When Eric Mangini arrived as the Jets’ head coach, like any newcomer, he has preconceived notions about many of the people he was about to work with _ most notably in his case, the players he was inheriting.
Dewayne Robertson, the Jets’ defensive tackle, appeared to Mangini like he could be a potential problem.
Robertson was not only the fourth overall pick in the 2003 draft who, by many accounts, was an underachiever, but he was going to have to make a difficult transition from being a three-technique lineman in a 4-3 base defense to being a nose tackle in the 3-4 base defense Mangini was bringing in.
Robertson, too, was not known as the hardest working player in the league, known for flashing periodically with some big plays and then disappearing for alarming periods of time.
Mangini, of course, came in with an open mind, giving everyone a chance under his watch, but nonetheless, Robertson figured to be a chore.
As it’s turned out, the 317-pounder has been anything but a headache for Mangini and the Jets. He has, in fact, been somewhat of a revelation, one of the most consistent performers on the Jets’ defense and _ get this _ one of the hardest workers on the team.
After a six-tackle, one-sack performance against the Patriots last Sunday (five of those tackles came within one yard of the line of scrimmage), Robertson was deservedly awarded the AFC’s Defensive Player of the Week honor.
“He's been great,’’ Mangini said. “He's been great from the offseason program. I've been really happy with the way he's worked. I was just saying that that work ethic has really helped him throughout the process and not saying that it wasn't there, you know, initially.’’
Robertson’s curse has always been where he was picked _ fourth overall brings on such lofty expectation _ and the position he plays, which is not one that generally leads to big statistics.
He was immediately compared to Warren Sapp because of the position he plays, which was unfair. Sapp is one of the best to ever play the position.
The expectation, too, came from the Jets trading up to get Robertson, sending their 13th overall pick (which the Bears used to draft defensive end Michael Haynes, who is out of the league), their 22nd overall (the Bears drafted quarterback Rex Grossman) and the 116th overall (tackle Ian Scott) to the Bears.
That was a lot of merchandise to trade for one pick, so Robertson was expected to be Superman from the get-go.
Robertson, to be sure, was delighted to get the league’s recognition, but it was the words from Mangini that seemed to move him most.
“Just from hearing Eric make the comments he's made about me _ and Eric’s been around some good football players _ it’s an honor to have him speak about me that way,’’ Robertson said.
His response to the criticism: “I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job. People who know football know what goes on. People who don’t know football, they look for touchdowns and sacks and things. People who know football know what's going on.’’
Robertson, despite not having the ideal size to play nose tackle in the two-gap system, has prospered in the defense.
"Some people had high expectations because he was the fourth pick," Jets’ linebacker Jonathan Vilma said. "You have such high expectations of a first-rounder, sometimes it takes a little longer. In D-Rob's case, his first year was real slow and after that he has been playing real good ball.
"He always has been a good player. And now people are starting to take notice."
Indeed, Robertson appears well on his way to set new career statistical highs this season. His career high in tackles is 52 and sacks s 3˝, both set in 2004. Through nine games entering Sunday’s game against the Bears, he has 38 tackles and two sacks.
"He has been doing pretty well, huh?" Jets’ left guard Pete Kendall said. "He has always been strong and explosive. I think he understands the types of blocks he is going to see now and he knows how to react to them better now.
“Dewayne Robertson stands out as part of what everybody on defense has had to go though, which is changing mentality and technique,’’ Kendall went on. “He's an obvious example of going from a penetrating three-technique in a 4-3 scheme, to more of a traditional nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme. He's been asked to make a big change and I think pretty much across the board, all those guys have been.’’
Jets’ veteran defensive end Bobby Hamilton said, “We know what type of player Dewayne is. I told him, ‘Don’t worry about what outside people say.’ He’s doing a great job. He wants to do it. He wants to get the job done and help the team win. You see him working like that and it makes you want to work hard too.’’
Who knew you’d ever hear that about Dewayne Robertson?
Certainly not Mangini, who called the Defensive Player of the Week honor “a tribute to the hard work he's done. We've talked a lot about his progress in the system, his progress personally in terms of his work ethic, and the way that he studies and prepares. We're all really pleased for him.’’
CANNIZZARO’S PRE-GAME INSIDER TIDBITS
Things to look for in Sunday’s Jets-Bears game:
-Bears’ kicker Robbie Gould has not missed a single kick this season. He’s 29-of-29 on extra points and 23-of-23 on field goals.
-Bears’ punt returner Devin Hester, who authored that record 108-yard touchdown return of a short Giants’ kicker Jay Feely field goal attempt last Sunday night, leads the NFC with a 13.1-yard punt return average. He, too, has scored twice on punt returns. The longest punt return the Jets have allowed this season, however, is 14 yards.
-On the other side, Jets’ punt returner Tim Dwight has quietly pushed his average to 10.7 yards (fourth in the AFC). The Bears allow an average of 11.2 yards on punt returns.
-Jets’ kickoff returner Justin Miller leads the NFL with a 30.1-yard average and two touchdowns and continues to be a huge weapon for the Jets.
-The Jets recorded a season-high four sacks last week in New England. Bears’ quarterback Rex Grossman, when pressured, has turned the ball over. He’s thrown 11 intercetions. Grossman, however, has been sacked only 11 times in nine games this season.
-Watch out for Jets’ rookie running back Leon Washington, who has two 100-yard rushing games. The Bears’ defense has allowed a 100-yard rusher in each of their last three games.