34 before starting anew with 21 last offseason. And newly signed S Brodney Pool had worn 21 with Cleveland since the Browns drafted him in the second round of the ’05 draft.
Pool will wear 22 as a Jet. Lowery becomes 26, pending official league approval of the change.
Newly signed LB/ST Lance Laury will receive his new number once he arrives. Here are the 14 numbers just assigned to new arrivals and some of the future signees from last month:
|K Nick Folk||2||CB Dwight Lowery||26|
|P T.J. Conley||8||CB Antonio Cromartie||31|
|WR Larry Taylor||15||LS Tanner Purdum||46|
|WR S.J. Green||18||LB Ezra Butler||53|
|RB LaDainian Tomlinson||21||LB Josh Mauga||58|
|S Brodney Pool||22||T Mike Turkovich||72|
|DB Bo Smith||25||DE Rodrique Wright||98|
Hunter Stays Home
Tackle Wayne Hunter, a restricted free agent, has signed his contract tender to remain with the Jets. Leon Washington, Kellen Clemens and Drew Coleman are the Jets’ remaining RFAs who have not signed their tenders.
Pick the All-Time NFL Draft
If you’re a draftnik from way back, you’ll love spending some time on NFL.com helping to choose the 75 most valuable draft picks of all time.
The NFL Website’s editors narrowed down the first 74 drafts in league history to the top 320 players, and you can vote by choosing between pairs of randomly generated players. After selecting winners of 30 matchups, you’ll begin to build your own Top 10 list.
You can vote through April 18 and then the Top 75 will be revealed during the draft — picks 11-75 from April 19-22 on NFL.com and NFL Network, then the Top 10 during the three days of this year’s draft April 22-24.
Remembering Fallen Titans
Bob Mischak Jr., son of the All-AFL New York Titans guard, passed on a list of 2009 player deaths compiled by the Professional Football Researchers Association and available on the official online home of the Baltimore Colts Alumni.
One name jumped out on that list. Al Dorow, who hailed from Okemos, Mich., died last Dec. 7 at the age of 80.
Dorow, as old-time Jets/Titans fans know instinctively, was the starting QB behind Mischak Sr.’s offensive line for 27 of the Titans’ first 28 games in 1960-61.
The only game Dorow didn’t start was the very first contest in franchise history, when Dick Jamieson got the nod. But Dorow came on to complete the 27-3 win over the Bills at the Polo Grounds on Sept. 11, 1960, then fashioned a starting record of 13-14 through the end of the ’61 season.
Others on that list of 2009 departed Titans include HB Dave Ames (1961 team, hometown of Richmond, Va., died Aug. 4, 72 years old), T Ernie Barnes (1960, Los Angeles, April 27, 70), DB Eddie Bell (1960, Philadelphia, Nov. 16, 78), and DB Don Herndon (1960, Lakeland, Fla., Jan 10, 72).
To the families of Al, Dave, Ernie, Eddie and Don, our heartfelt belated condolences for the memories they created and the foundation they helped build a half century ago.
Tags: Brodney Pool, Dwight Lowery, Gus Granneman, LaDainian Tomlinson, Mike Devlin, NFL Draft
Posted in Randy Lange | 24 Comments »
Chansi Stuckey needed a year to show that his good hands and airborne body control from the ’07 training camp weren’t mirages. But he showed that Sunday against the Dolphins with his 22-yard touchdown catch on Brett Favre’s fourth-down heave with 6:52 left in the first half, giving the Jets a lead they never lost.
That play also happened to be Stuckey’s first pro TD catch and first pro catch of any kind. He’s listed as a second-year pro because he made it to the regular season last year, but he didn’t play in the opener vs. the Patriots and went on IR shortly after that game.
"It’s great," Stuckey said of his emotions at finally getting into and contributing mightily in his first NFL game. "The ball was up there, but I knew it was my ball. I made up my mind that I needed to come down with it. I was going to get hit after the catch, but I was able to come down with it and sustain the hit."
It didn’t hurt that Dolphins safety Yeremiah Bell took several steps forward, as if to try to help finish off Favre, who was hit twice in the pocket, the second time as he launched his answered prayer of a pass. But Stuckey, who climbed air stairs to make a few catches at last year’s camp, still probably would’ve come down with it a foot inside the goal line to give the Jets a 13-7 lead.
