Jets K Mike Nugent has had a up and down rookie season. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Before we knock Jets' rookie kicker Mike Nugent, let's examine the circumstances surrounding his first NFL season and his numbers, which have improved dramatically.
For much of the season, because the Jets' offense has been so anemic it couldn't even move the ball into field goal range, Nugent wasn't getting any chances.
Recently, the offense has been getting near the red zone but failing to score touchdowns.
Enter Nugent, finally.
Entering Sunday's game in Miami, Nugent had made nine of his last 10 attempts to get to 17-of-22 for the season, which is 77-percent, not a bad percentage.
Bill Parcells, perhaps the most demanding head coach on his kickers in league history, always said he wanted his kickers to be 80-percent, so Nugent has hardly been embarrassing himself.
It should, too, be noted that the only miss of Nugent's during this 10-kick streak was the 53-yard attempt to win the game against New Orleans on Nov. 27, a kick that fell a foot short.
Take away that miss and the fluke slip on his first NFL attempt in Week One in Kansas City and Nugent is 17-of-20 for 85-percent, which would be near the top of the league.
"My No. 1 goal has been to go 100-percent inside of 42 yards,'' Nugent said. "With the way the numbers work out, if you go 100-percent inside of 42 yards you'll probably end up 85 percent or better.''
Indeed, had Nugent, who was 15-of-17 from within 42 yards, had been 17-of-17 he'd be 19-of-22 overall, which is 86.3 percent.
Nugent has acknowledged that his kickoffs have become inconsistent, particularly of late, and said he plans to strengthen his leg in the offseason. He has only one touchback all season after kicking touchbacks at will in college at Ohio State.
Nugent said he planned to speak with Dolphins' kicker Olindo Mare before Sunday's game to seek some advice. Mare has 14 touchbacks this season.
"If I could finish this season with averaging to the five-yard line that would be a good finish,'' Nugent said. "But you also need to get some touchbacks in there and I have only one.''
Nugent said he's still getting used to the NFL's new "K'' balls and has been getting under them on kickoffs, which causes the short kicks.
Herman Edwards said he's not as much concerned about Nugent's kickoff as he is impressed with the way his young kicker has kept the team in some games this season.
"Earlier in the season, he couldn't sniff a kick, because we never got close enough for him to kick,'' Edwards said. "In the preseason, I think he only kicked two balls and that was in the Philly game. Kansas City, first game of the season, go down there and play the Chiefs, we're all excited and he slips. He's dealt with all that.
"Now all of a sudden he's made nine out of 10 and when you really think about it, in the last couple games, he's kept us in the game.¬ The New Orleans Saints game, we're in the game because of him. OK, he didn't make the last one, but that's OK, we can live with that. This week (against the Raiders), he made some big kicks for us, kept us in the game.''
Give the kid time. He's not Adam Vinatieri and probably never will be, but he looks like the real deal and will look better after a full offseason of NFL strengthening.
INSIDER EXTRA POINTS
Jets' offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger had a smile on his face for a change last week instead of that familiar beleaguered look he's been wearing too often this season.
The win against the Raiders was enough to boost spirits. A minor offensive outburst of 26 points, tying the season high, didn't hurt, either.
"Hell, I was just excited that we didn't fumble the quarterback-center exchange twice in a game,'' Heimerdinger joked. "It was good to see those guys do what they're supposed to do. Brooks (Bollinger) has gotten better every week. Brooks did some really good things and made some plays with his feet.''
That is where Bollinger has improved the most _ being calmer in the pocket and making positive things happen when he scrambles.
Bollinger insisted it's nothing he's been working on, just being more confident and learning.
Bollinger's 56 rushing yards set a Jets' record for single-game rushing by a quarterback. For of his six runs went for first downs.
"I was shocked when I heard he broke a Jets' record for rushing for a quarterback,'' Heimerdinger said. "I was used to (Tennessee quarterback Steve) McNair getting 56 on two runs.''
Heimerdinger, of course, used to coach McNair.
Bollinger, the third-string quarterback, has been a work in progress.
"He's learned it,'' Heimerdinger said. "Any time a quarterback can make plays with his feet is key. Brooks picked up two big third downs pulling it down and running. If you stand back there like a steel deer people are going to tee off on you.
"The hardest thing to me for a third-team quarterback is to make the clock go off in his head while in the pocket, because they're so used to 7-on-7 drills and never being hit in practice and aren't used to game situations.''
Heimerdinger and Edwards have been working the tough love angle with fullback B.J. Askew, who sees himself as a halfback trapped in a fullback's body while the Jets see him as, well, a fullback, which is what they drafted him as.
Askew had his appetite whet by the nine carries he got late in the win over the Raiders. He gained 54 yards and ran well.
"He ran good in the four-minute situation and did some god things,'' Heimerdinger said of Askew, "but I'm not going to put him in the Hall of Fame yet. Let's see what else he can do. It's hard to see potential wise, because B.J. has been hurt for three months.''
Edwards joked that Askew looked tired after a couple of runs against the Raiders.
"One time he came out and he was breathing real hard with the two-minute warning,'' Edwards said. "I said, 'You haven't run the ball in three years. Now you're tired? I'll take you out if you want.'
" 'No, no, I don't want to go out.'
" Okay, well keep running, go back in there. Holy smokes, you only ran the ball four times, youíre tired. ''
Edwards said Askew "needs tough love.''
"He can be a good football player,'' Edwards said. "But he's got to work at being a good football player. He's got some talent, but God gives you talent.¬ You don't work for talent. God gives you that; it's what do you do with it. And he's always kind of ... you know ... but now he's starting to play, so maybe that will get him going. So I'm going to be hard on him, yeah. I'm going to be hard on him. He knows it.
"He has to stay focused enough; you've got to be focused to play in this league because every snap is an important snap,'' Edwards went on. "You can't think, well, this one doesn't matter. Every play is important because you don't know what may is going to change the game around. I kind of learned that a long time ago, in 1978 (when he returned the fumble for a touchdown to beat the Giants on the last play of the game in the "Miracle at the Meadowlands'').
"You don't never know what play is going to be the play to win the game. You never know.''
Edwards talked about Askew's "clock ticking.''
"This is B.J.'s third year,'' he said. "Eventually, if you don't become something, you're not in the league. Eventually you have to say, 'I'm the starting fullback/tailback, I'm whatever.' You've got to find yourself a position where people feel like, hey, I can trust this guy.''
Edwards indicated that there was a plan to expand Askew's role this year, but he's missed six games with a high ankle sprain and hamstring injuries.
"It's the old saying: You want coachable players, but you also want players that are available,'' Edwards said. "Available means you're going to practice every day, and you're playing the game. He has not been available a lot this year. That's not his fault. But he hasn't been available. He's starting to become available.''
Askew is cherishing these moments, because he gets the chance to showcase himself in the final three games.
"There is a sense of urgency with me,'' he said. "I have one year left and I've been waiting. They're giving me an opportunity and I have to show them what I can do or they will go a different direction.''