Erik "The Great" Surprise
By John Melillo
Jets Staff Writer
September 30th, 2004
Jets rookie S Erik Coleman is September's NFL Rrookie of the Month. (Jets Photo)
Jets rookie S Erik Coleman is September's NFL Rrookie of the Month. (Jets Photo)
The life of an NFL rookie is never easy. Dealing with new coaches, teammates and an entirely new outlook can often overwhelm a college athlete looking to earn their first paycheck at the professional level. From a fan’s perspective, high expectations regularly accompany the rookies selected on the first day of the NFL Draft. The remaining rookie class is often perceived as developmental projects for the future. If true, someone failed to mention that to New York Jets fifth-round draft choice S Erik Coleman.

Coleman has been extremely impressive since the onset of training camp, showing the instincts and savvy of a 10-year pro. His consistency this summer was the talk of the preseason by the NY media. With the signing of SS Reggie Tongue from Seattle this past spring, there was no one who ever thought Coleman would be the starter on opening day. However, due to his impressive showing and an injury to FS Jon McGraw, the team was forced to move Tongue to McGraw’s spot and start Coleman at SS. Instead of performing like a typical NFL rookie, Coleman shined in his first NFL game, recording five tackles, an interception and a pass defended in the opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. That doesn’t mean the juices weren’t flowing a little faster than normal prior to kickoff.

“The first play of the first game, I was a little overwhelmed,” admitted Coleman. “But after the snap of the ball, it’s just like practice. You work hard and you get to the ball.”

For an encore performance, Coleman recorded his second interception in as many games along with a fumble recovery in the Week 2 clash against the San Diego Chargers. His accolades have not been unnoticed by the pro football community. He was awarded “Rookie of the Week” by the NFL after the Bengals game and just today was awarded “Rookie of the Month” honors for his great September beating out big name first round rookies such as New England DT Vince Wilfork and Denver LB Mike Williams. It’s the first time a Jets rookie has received this honor since the award was created in 1996. McGraw is now healthy yet due to their play, Tongue and Coleman are still the starters. Despite his success, the 22-year old Coleman is showing a mature, humble attitude.

“We’re only two games into the season, so we still have a long way to go,” said Coleman.

Needless to say, Coleman has played like the missing piece to the team’s secondary puzzle, providing the big plays that were sorely lacking last season with Sam Garnes as the starter. With a defense aimed at forcing turnovers, Coleman has already been involved in three takeaways this year. The team had 7 INT’s all of last season and now already have three after only two games. With steady presence in the defensive backfield he is also tied for second on the team in tackles (10) with CB David Barrett. Coleman credits the coaches and his teammates for his production thus far.

“The coaches have done a great job of getting me ready,” Coleman said. On the field, Reggie (Tongue) and Jon (McGraw) both have helped me. Before the snap, we talk about the play, our assignments and what to expect. That definitely helps us out as a secondary.”

From head coach Herm Edwards’ standpoint, a player’s production is the quickest way to earn respect.

“If I’m back in the secondary, even though (Coleman’s) a rookie, (if) he gives me a call, I probably better listen to him because he probably knows what he’s doing because he’s been pretty productive in two games.”

While it appears the coaching staff certainly holds him in admiration, Coleman hopes his teammates share their opinion.

“I hope I’ve earned a little respect (from my teammates),” Coleman said. “If I keep working hard and making plays, I think I’ll fit in well.”

If he maintains his level of production, Coleman will shed a new light on the expectations of a late-round draft choice, in addition to a newfound respect.