After the game, Stuckey said, "I’ve got to find who has the ball." The souvenir’s safety was never in doubt as equipment director Gus Granneman’s crew snapped up the pigskin, even despite some confusion due to the two-point play that quickly followed, and put it away for safe keeping. And soon the equipment team will ship Stuckey’s ball out with several other "first" balls for other Jets, to be painted and made suitable for trophy case or mantel.
Stuckey said he may ask to have a little extra design work added to his ball. "I might get Brett to sign it," he said.
For historical buffs, since 1992 the 22-yard Favre-to-Stuckey pass was only the sixth fourth-down conversion of 11 yards or longer and the second-longest fourth-down TD connection. The previous long in that span: the 29-yard fourth-and-goal strike from Neil O’Donnell to then-rookie Keyshawn Johnson in the third game of the 1996 season.
Here are few more Miami morsels to savor before we head into Wednesday’s big media smorgasbord in advance of the home opener against the Patriots:
Red Zone Rebound?
The Jets’ 36.7 percent red zone touchdown rate last season was 31st in the NFL. One game does not a turnaround make, but their two shorter touchdown drives at Dolphin Stadium on Sunday were both RZ opportunities, giving them a 66.7 rate after one game.
Major Plus in Miami
The Jets and Dolphins each had one takeaway for a zero turnover differential Sunday. But that doesn’t hurt the Green & White’s takeaway talents in this series since they got the upper hand in 1998. In the 21 games since that season, the Jets are plus-25 in TO differential over Miami (24 giveaways, 49 takeaways).
Dolphins’ Tough Sledding
The Dolphins’ 11 second-half rushing yards (on four carries, all in the third quarter) were tied for the third-fewest rushing yards by a Jets opponent in any half in the last 10 seasons. The only better halves came within a six-game span in 2006 — 1 yard by the Houston Texans in Week 12, 7 yards by the Oakland Raiders in Week 17.
Bryan Thomas had a strong game vs. the Dolphins that may have been just a little stronger than first thought. The Miami pressbox crew credited DE Kenyon Coleman with a tackle and a forced fumble on the reception that Ricky Williams lost the handle near the two-minute warning in the first half.
Trouble was, Coleman wasn’t on the field on that play. BT and Eric Smith were, and one of those two should have received credit for stripping or punching the ball loose and out of bounds on the play. And if BT got the force (which remains an unofficial stat but still one you can find on some NFL Websites), it came the player after he threw Chad Pennington down for the first of his two sacks.
You may remember Ricky Williams galloping for 18 yards on a third-and-16 play at the Meadowlands in the Dolphins’ 21-10 win in 2003. That remains a significant milestone in the Jets-Miami series because it was the last time the Dolphins converted a third-and-more-than-10-yards situation. Including Sunday’s 0-for-5, the ‘Fins have gone 0-for-their-last-28 when looking at third-and-double-digits vs. the Jets.
When Favre couldn’t find a receiver, he tucked the ball and ran for a first down on his first third-down play as the Jets’ QB, prompting the CBS announcers to offer a nice exchange about the 38-year-old Favre making plays with his feet rather than his right arm:
Jim Nantz: Brett Favre … he still has it.
Phil Simms: Well, he still has it but he doesn’t want to use it.
And LB Calvin Pace was feeling the heat of the game even after he and his teammates were safely back in their Dolphin Stadium locker room. "Oh, man, the humidity in the fourth quarter got to me," Pace said with a smile. "I ain’t gonna lie. I’m glad we didn’t go to overtime."
Tags: Brett Favre, Bryan Thomas, Chansi Stuckey, Gus Granneman, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Ricky Williams
Posted in Randy Lange | 35 Comments »
The Jets’ 2008 Rookie Class should have some kind of impact on Sunday’s season opener at Miami.
On our news pages, I wrote about Dwight Lowery, the fourth-round rookie who’s in the mix, if not to start then to play a lot vs. the Dolphins.
