Rookie Cedric Houston had 74 yards on 28 carries in his first Jets start this past weekend. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Curtis Martin went under the knife today, handing off for the first time in his seven years as a Jet. He officially gave the ball Cedric Houston and B.J. Askew for the rest of the season. They stepped into Martin’s shadow in Sunday’s win over the Raiders, and have three games remaining to emerge.
The duo took a step in the right direction, combining for 130 yards on 37 carries. While Houston got the start, Askew got the save. Houston ran for 74 tough yards, including his first career touchdown to seal the game with less than two minutes left.
Yet when the Jets took over with 5:35 remaining, Houston needed a respite and Askew carried the ball eight straight times before Houston’s touchdown. Askew ran effectively in what coach Herman Edwards labeled “hammer time” because the defense ganged up on the run. The Jets milked the clock and snapped a seven-game losing skid.
This was an unforeseeable scenario for the Jets before the season began -- a rookie and a fullback splitting time in the backfield while a Hall of Fame running back is idle on the sidelines in a cast. Then again, a lot about the Jets 3-10 season wasn’t predictable.
Nevertheless, both played the part admirably. Edwards liked what he saw from the Houston-Askew tag-team. Houston ran forcefully and Askew ran when the offense most needed it, but both have a lot of learning to do.
Edwards put the onus on Askew by saying the “clock is ticking” for the third-year fullback who fancies himself as a tailback. Askew injured his ankle the second week of the year – the same game Martin’s initial injury occurred – and was behind FB Jerald Sowell on the depth chart. He was going nowhere fast.
But injuries to Martin and backup RB Derrick Blaylock, who hurt his foot early in the year, have left the Jets thin at the position. Edwards said Askew has to make the most of this chance because of focus problems in the past, according to Edwards, and it’s time to put up.
“The clock is ticking,” Edwards said. “Eventually if you don’t become something, you’re not in the League….Eventually you have to say I’m the starting fullback or tailback. You’ve got to find a position where people feel like, ‘hey, I can trust this guy.’”
Ironically, selflessness has put Askew in this uphill battle. A life-long tailback, Askew was moved to fullback midway through his junior season at Michigan. It wasn’t for lack of talent, either He reluctantly moved after rushing for over 900 yards and 10 touchdowns as a sophomore.
Edwards said he offered up “tough love” for Askew because of concentration problems and injuries. Edwards stressed how a player's worth is judged by his talent and availability, referencing Askew’s injury.
“He can be a good football player, but he’s got to work at being a good football player,” Edwards said. “He’s got some talent, but God gives you talent....it’s what you do with it. So I’m going to be hard with him. He knows it.”
Maybe all Askew needed was motivation. Now that Askew is available, he wants to show case his skills.
“I’ll be running like I’m trying to show the whole NFL that I’m a tailback. I’ve done it for so long. I’ve got great vision,” said Askew, who the Jets drafted in the third round of the Draft in 2003. “I can see where things are going to go before they even happen. It’s my long dream to be an NFL running back.”
Unfortunately for Askew, therein lies the reason he is cemented as a blocker. Fullbacks have to anticipate where the hole is going to be and clear a path for the running back. For the last three games, that’s Houston’s job.
Houston, a sixth-round pick from Tennessee, missed all of the off-season training because of an overactive thyroid condition. He joined the team for training camp after minor surgery, and has come a long way since.
“He’s the most improved football player on this team since spring,” Edwards said. “He got in shape, changed his body around and just kept working, kept working. Probably around the fifth week of the season, you saw the light go on for the guy….He just got better.”
Houston said one lesson Martin preached was humility, which was evident on Sunday. When Askew ran eight times on the Jets final scoring drive, the dialed-up play was for Houston. Yet the rookie offered to let Askew finish the drive he led to the 2-yard line.
“He did all the work to get down there,” Houston said. “I asked him: ‘You want me to go to full back and you go to tailback?’”
Askew declined the generous offer, and preferred to let the rookie get his first touchdown. That doesn’t mean he didn’t blink twice.
“I would’ve loved to take him up on it,” said Askew, who didn’t want to anger the coaches. “I wish it was me getting my first NFL touchdown, but I’m happy for Cedric.”
These guys are just happy for the chance.
Kicking pains. Mike Nugent’s short kickoffs have been a topic of discuss all season. He had two short kickoffs the past two games and booted a ball out of bounds last week. Edwards praised Nugent for his field goal kicking, but so far, his kickoffs have been blasé at best.
“When the weather gets a little chilly I have to focus to keep the ball a little lower,” Nugent said about the kick which went out of bounds against the Raiders. “It’s kind of like golf, if you try to kill a ball it’ll go everywhere you don’t want it to.”
Nugent is 17-of-22 on field goal attempts this season, but its 4-of-8 from 40-or-more yards away. Overall, however, he feels like he’s growing.
“So far I’d definitely say improvement,” Nugent said. “Things started out a little rough and things have been a little inconsistent.”
Learning curve. As much praise as Edwards gave Askew and Houston, he said the two must improve with pass protection.
“That’s why you get nervous about putting a young running back in there,” Edwards said. “You just don’t throw them in there and say you’re going to play. That sounds good. If he goes to the right and the [defender] goes to the left and hits young quarterback in the head, everyone thinks it’s the offensive line’s fault.
“It’s the back; he has to pick [the blitz] up.”
Edwards said both players are improving, but Askew is further along. Martin was one of the best blocking backs in history, said Edwards, and he will continue to instruct from the sidelines.
-LB Jonathan Vilma leads the league with 143 tackles. Buffalos’ London Fletcher is next closest with 134,
Derrick Blaylock took part in drills today and might be closer to getting on the field. He was upgraded to questionable. Curtis Martin had surgery today at 11 a.m. and “was in good spirits,” according to coach Herm Edwards. DE Shaun Ellis, DT Dewayne Robertson and T Scott Gragg did not practice today.
-WR Harry Williams Jr. (knee)
-RB Curtis Martin (knee)
-RB Derrick Blaylock (foot)
-DE Shaun Ellis (hamstring)
-DT Dewayne Robertson (thigh)
-T Scott Gragg (back)
-Bryan Thomas (bicep)
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