The Jets were pleasantly surprised when veteran CB Terrell Buckley was available after Ray Mickens was placed on IR. (Getty Images)
The experience of a rigorous training camp and four preseason games rarely leaves a team unscathed in the injury department. After CB Ray Mickens was diagnosed with a season-ending left knee injury earlier this week, the New York Jets were left scrambling to fill a huge void and a key veteran presence in their secondary.
It's just a shame,” an exasperated Herm Edwards said Wednesday. “I told him, "Ray, what you got to do now is get it done, the road to recovery is a long one. If anybody can get it done, you can.”
Replacing a dependable nine-year veteran, who has forged a reputation as one of the top nickel backs in the NFL, is virtually impossible right before the start of the season. Yet, the team found CB Terrell Buckley on the top of the free agent scrap heap and immediately signed him to a contract.
“I think it's a good get for us,” said Edwards. “He's a veteran guy, has played in a lot of football games; has played a lot of different roles. Nickel guy, dime guy, can play corner. He has some strengths that he brings to the table.”
One of Buckley’s strengths is his balanced consistency in pass coverage and run support. Buckley has registered over 500 tackles and 47 interceptions over his 12-year career. Buckley has also shown a knack for finding the end zone, returning six quarterback thefts for touchdowns during his career.
Buckley, 33, was among the New England Patriots’ final cuts as the team decided toward a youth movement at the position.
I felt like I had a great camp,” Buckley said, still upset over getting released. “But you know when you hit 30 and you have young guys that you are dealing with, I don’t take it personal. Just because one door is closed, another one opens.”
And that opportunity will come immediately for Buckley, who will compete for playing time with rookie CB Derrick Strait this year. CB Donnie Abraham is excited about what Buckley brings to the team
“Any time you lose a player of (Mickens’) caliber and experience, it is going to hurt a little bit,” CB Donnie Abraham said. “(But Buckley) is a great addition especially if you look at his career; his whole career all he does is intercept balls. Any time you can bring that many interceptions to the table, it is good.”
Once he becomes acclimated, Buckley should excel in a new, aggressive scheme implemented by coordinator Donnie Henderson this year. The risky, attacking style of defense will often leave their corners one-on-one with receivers down field as the unit looks to generate pressure and force a bad throw. That should leave Buckley and his new teammates plenty of opportunities to force turnovers and make big plays. Yet, Buckley will first need to unseat rookie CB Derrick Strait, who has been named the team’s starting nickel back in the wake of Mickens’ injury. The third-round draft choice from Oklahoma is anxious to prove he is ready to face NFL quarterbacks who will look to exploit the rookie’s inexperience.
“If they try to pick on me, I got to try to make them pay for it,” Strait said. “I’m looking forward to being out there and making plays to try and help the team win.”
Strait is not worried by the addition of Buckley and is primarily concerned with his preparation for any role he is thrust into.
“Whether I start or I am second team, I approach it the same way because you never know when (an injury might occur),” Strait said. “So I prepare the same as I always do.”
Coach Edwards acknowledges the tough task of learning both the corner and nickel positions but explained that Strait would have an excellent tutor by his side.
“You have to start coaching, help the young guys in the secondary," explained Edwards of Mickens’ new role. “He was excited about that, having the ability to help those guys in the classroom. I think he'll be a good tutor for Derrick (Strait). A lot of years of experience playing the nickel. He can help us that way.”
While Strait will certainly experience a baptism by fire this year, his new competition said it best when assessing the position and its importance.
“Football is football. You still have to go out and cover, make plays and put yourself in a position,” Buckley said.
This season, Mickens’ job will be to make sure Strait does all of the above.