Who would’ve thought Lowery would have a better shot at being announced during pregame introductions than first-rounders Vernon Gholston and Dustin Keller?
But Gholston, the Ohio State LB, and Keller, the Purdue TE, will have their roles at Miami as well. And both are getting into the mood as their pro debuts approach.
"It was what it was," Gholston told me Thursday about his off-season, truncated by the NFL-NCAA agreements about players not reporting until that year’s classes graduated, missed time that seemed to be felt through his preseason. "Things happened the way they did. You try to take on as much as you can. At this point you take what you’ve got and roll with it."
Be that as it may, the sixth pick of the draft sounded optimistic about where he had been and where he’s going.
"I think the preseason went well for me," he said. "I’ve got a good feel."
"I couldn’t tell you how nervous I’ll be Sunday," Keller told reporters after today’s practice at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. "There are no nerves right now. I’m just anxious to get in and start playing."
Keller added that fellow TE Bubba Franks, gave him the progression of how game speed is revealed in the NFL.
"Bubba said the first couple of preseason games the tempo is pretty high," DK said. "Then the two after that are higher. Then you get into the regular season, when it’s even higher. Then late in the season it gets higher still. If you’re fortunate enough to get in the playoffs, it’s through the roof."
So is the rookie ready for the ratcheting up of the tempo? "Without a doubt," he said.
Jets head coach Eric Mangini was asked at today’s news conference how he felt about his draft picks.
"They’ve all done positive things, and nothing’s been handed to them," Mangini said. "I don’t really believe in terms of ‘We draft him at this spot, he’s got to do this.’ It’s really not that approach. It’s much more of a meritocracy. But if they’re on the 45-man roster, I said this to the team: ‘If you’re up, you’ve got to contribute. You’ve got to contribute on teams or meaningful reps during the regular course of offense and defense.’ "
Add in Lowery and possibly some participating from sixth-round WR Marcus Henry and that could add up to some quality time for four of the Jets’ six draft picks. Fifth-round QB Erik Ainge is also on the 53-man roster.
And seventh-round T Nate Garner theoretically has a chance to play in this game as well — he was a final cut of the Jets, was claimed on waivers by Miami, and is on the Dolphins’ 53-man roster.
Favre, Coles Connections
Laveranues Coles has been bothered by injuries all preseason, and Mangini said the decision on the veteran wideout’s availability for the Dolphins will go until just before Sunday’s kickoff. But if LC gets the green light, the coach said, "He’ll play as much as he can."
Many are concerned about whether Coles and Favre, with so little work together, can be on the same page from the get-go. But they’ve been syncing up in practice and also in the locker room, where they’ve been seen sharing information from their stalls, which are next to each other.
One reporter wondered how this could happen when most of the stalls in the spacious new locker room stalls appear to alternate from offensive player to defensive player and back. Mangini said the two wound up as next-door neighbors not due to Lady Luck but to Gentleman Gus, a.k.a. equipment director Gus Granneman.
"I didn’t really go through and quiz Gus on why he put guys in certain spots," Mangini said. "That’s kind of his domain."
Friday is Fly Day
Mangini said the Jets will be flying for Miami today. The Jets never leave for road games against the Dolphins until the day before the game, but Mangini said this year is different, and it’s not due to any hurricane or weather issues (neither Hannah nor Ike is expected to factor into Sunday’s 90-degree weather).
"It was part of an agreement to get in the building," the coach said of the Jets beginning work at their new facility this past Monday. Construction workers, he said, "needed more time to go through the ‘punch list’ and clean some things up, so that’s what we’re doing. It will work out well for everybody in terms of the work they have to do here."
And leaving a day earlier than usual, Mangini added, sets the stage for the four West Coast trips ahead, for which the Jets traditionally fly out two days ahead, not one.
"Two-Minute Drive" Under Way
Check out "Jets Two-Minute Drive" Eric Allen’s and my newyorkjets.com radio show previewing each week’s game every Friday at 3 p.m. Our first show is now available and you can go to it either through this link or on our home page. And while you’re enjoying EA and me and our special first guest, my good friend Phil Simms, I’ll be getting ready to leave on the Jets’ trip to Miami.
