Brooks Bollinger has been one of the feel-good stories on the Jets this season, not to mention one of the locker room favorites amongst his teammates, whose respect for him has grown weekly.
Bollinger has emerged from a third-string quarterback with little chance of getting into any game other than one played in August to a quarterback that, if nothing else, has put together a decent resume for a future in the NFL.
The big question is this: What is Bollinger's future with the Jets?
Team insiders tell us that the coaching staff and personnel people still consider Bollinger a No. 3 quarterback and that, regardless of the terrific strides he's made since his first NFL start in Baltimore on Oct. 2, he's not going to be a consideration as the No. 2 in 2006.
That leaves Bollinger in a bit of a lurch, because it would appear there might be no room for him, and if that's the case it'll be a shame.
Consider that Chad Pennington will be back and given every opportunity to regain his starting position. The Jets, too, have to sign a veteran starter to compete with Pennington for the job, because they need a safety net in case Pennington's shoulder either isn't ready or isn't right.
The Jets, too, appear to be inclined to draft a quarterback to groom for the future, meaning he would be the third quarterback, bumping Bolinger, who's due to make $460,000 in 2006, out of the mix. The team isn't likely to carry four quarterbacks.
That brings us to Jay Fiedler, who like Bollinger, is going to be the victim of bad timing. Fiedler injured his right shoulder in the same game the Jets lost Pennington and doctors thought he could rehab it and return later in the season rather than have surgery.
Two weeks ago, the Jets realized Fiedler's shoulder wasn't getting any stronger or more stable and they decided he had to have surgery.
Team insiders have told us that there is no way they can bring back two veteran quarterbacks coming off shoulder surgery.
Hopefully, for Bollinger's case, he'll be able to stay here since he's made so much progress. He's coming off his best game as a pro, throwing for 327 yards and two touchdowns against the Dolphins, the first player to throw for 300 yards against the Miami defense in 44 games _ ironically dating back to a Vinny Testaverde performance against them in 2003.
While the Jets' coaching staff has been criticized for everything this season, offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger should be praised for helping Bollinger develop into a legitimate NFL player.
New England head coach Bill Belichick sounded impressed with the progress Bollinger has made.
"He played very well against Miami last week,'' Belichick said. "He made passes to a lot of different receivers. I thought he really made some good plays in opening game up too as far as scrambling for first downs. I think he showed a lot of poise in there.
"Overall, (the Jets) have improved quite a bit offensively since we last saw them, which was a very short time ago,'' he went on. "I believe they have confidence in (Bollinger's) running ability when they're designing plays like quarterback draws, shovel passes and those types of plays. He's shown he can play, and play well.''
The problem for Bollinger has been, as good as it as looked at times, the bottom line numbers are damning.
He's 1-6 as the starter. He's thrown only six TDs and the team has averaged only 11 points per game on offense under his guidance. His yards-per-attempt average is an abysmal 5.75 yards, some three yards less than, for example, the Patriots' Tom Brady.
Bill Parcells always measures a quarterback by how often he gets his team in the end zone and how often his teams have won.
Bollinger has been severely lacking in both of those areas, which brings to question: Is it his fault of more the fault of those around him?
That's something Herman Edwards and his assistant coaches are going to have to analyze this summer as they figure out what to do with their mess of a quarterback situation.
It's difficult not to root for Bollinger, because he's been so tough, so coachable, so likeable (he's never had a complaint even in the darkest of times.
Jets' center Pete Kendall got a little emotional Sunday in the visiting locker room after the loss to Miami when talking about Bollinger and his toughness, saying, "He's a tough, gutsy competitor. He's getting better every week. He takes some big shots and gets up and comes back. I'm proud of him. I'm happy for him. I enjoy playing in front of him."
INSIDER EXTRA POINTS
As the Jets and Patriots ready to play each other on Monday night at alcohol-free Giants Stadium, it should be noted that the only thing that separates Jets' rookie kicker Mike Nugent from Patriots' perennial Pro Bowler Adam Vinatieri is twice as many extra point attempts by Vinatieri, whose team scores a lot more points than the anemic Jets.
The point here is not that you'd take Nugent over Vinatieri right now if you were building a team, but that the Jets' rookie is having a pretty admirable season for his first in the NFL.
Both Vinatieri and Nugent have five missed field goals this season _ Vinatieri is 17-of-22 and Nugent is 19-of-24. Both have two misses from 50-plus yards, both have two misses from 40-to-49 yards and both have one short miss, though Nugent's short miss was actually a block after he slipped.
Nugent enters this game having made 14 of his last 15 attempt, with the only miss being the 53-yard attempt that fell just short in the final seconds against New Orleans. Take away that miss and his slip on his first attempt and Nugent is 19-of-22, good for 86 percent.
Speaking of Jets' kickers, Ben Graham, their 32-year-old rookie punter from Australia, was a whisker from having serious Pro Bowl consideration with his 43.9-yard gross average and 38.5 net.
For a change, the Jets appear to set at both kicker positions for the first time in memory.
A clarification needs to be made about a recent Sports Illustrated on line story written by actor, comedian and rabid Jets fan Jay Mohr that mentions Jets Insider.com and myself.
Part if it read as follows:
"I recently exchanged e-mails with Mark Cannizzaro, the Jets beat writer for the New York Post who also writes for Jets Insider.com. I asked him if it was my imagination or were these "fans" disproportionately harsh on Edwards? Cannizzaro quickly responded to my email and assured me that it was not my imagination. Jets fans are the worst on the Web. Excluding Raiders fans who are using their data ports to light up there Darth Vader skull bongs.''
It's true, Jay and I exchanged some e-mails and I'm friendly with Jay from his days doing some NFL TV work with Fox. I, however, never told Jay that "Jets fans are the worst on the Web,'' nor did I make any mention of the Raiders' followers.
I did concur with Jay about the fanaticism of some sects on Jets Insider.com and all over New York who are in constant search of a scalp to blame and behead for the Jets' problems and was in total agreement that too many fans are over the top in the blame game and lacking some rational thoughts too often.
I, however, did not collectively throw all Jets fans under the bus as was indicated by Jay's piece.
I know Jay, in no way, meant to make me out as a hater of all Jets fans. It just happened to come out that way in the way he wrote it and I felt the need to clarify. Jay's a terrific actor and comedian, a Jets fan with perspective and, most importantly, a good guy.