Florham Park, N.J.– The Jets may have lost a couple of fan favorites who were steady and reliable contributors to the team, but Brad Smith and Jerricho Cotchery are hardly irreplaceable and fair or not, rookie WR Jeremy Kerley is the one fans will expect to quickly fill their roles. But the Jets don’t need Kerley to be either of those players, they just need him to be himself.
The signing of Derrick Mason helps ease the need for Kerley to immediately step in and replace Cotchery in the slot, but that doesn’t mean he will work any less hard to earn his spot on this roster and find anyway possible to contribute to the team.
Last Thursday, before the announcement that Cotchery would be released, Kerley was asked if he felt any extra pressure because of, not just how productive Smith was, but also because of how much Jets fans loved him. Kerley recognized the point that was being made, but it didn’t seem to phase him in the least. His focus is squarely on learning the offense and special teams assignments and improving as a player, every minute of every day.
“I wouldn’t say it’s added pressure, obviously Brad Smith is a great player and I have tough shoes to fill, but I’ll fill them with pride. I know that, hopefully, coach Westhoff has confidence in me to come out and be a great player.” Kerley said, “It’s whatever the Jets need me to do, I don’t even know if I’ll land the punt/kick return job so if I’m able to get it than I’ll work to the best of my ability to be able to fulfill that duty. But if not, like I said whatever role they want me to play, whether its backing up Santonio, giving Jerricho (or Mason just to update his quote) a rest at the Z or whatever it is I’m ready for it.”
The following day, Kerley was asked the same exact question just about replacing Cotchery instead of Smith, again before Mason had agreed to a deal, and he answered in the same way.
“I wouldn’t say it’s any pressure. Trying to get any spot on this team, I will be grateful for anything that I get. But, with the man down, people have to step up.” Kerely said, “So, like I said, there are coaches in the locker room, there are coaches on the field. They give advice as they can.”
There has been a lot of talk about the Jets losing leadership in the locker room with recent releases, but no one outside the team seems to be talking about the leaders that are still here. Yes the Jets got older at the WR position, but having a core of Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason for rookies like Kerley and Scotty McKnight to learn from will go along way to helping them adapt to life as an NFL receiver.
So just how much help has Kerley received from his fellow wideouts?
“A lot of help. Like I tell people all the time, those are coaches in the locker room, they’re coaches in the film room.” Kerley said, “Whatever coach (WR coach Henry) Ellard can’t give you, as a player running the offense those guys can so they are a big help on and off the field.”
As with any rookie, Kerley admitted to be a little overwhelmed on the first day of practice, but aside from the tutoring from his teammates he’s received, he also credits the fun atmosphere here at the Jets facility for helping make the transition easier on him.
“The first couple of days were a little overwhelming, taking in a lot of stuff in a little time.” Kerely said, “But I mean it’s fun and everything and if you can have that approach it makes things a little easier.”
So Rex Ryan helps make it a little easier to have fun? Which in turn makes it easier to learn and improve? “Definitely, definitely.” Kerley said.
Kerley said he had a “great feeling,” that the Jets were looking to draft him when Brian Schottenheimer came down to work him out, he also said that workout helped prepare him for all the different types of ways Schottenheimer will be looking to use him.
“I was aware when he came down in, I think it was was mid-march, I had a personal workout for him. You know he had me running all over the field so, you know, I kind of had an idea after I got drafted maybe this is what this guy wants me to do.” Kerley said, “Coach Schottenheimer is a great offensive coordinator and he’s got great guys playing in his offense and hopefully I can be one of them.”
Jets fans will definitely love the attitude that Kerley has adopted, but what will make them even happier is to hear their captain and quarterback Mark Sanchez talk about him.
“He’s just a baller. He’s doing great (on) first team, second team (and) special teams. There’s always one big surprise at camp and for a guy that didn’t know much of the playbook coming in, he’s picked it up very fast.” Sanchez said, “He’s just a, ‘Yes, sir. No, sir’ kind of guy. He puts his head down, goes to work, takes coaching really well and players really like him. That could be huge and with Jerricho leaving, this could be a big opportunity for him.”
But does Kerley really call Sanchez sir?
“Heck no. He better not.” Sanchez joked, “He’s just that kind of guy. He’s just a sharp kid. He’s smart, just football savvy, and a respectful guy.”
Which is an interesting quote, considering it sounds an awful like how Sanchez and others would describe Smith and Cotchery. But to sum up the feeling on Kerley around here at Jets camp, who better to turn to than a writer’s best friend, Rex Ryan.
“I think you guys have seen, as well as I do, that Kerley’s got a chance, I think, to be something special.” Ryan said.
After talking to the rookie and watching him practice it’s hard to disagree with what the Captain and the Coach say about the young man, there is definitely something special about this kid. Now the question becomes, when exactly will Jets fans get to see just how special he is?
Expectations aside Jeremy Kerley isn’t here to be Brad Smith or Jerricho Cotchery, he’s here to be Jeremy Kerley. And from what we’ve seen of him so far, that will be just fine.
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