He came to New York as a known malcontent from the West Coast, a player who compared his head coach to Hitler.
What has transformed Kevan Barlow into the happy-go-lucky solid citizen he’s become since joining the Jets?
It’s not necessarily playing time, because Barlow, who thought he was coming here to replace Curtis Martin as the Jets’ feature, workhorse back, has been playing only part time.
In fact, if there’s trend developing at all in recent weeks, Barlow’s carries might be diminishing if rookie Leon Washington keeps the pace he’s been setting. Washington, of course, had a career day last Sunday, rushing for 129 and two touchdowns. Barlow did, however, score two touchdowns himself an 49 rushing yards.
Entering Sunday’s game in Cleveland, Barlow has 79 carries and Washington has 71. Washington, though, has more yards (346 to 236), but Barlow has five TDs to Washington’s two.
"I wasn’t too happy where I was, but I'm happy here,’’ Barlow said. “I definitely like the part as the Jerome Bettis, getting all the touchdowns. I can play the whole game if I had to be a single back, but we've got a good thing going right now. I can't complain; I'm getting touchdowns. I'm happy with my role here.’’
Barlow’s happiness has, ironically, come from the relationship he’s forged with Eric Mangini.
“I like Coach Eric a lot; he's my buddy,’’ Barlow said. “I heard some things about him being such a disciplinarian and didn’t think he was going to be a great guy, but I respect him as a coach and he’s been like a friend. He’s 35, young, and he can relate to the players.
“I’ve been through four head coaches in five years and out of all of them it seems like he's the one on the track to be the most successful. The head coach is on right track to being a successful guy.’’
What about playing in a system that doesn’t give him the ball 25 times a game?
"Early in my career, I wanted all 50 carries through all 16 games, but that's not going to work in this league," he said. "Me and Leon complement each other. He's shining, but I'm going to get mine, too’’
Though he’s been somewhat cast in such the role of getting the tough inside yards, Barlow doesn’t see himself typecast as that kind of back. He believes he’ll have his days as the feature back yet.
"No, that's what I don't want," he said. "I'm not a third-down-and-one back like Jerome Bettis was late in his career. I'm a guy who can be physical, but I also feel like I can make you miss, too. And once I get by you, I'm gone, baby. (Right now) I'm pounding the ball up there and (Washington) is getting the pitches and the draws. Shoot, I'd like some of those, too.
“But right now it's what's helping us win, it's productive, so you can't complain about something that's not negative.’’
Barlow, though, still yearns for more touches, saying, "I'm the type of back who needs the ball. The more carries I get, the better I get. Twenty plus, depending on the situation. I know me. I know I need the ball more.
“Like I said, Leon's doing great, he's shining right now. But KB's going to get his shine, too. There's no doubt in my mind it's going to come."
While Washington develops as a rookie, Barlow has taken some pride in helping him along.
“I bring other things to the team besides my skills; I'm a leader and we've got a young group of guys," he said. "They need to know I'm happy being there. I was in a situation where I wasn't too happy. I think this is a great organization."
While many have wondered if Washington has pushed himself into being the feature back, Mangini has continued to say both will play. How much or little depends on the game plan.
"It will be game-plan specific or package specific," Mangini said. "(Leon) has certain plays and Kevan has certain plays, and there is some flexibility within those plays for both guys.’’
INSIDER EXTRA POINTS
What is going on with Anthony Schlegel?
When the active linebacker was drafted in the third round by the Jets he figured to at least be an immediate contributor on special teams and, at some point later, push his way into some plays on defense.
But, seven games into the season, Schlegel has yet to suit up in and play an NFL game, which makes you wonder what’s wrong with the guy?
It raises a number of questions, such as, is he in Mangini’s dog house? Is he an underachiever when he looked at Ohio State like such an overachiever, always around the ball? Or is there some other hidden factor as to why he hasn’t even been given a sniff?
Oddly, when asked about Schlegel, Mangini was very positive about him, not expressing any disappointment at all and not even criticizing him. He, too, was vague about what is keeping Schlegel out of the mix.
“Anthony has done a great job for us in the things that he's been able to contribute in, and right now it's been helping us in practice and working on his technique,’’ Mangini said. “The development side he's working at, and as he continues to develop his opportunities will increase. In terms of practice, he arguably gives the best look (as a scout team player) week in and week out, which is invaluable.
“He's making progress. It's just unfortunate we can only take the 45 (players to the game) and you've got to carve out that niche of where you're going to contribute on (special) teams and then what's your role on defense. That's something he's working towards.
“Right now, the guys that we have in front of him on teams are doing a good job, and he's working to carve out a niche there. But until that happens, he's contributing where he can, which is at practice.’’
Fine, but the Jets hardly had in mind spending a third-round draft pick on a guy who gives good looks on the scout team. After all, an unheralded free agent linebacker named Ryan Riddle, who was signed after Week Three, has played the last two games ahead of Schlegel on special teams. So, too, has Cody Spencer, another waiver wire pickup at linebacker in midseason. He’s played the last four games.
Amongst the draft picks, safety Eric Smith, who was picked behind Schlegel in the third round, has played in all seven games and even contributed on defense in the dime package. Fourth-round pick Brad Smith has been one of the surprises of the season. Sixth-round pick Drew Coleman has started the last two games at cornerback.
As for Schlegel, he politely bit his lip on his situation, simply maintaining that he’s working hard.
"All I do know is I go out there and practice hard every day and try to improve myself and improve the team as best I can,’’ Schlegel said.
Asked if it’s been frustrating, he said, “I really don't even think about it, because my job right now is to go out there and practice hard for these guys. So how I feel is unimportant.''
Asked if he’s gotten any feedback from the coaching on his progress or lack thereof, Schlegel let out a laugh that indicated he hasn’t heard much, saying, “I don't know. Honestly, all I'm trying to do is make the team better and try and improve myself every day.''
Asked what he expected when drafted, he said, “I had no clue what to expect. This is what I'm going through, so this is what I'm going through. All that is really here nor there. You've just got to go out and work hard every day. I just go out there and do what they tell me to do.''
Asked if he’s felt the desire to ask Mangini or his position coaches what he can do to get into a game or what he’s not doing to keep him from playing, Schlegel said, “That's really not your place. Your place is to go out there practice. You have to prepare every week as if you're playing, so I try to do that. I study film and go out there and practice hard. The decision is not up to me. All I can do is try to help the team as best as I can.''
One of the Jets' concerns with the Browns Sunday is quarterback Charlie Frye, who's scored three rushing touchdowns to go along with his six touchdown passes.
"He's a make-it-happen kind of quarterback, and those kinds of guys scare you because they can make a play any time,'' Jets’ linebacker Matt Chatham said. "He is young and he's made mistakes (10 INTs), but you have to be extremely cautious because he can really hurt you.''
Another concern of the Jets is the Browns' special teams. Their kickoff returner Joshua Cribbs leads the NFL with a 28.7-yard average and that's without having yet returned one for a score. The Jets' Justin Miller is second to him with a 28.0-yard average and he has a 103-yard touchdown return to his credit.
Browns' punt returner Dennis Northcutt is ranked third in the AFC and fourth in the NFL with a 12.4-yard average.