Kevin who? To the delight of Jets fans, rookie C Nick Mangold's transition from college to the NFL has been seamless. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
When the Jets selected Ohio State C Nick Mangold with the 29th overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, hardly anyone – players, fans, and analysts alike – were surprised. After releasing veteran C Kevin Mawae as a cap-casualty one month earlier, the Jets had shown serious interest in the senior offensive-lineman and the potential he could bring to the offensive line.
No one, however, thought he would be starting in his rookie season.
Two weeks before the draft, the Jets signed veteran C Trey Teague to the team to replace Mawae as the starting center, and it appeared that Mangold would train under Teague for a time.
At a mid-June mini-camp, those plans changed drastically when Teague had his ankle rolled onto by a teammate, breaking it.
”When he first went down, it was the feeling of just feeling bad for him,” Mangold said of his emotions when he saw Teague go down, adding that “you never want to see that happen to anybody.”
When asked about how it felt to be the only healthy center on the roster at that time, Mangold replied in a manner befitting his cool, composed personality. ”I was told that there was a lot of learning to do,” he said with a smile, “and that just solidified that fact.”
Making changes and transitions is a vital part of playing professional sports, and it is something that Mangold has excelled in the early stages of his career. One of the most interesting transitions for Mangold was learning to play center for the Jets’ pocket-passing quarterback, Chad Pennington.
At Ohio State University, Mangold was the star center for an offense led by one of the most agile players in the nation, QB Troy Smith. A true dual-threat quarterback, Smith opened up the Buckeyes offense last year by rushing for 611 yards and 11 touchdowns on top of his excellent passing stats.
Pennington, on the other hand, has rushed for just 277 yards and five touchdowns in his entire NFL career.
Mangold, who has taken a considerable number of snaps with both quarterbacks, explained why his approach to blocking hasn’t changed with the Jets despite the different offensive system.
”Well you know going through the college career I had both [types of quarterbacks]: I had Troy, and then I had a couple other guys who were pocket passers. It’s blocking the position, not blocking for the person, and as an offensive lineman that’s a big key. You’re back there protecting a guy; no matter what he does - if he stands or if he runs - you’ve got to protect him.”
Jets Head Coach Eric Mangini frequently gushes to the media about the aid and support that the veterans on the team give to the young players on a daily basis. During a press conference on October 5th, Mangini spoke specifically about the help that veteran linemen Pete Kendall, Anthony Clement, and Brandon Moore had been providing the two rookie-starters on the O-line, Mangold and LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson.
”I think those three guys have really, in all different ways, collectively helped the overall performance of the line and helped the young guys,” Mangini said in his opening statement that day.
Mangold couldn’t agree more with his coach’s statement, and even took it a step further by saying that “it’s been all the older guys”. He mentioned the contributions of T Adrian Jones, who has been “making sure that we keep up with what we’re doing,” despite losing his starting role this season. He pointed out an even more unexpected positive influence as well: Trey Teague.
”Trey has been great off the field,” Mangold said of the veteran’s contributions, even while being injured. “Sitting in meetings, he’s always got a little insight.”
Before the season began, it appeared Teague would regain his spot when he got healthy, but Mangold’s solid play has ended the rumors abruptly. He said that he was told to “keep learning and we [Jets coaches] will come to decide things when the time happens,” and it is his incredible desire and ability to learn that have him starting in his rookie season.
Mangold’s ability to learn new techniques quickly may also prove important if Mangini decides to move players around on the offensive line. Although Mangold rarely
practices at different positions, he is confident that he could make a switch if it was required of him.
”I’m just trying to find my niche,” he professed, adding that, “wherever it happens to be that they tell me I need to be, that’s what I’m going to work on.”
When the game is on, you rarely hear Nick Mangold’s name mentioned and that’s a good thing. He has seamlessly matriculated from college into the NFL which is rare for a rookie lineman, even more difficult for a center. Mangold’s emergence is a tribute to his great work ethic and also the fine coaching of Jets’ first year offensive line coach Tony Wise who brings 16 years of NFL coaching experience to the offensive line.
Interestingly enough, this soft-spoken rookie from Ohio State seems to be the only player on that line who doesn’t miss any assignments. Maybe the veterans who have been helping him should start taking a few notes themselves if they want to keep their jobs, because Nick Mangold possesses one quality that they all lack: consistency.
Just as Pennington’s consistency earned him the starting-quarterback job, Mangold’s consistency as enabled him to keep the starting job that he fell into. Hopefully he can maintain that consistent effort and ultimately fill the void left by the ever-popular Kevin Mawae.
Kendall seems to feel that Mangold has been filling that void very nicely. When asked about his rookie teammate, Kendall gushed about Mangold’s ability to open up lanes for the rush, attributing the success to the fact that Mangold came to the team “physically pretty much ready to play.” He also praised the quickness with which Mangold had learned the offensive system.
After thinking for a moment, Kendall decided to clarify his statement about Mangold learning the offensive system very quickly, making it clear that learning the system was no easy task. In other words, the 11-year veteran felt that he may not have given Mangold enough credit for his early success.
"Not to say that it's dumbed down for a rookie or whatever,” said Kendall, searching for the perfect words to use. “It's just... it's a system he's been able to grasp, I think, really pretty quickly and he's done a good job with it."
With the veteran Teague’s return coming any day, Mangold need not worry. His job is secure for this season and likely many seasons to come.