Is it possible that a position that appeared to be a soft spot on the Jets' roster might become a team strength?
Outside of Laveranues Coles, the Jets' depth chart of receivers entering this training camp appeared to be average at best.
Justin McCareins has spent too much of his career failing to live up to lofty expectations that were perhaps unfairly placed on him. Then he went and spent the first night of training camp in Eric Mangini's dog house by failing a running test and being placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
Tim Dwight figured to be a nice addition, but as a role player. He, after all, has never caught more than 50 passes in one season and has only 36 catches in the last three seasons.
Jerricho Cotchery is entering his third season and has yet to seize a starting job.
Then there are the usual rookies from whom you never know what you’re going to get.
Brad Smith was drafted and converted from quarterback to receiver. These kinds of transitions are rare when they work, and when they do they take time. They’re called “projects.’’
Reggie Newhouse, son of former Dallas Cowboys’ fullback Robert Newhouse, came here to try to make the team after floundering in Arizona and playing a couple seasons of NFL Europe.
Suddenly, though, as the Jets prepared to play the Giants in Friday night’s annual preseason match-up between the cross-Hudson River rivals, the Jets’ take on their receivers has changed quite a bit.
Coles is Coles. He’ll be the No. 1 receiver in this offense. But McCareins has made some significant strides back into good graces with some terrific recent practice performances.
Smith made the play of the preseason so far with his 61-yard reverse run for a touchdown last Saturday night in Washington. And Newhouse caught a leaping scoring pass from rookie Kellen Clemens.
Cotchery got the start over McCareins in the Redskins game and performed well, including on some down-field blocking, where Coles also excelled.
“We can be special,’’ Cotchery said boldly. "We want to go out there and be the ones who make a difference. I feel that if we continue to work as a group, it'll pay off in the end."
McCareins said this group can be “as good as anyone out there.’’
“We've got guys that can run and are not only good pass-catchers, but are willing to block and help out in the run game,’’ McCareins went on. “I think we're well-rounded and unselfish and it's going to help out. We know the better we do as a unit, the better our team will do and the more games we'll win."
Added Cotchery: “Every day it's been a competition for us. I think a lot of guys have fed off it, including myself. We just have to continue to work hard everyday (and) develop as a group so we can help this team out."
Eric Mangini, before the Redskins game, challenged the receivers to block downfield and they responded. Without a key block by Coles in particular, Smith would not have scored.
“What I like here is the way these guys are approaching it competitively," Mangini said. "They're good people and they want to play and the competition has been great for all of them to improve. And then to go into the receiver meeting room and Laveranues is working with Brad Smith and Tim Dwight is working with Justin or Dante (Ridgeway).
"So you see that fire at practice because everybody wants to play. And you go into the meeting room and it's the New York Jets working together to get better as a team and that to me is progress."
Speaking of progress, McCareins has resurrected himself from persona non grata to someone with a chance to be a factor.
"I'm just looking to improve every chance I get out on the field and become the player I want to be and I know I can be," McCareins said. "And what the coaches and bosses decide to do is up to them. I'll leave it at that. You'd have to ask coach where I fit in. We'll find out when the regular season kicks in."
McCareins’ training camp has been filled with being put on the physically unable to perform list to start camp for failing a running test to hearing his name in trade rumors, has made some significant positive strides in recent days.
McCareins was the star of the Wednesday practice, making catches everywhere on the field.
"The things that happened (PUP), I don't even know how many weeks ago, we've moved on from all that,'' Mangini said. "Each day a guy gets a chance to prove himself _ to do something positive to do something negative, whether it's Justin or anybody else.
"(Former Olympian) Dan O'Brien is the one that talked about the 'five-second rule.' Good or bad you have five seconds to celebrate or be miserable and then after five seconds life goes on. Now what are you going to do in the next five seconds?
"(CB) Otis Smith is one of the best guys I've ever seen at the 'five-second rule.' He'd get beat and he'd come back exactly the same way. That's why he played so long and had the success that he had and helped his team win a lot of games. Its over, you can't control it, it's done and the only thing you can do now is correct it, move on, get better and approach it as competitively as you can at the next point. To me it's all about what you do on that day and moving forward.''
INSIDER EXTRA POINT
One place the Jets do not have to worry about is their kicking game, where kicker Mike Nugent and punter Ben Graham hold down roster spots.
Mangini, pointing out the leadership qualities in both players from their past teams, like their respective approaches. Graham was the star of his Australian Rules team and Nugent was voted as the captain of his Ohio State football team as a senior.
“I think the unique thing about our group of guys is, Ben Graham was captain of (his Australian Rules football team) Geelong,’’ Mangini said. “He's got a ton of leadership qualities. I don't know who to equate him to here, but he was the man in Geelong. Now as a punter, which traditionally doesn't have that role, he brings great leadership.
“Mike Nugent, the fact that you're voted captain as a kicker, that says a lot about his character. We have two guys there that both have great leadership ability. You see it all the time, they don't limit their interaction, they're not sitting alone at lunch, off to the side, writing notes to each other, they're interacting with the rest of the team. They have that ‘it’ that you look for.’’