Rookie QB Kellen Clemens has impressed in his first NFL minicamp. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Even with 40-or-so rookies roaming around the Jets’ practice facility at Hofstra on Saturday, it was easy to spot two of the biggest additions the Jets made in the Draft last month. In the cases of these two men, size matters. Yet as big as they are in stature, their impact will be just as grand.
They will provide an injection of youth and stamina, a combination the Jets sorely missed on the offensive line last season. These two men, tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold, should provide the elixir to spell the woes the offensive line went through last season.
After jettisoning long-time stalwart and team spokesman Kevin Mawae (center) and releasing mainstay Jason Fabini (tackle), the sense was the Jets were implementing a youth movement on the offensive line – a position that broke down due to age an injury and torpedoed last season. (Just think, if Ferguson was at left tackle last season, maybe Chad Pennington’s shoulder isn’t pulled back on his blindside against Jacksonville and the season isn’t lost.)
At 6-foot-6 and 315 pounds, Ferguson is well on his way to becoming a fixture on the Jets offensive line for the next decade. There’s no doubt the Jets will be relying heavily on him to add stability to the offensive line which looked more like a shuffle board than anything.
New head coach Eric Mangini and general manger Mike Tannenbaum were enamored enough with Ferguson to make him the fourth pick in the Draft. But much like Bill Belichick, the man whose knee he learned at, the pupil Mangini won’t put any player on a pedestal.
“All of these guys (rookies), wherever they are drafted, they are all under pressure,” Mangini said. “They are all under pressure here to help us win and to find a role. That's the pressure they are under.”
Still, at a position that requires help right away, the Jets’ first-year head coach conceded that it might be different for the two offensive lineman. “D'Brickashaw is under that pressure and Nick is and straight on down the line. They are all under that pressure to come in, find a way to fit into our team, into our culture, and figure out how they can help us,” he said.
The all-rookie minicamp poses a conundrum for the coaches because there is no contact during the drills and players are still learning the system. There also are no veterans in the mix, so knowing what you’re really going to get won’t come until later in the off-season.
“You don't appreciate a big man as much as you would a little man in a camp like this, but he was finding his way, too,” Mangini said of Ferguson. ‘The calls were new, the adjustments were new. Like I said, you appreciate those big guys once the pads go on a lot more.”
Mangini hit the nail on the head. For the 45-or-so minutes the media was allowed to view practice, looking at Ferguson and Mangold doing sprints felt as awkward as a running back trying to block a defensive tackle. Just seeing a one of them pancake a defensive lineman would have been enough.
Still, observing Ferguson run made evident the skill in his footwork. Before he began playing offensive tackle, in junior high school Ferguson took martial arts classes which kept him limber and improved his quickness. “It also helped my mental discipline,” said Ferguson, whose curt answers implied he will allow on-field actions to do the talking for him.
“I like the way that he learns,” Mangini said of Ferguson. “Just sitting in the classroom a little bit with those guys, I like that he's very mature, he's focused. He takes a very business-like approach to this (football), which is something that we liked about him prior to the draft, and now seeing that, it's a positive.”
Mangini also refused to glorify Mangold, the Jets other first round pick. At 6-foot-4 the 29th selection is tall enough to play the position, but he weighs in at just less than 300 pounds depending on the time of day. His quickness is an asset, but Mangini deflected inquires about how soon Mangold or Ferguson could start.
“I'd say all of these guys are really in the same boat,” Mangini said “D'Brickashaw and Nick and all of those other guys.”
Those two, however, will garner the biggest spotlight.
Mum on Martin. There’s no doubt that former coach Herman Edwards was forthcoming at his press conferences. He wouldn’t always be upfront, but he’d always start by providing an injury report right at the beginning of his chats with the media.
Eric Mangini, much like his mentor Bill Belichick, begins to break into a cold sweat when the subject of injuries is broached. He’s tight-lipped, to say the least. When he was asked about Curtis Martin’s rehabilitation, Mangini paused, hesitated and then fumbled his words. He eventually blurted out that “Curtis is rehabbing. He's part of the medical program.”
He paused again, and added, “We have a program in place for him. So he's making as much progress as he can, and as soon as he's ready to go, we'll let you know.”
Whether the wins and losses reflect it or not, things have changed in Hempstead.
-Quarterback Kellen Clemens may turn out to be the crown jewel of this Draft class if he can emerge to become the starter. Behind Pennington and Ramsey, that likely won’t happen this season, but if need be, Clemens is ready. The former Oregon quarterback said he is “100 percent healthy” after he had surgery to fix a broken ankle in December.
The Jets waived wide receiver Maurice Avery. Avery, out of Memphis, was a receiver-turned-quarterback midway through the 2005 season after the Tigers’ first two quarterbacks suffered injuries. He guided the Tigers to a 5-2 record as the starting quarterback.
The Rookies return for one more day of camp tomorrow but the sessions are closed to the media. The next team event is a passing camp at the end of the month and then a full team minicamp in June.