Through the midway point of Eric Manginiís first season as an NFL head coach, the Jetsí 4-4 record says theyíre right where they began the season at 0-0.
That, however, is hardly the case. At 0-0, the Jets had a seasonís worth of unanswered questions. At 4-4, we know a lot more about this team, its parts and where it has a chance to go before the end of 2006.
The following is a categorized mid-season look at these Jets, including the good, bad and the ugly.
Though Laveranues Coles has had a wonderful first half, Chad Pennington has made it all go for the Jets despite some recent hiccups. Penningtonís smarts and dedication to the class room has allowed the Jets to employ the no-huddle scheme that has worked well for the most part. His leadership and toughness has allowed the Jets to remain a contender.
If thereís one drawback to Pennington itís his propensity to be too much of a perfectionist, which sometimes forces him to try to do too much on his own. This is where he gets into trouble. He, too, is too hard on himself when things donít go perfectly right.
Bottom line is this: Penningtonís modest stats (9 touchdowns and 8 interceptions) belie his importance to this team. Pennington performing as well as he has and staying as healthy as he has (knock wood) has allowed Mangini to build this program to where it is right now. Mangini has not had to worry about the quarterback position.
MOST PRODUCTIVE PLAYER:
Without question itís Coles, whoís got 46 receptions (fourth in the AFC) and three touchdowns and appears en route to a Pro Bowl season. Coles catches anything that comes his way Ö and more.
MOST IMPROVED: Jerricho Cotchery, who entered this season as a backup receiver still trying to find his way and beat out Justin McCareins for a starting job. Cotchery, who has 35 catches and three touchdowns and is on pace to catch 70. Not bad for a player who entered this season with a career total of 25 catches. Tight end Chris Baker, who has 15 catches and has played very well, gets an honorable mention in this category.
HIGHLIGHT FILM PLAY OF THE HALF SEASON: Cotcheryís acrobatic catch-and-run against the Patriots on which he was sandwiched, appeared to be down but bounced off a New England defensive back and back to his feet to run the rest of the way to the end zone.
BEST CATCH OF THE SEASON THAT WASNíT:
Bakerís amazing one-handed grab in Cleveland on which he was sure to come down inbounds but was called out by a poor officiating crew.
Running back Leon Washington, a mere fourth-round draft pick, has slowly become the teamís feature back, leading the Jets with 397 rushing yards and a 4.6-yard average. He has two 100-yard rushing performances to his credit already. Only two other rookie backs _ Indianapolisí Joseph Addai (490 yards, 4.7-yard average) and New Englandís Laurance Maroney (458, 4.3-yard average) _ have rushed for more yards than Washington.
FEAST OR FAMINE AWARD:
Justin Miller is either boom or bust. Heís a fraction of a yard off the NFL lead in kickoff return average (29.7 yards) and has become only the third Jets player in franchise history to return two kickoffs for touchdowns. As a cornerback, though, he makes a nice kickoff returner. Miller is maddeningly inconsistent at corner, where his lapses lead to too many big plays and opponentsí touchdowns.
WHOíS HE? AWARD:
Drew Coleman, a quiet rookie sixth-round draft pick from TCU is the starting cornerback, not Miller, who was drafted in the second round last year. Coleman is the poster child for the Mangini player that works hard, takes to coaching and brings it to the field. Heís not flashy and is still awaiting his first INT, but heís been steady enough to remain in the starting lineup even though most Jets fans have no idea who he is.
Rookie receiver/quarterback/running back/special teams demon Brad Smith has been an absolute find for the Jets. The former record-setting Missouri star quarterback has set his non-existent ego aside and done everything but park cars in the Weeb Ewbank Hall parking lot for Mangini. His role will continue expand because heís one of the most prolific athletes on the team and itíll be fun to watch.
LOCKER ROOM CUT-UP:
Coles, who on his first tour of duty here was a highly-unpredictable sort, one day friendly and the next surly. Now seemingly more comfortable in his own skin, Coles has come into his own as a leader on the team and has developed one of the most eye-opening rapports with reporters imaginable. Heís been not only classy in defeat, always available even in the most difficult times, but heís been a downright delight to work with.
LOCKER ROOM GO TO:
Two players represent delivering the perfect perspective on the goings on with the team and they deliver it in different manners. Pete Kendall, the consummate professional in every sense of the word, is always in front of his locker when you need him and his perspective is always laced with some terrific dry humor but not with over-sugared BS. Matt Chatham delivers the perspective in a more erudite manner, but gets across the same kind of message that Kendall does in his own way.
MOST SOBERING MOMENT:
When it was finally time for Curtis Martin to shut it down last week. We all sensed this was going to be the way it would end, but universally hoped to see No. 28 in uniform again. Iíve said it numerous times before and donít mind saying it again: Itís been nothing short of a privilege to have covered Martin in his NFL career and to simply have been touched by his class and Iíll miss the interaction I had with him over the years. Whenever his number is called in Canton, where Iíve never been for any inductions, Iíll make sure Iím there for it.
That is, without question, cornerback Andre Dyson, who leads the team with three interceptions, but you would never know it.
MOST SURPRISING VETERAN PERFORMANCE:
Despite being a lightning rod for criticism because of his draft status (No. 4 overall in 2004), Dewayne Robertson has been a solid, hard-working player for Mangini whose performance has been on the rise.
BITE THE TONGUE AWARD:
Justin McCareins was made an example of at the start of training camp when he failed the running drill and was left to hang on the PUP list for a day. He has since done everyt6hing he can to work himself back onto the field and into good graces.
Kevan Barlow. He leads the team with five rushing touchdowns. Barlow, by the way, has been a model citizen here since being traded from San Francisco, where he was labeled a malcontent.
ASSISTANT COACH OF THE YEAR:
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, whoís been a dynamic-at-times breath of fresh air with some terrific innovations such as the semi-no-huddle the Jets have used so effectively. Schottenheimerís stuff has, for the most part, worked and he seems unafraid to make some bold calls.
ASSISTANT ON THE HOT SEAT:
Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. Itís difficult to place all the blame on him, but the defense is ranked 31st overall in the league and 30th against the run, which is inexcusable with the talent the Jets have.
ERIC MANGINI HALFWAY GRADE:
The 4-4 record screams for a mediocre grade, but Mangini, in his first go-Ďround as a head coach has been better than mediocre. His training camp was run in a precise, organized way that introduced so much situational stuff early on it made it interesting for the players. His age (35) hasnít prevented him from gaining the respect of his players. Heís going to get better and better.