Tags: Brett Favre, Bubba Franks, Dustin Keller, Dwight Lowery, Eric Mangini, Gus Granneman, Laveranues Coles, Vernon Gholston
Posted in Randy Lange | 44 Comments »
It’s the time of the season for heavy opinions. And the Jets, with their high-profile activity in free agency since Feb. 29, are drawing lots of attention from the opinionated.
Many like what the Green & White have done. Some are not happy. One word that’s been mentioned here and there is "desperation."
We’re all entitled to our opinions, of course, but desperation? I just don’t get that.
The Jets have identified areas that needed to be strengthened this off-season. Unrestricted free agency is one of the several ways to fortify a roster. The pro personnel department highlighted players who would be good additions to the program. The organization has the money and the cap room to get a number of deals done. There will be enough left over to sign the draft picks, even if one of them is No. 6 overall or even higher.
This approach can be described many ways. But how again is it desperate?
Other opinions have involved the climate at the Jets’ complex, and that specifically head coach Eric Mangini has developed a reputation for running "tough" training camps and practices in his two years at the helm and that this could scare away top free agents.
That doesn’t appear to have been the case this free agency season. Guard Alan Faneca was asked about that issue on his conference call with reporters last week and he didn’t sound scared at all
"I had heard, but, if anything, it swayed me to it," Faneca said. "I’m not the kind of guy who is going to make a decision to run from a difficult situation. If anything, it swayed me in this direction, to know that the work ethic was in place to go win games.’
And fullback Tony Richardson recalled a few coaches in the Tough Practices Hall of Fame that he’s worked for over the years when Eric Allen, my newyorkjets.com comrade, asked Richardson about the coming workload.
"Part of my background with my father being in the military and my sister serving — my dad being a Vietnam Vet and my sister being a Desert Storm vet — I’ve never shied away from work," he said. "Anything worth having is worth working for. I remember coming into the National Football League under Coach [Marty] Schottenheimer and we had some grind-it-out practices. Coach [Dick] Vermeil’s whole philosophy was we need to put the work in on the field.
"So for me, even at this point of my career, I’m not going to shy away from work. You put that time in and it will give you advantage out on the field on Sunday."
It’s true that some Jets players in the last two years have been vocal about the degree of difficulty to Mangini’s practices. A lot have also supported the coach. But to anyone with a question about his approach, he would probably answer as he did toward the end of his first training camp as the Jets’ football boss in late August 2006.
"It’s a brutal season, it’s a brutal league, and competition is brutal," Mangini said back then. "The key thing is to prepare for that the best way you can. Everything we’ve done here is simply designed to help us win and compete."
Jets equipment director Gus Granneman has his hands full these days, with all the players coming and going, regarding the assignment of uniform numbers. At the moment we can pass on three numbers that have been assigned, two to new players and one to a guy who wanted a change.
Richardson, who’s been No. 49 in his 11 seasons with Kansas City and the last two with Minnesota, will also be No. 49 as a Jet. DT Kris Jenkins, who was a lucky 77 in seven seasons with the Panthers, will continue to wear 77.
And DT C.J. Mosley, who was 96 in his one Minnesota season in 2005 and 95 the past two seasons with the Jets, continues to slim down and will wear No. 69 this year.
More numbers to come as they are finalized.
Honors for the Veep
For those who like to keep track of the Jets’ front office, you should know that Matt Higgins, the Jets’ senior vice president of business operations (and my boss), was recently recognized in the prestigious 40 Under 40 list, class of 2008, compiled by Crain’s New York Business. You can check out Matt and his profile here.
Flight Crew Application
As you may be aware from our story last week, the New York Jets Flight Crew is expanding from 10 to 22 members for the 2008 season. And the Flight Crew and director Denise Garvey are now accepting applications from aspiring candidates who want to audition for the Crew.
The deadline for applications to the Flight Crew prep classes is April 4, the deadline for audition applications only must be postmarked by May 9, and the preliminary audition round will be May 17 at the Jets’ Hofstra University practice bubble.
Tags: Alan Faneca, C.J. Mosley, Eric Mangini, Flight Crew, Gus Granneman, Kris Jenkins, Tony Richardson
Posted in Randy Lange | 73 Comments »