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Two Stars Emerge in the 3-4

By Mark Cannizzaro
Jets Insider.com Head Writer
November 24th, 2006
There are two players who have thrived the most in the 3-4 defensive system Eric Mangini brought to the Jets upon his arrival as head coach.

Jets' linebacker Victor Hobson and safety Kerry Rhodes have both been a terrific fit from the start and both have become big-play playmakers.

As the Jets enter Sunday's game against the Texans at Giants Stadium, they'll be relying heavily on Hobson and Rhodes to unsettle Houston's diverse quarterback David Carr, who's a threat as much with his arm as with his legs.

Carr has completed 69.5 percent of his passes and he's run for 136 yards and two touchdowns.

Look for the Jets to use a combination of Hobson and Rhodes as blitzers in an effort to disrupt the Texans' offense.

Hobson leads the Jets with seven quarterback hurries and has two fumble recoveries, one of which he returned for a touchdown in Buffalo. He also has 50 tackles and an interception along with perhaps the Jets' most disruptive hit of the season - the takedown of Tom Brady that was incorrectly called roughing the passer.

Rhodes leads the Jets with four sacks, has 56 tackles, three forced fumbles and two interceptions and could be headed to the Pro Bowl with some more performances like he's put up so far this season.

An incident that told Rhodes he might be considered among the elite occurred on October 1 when the Jets played the Colts and Peyton Manning, standing at the line of scrimmage, pointed to Rhodes and yelled out to his blockers, "There's Kerry. Block Kerry."

"That was a big moment for me," Rhodes said. "Most players don't let you know they respect you. And then he called me out after the game and told me I was playing good this year. That was a good compliment from a great player."

Jets' safety Erik Coleman recalled the Colts game, saying, "It's kind of funny. "Kerry would move one inch and the whole line would be pointing at him."

Like Manning and the Colts, Carr is sure to have a close eye on where Rhodes lines up on every play.

"You keep an eye on him," Carr said. "He's a big part of their defense, a big key of where the pressure is coming from. He's coming free sometimes and making some good tackles and some good plays, so we have to be aware of him.

"You have to see where he is, based on your formation, whether he's trying to come down to play man coverage or whether he's coming down to a location where there is no one to cover - then he has a chance where he can come get you."

Rhodes, after making three strip-sacks in the first two games, made a comment to some reporters that he was concerned about becoming a marked man after making some impact plays.

When Eric Mangini caught wind of the comments he felt compelled to razz his safety.

"I joked with Kerry a little bit when he got his first couple of sacks and he was talking about the offense pointing him out and all that stuff," Mangini said. "I said, 'Well, how many sacks do you have compared to (the Patriots') Rodney Harrison? Let's keep our worlds in perspective here.'"

Harrison has 28 1/2 career sacks in 12 seasons. Rhodes has five for his career.

"He has done a nice job," Mangini said, turning serious.

Rhodes smiled when Mangini's comments were replayed to him.

"I told him, 'Send me more. I'll catch him (the quarterback),'" Rhodes said.

Mangini said he'll send Rhodes and anyone else as long as they beat their respective blocker and get to the quarterback.

"Some guys just have those instincts, that feel for where the opening is, and also the feel for when to accelerate, when to attack their power with speed, when to attack their speed with power," Mangini said, saying that both Rhodes and Hobson have that knack. "It's a little combination of ability and instincts."

Rhodes said the moment Mangini came to to the Jets he felt his role would change.

"When we first sat down, he told me he expected me to be a leader," Rhodes said. "That surprised me, because it's only my second year. But he told me that just by playing the way I do that my teammates will follow my lead. He came in and gave me more confidence right away."

Hobson's confidence has grown with each game in the system.

"I just want to get better every day," Hobson said. "Every day I step out on the practice field and get the opportunity to improve and learn the system that much more I'm going to take advantage of it."

Hobson said he had no idea what to expect from the new defensive system and how he would fit.

"I knew it was a system that was going to be a lot different than what we're used to," he said.

But he's thrived in it as much as any player on the team. He's around the ball a lot and has become a big-play specialist.

"That's part of being a linebacker," Hobson said. "You've got to get to the ball, get around the ball and make plays. If you're not doing that you won't be out there on the field. This has been a process. I feel I've been able to build on it each and every game.

"If I have a big game, I don't want to come back the next week and have no one even know I'm out there. Our coaches in college (Michigan) used to say, 'If you're not getting better, you're getting worse.' I've always taken that approach."

Mangini has noticed.

"I'm really pleased with his development," he said of Hobson. "Throughout the course of the year, he made some big plays early on, but he's not just making those plays. He's doing a lot of things in terms of disguising the defense. He's doing a lot of things that are within the context of the defense but are advanced to where he was when we first got going.

"He helps to make it more difficult by the things that he's doing, more difficult for our opponent by the things that he's doing. I just like the way that he's learned the system, embraced the system and now developed his role within the system. He's really improved quite a bit."

Mangini pointed out that his linebackers coach, Jim Herrmann, who used to coach Hobson at Michigan, used him some in similar roles when he was in college.

"What I like about Vic is that short area acceleration that he has so that when he comes through, you see that burst, almost like the bell goes off and he's firing out."

CANNIZZARO’S PRE-GAME INSIDER TIDBITS

Things to look for in Sunday's game:

-The first-round-draft-pick match-up between Jets' left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Houston defensive end Mario Williams will be a marquee showdown. Ferguson, drafted fourth overall by the Jets in April, has allowed only three sacks this season, and Williams, the No. 1 overall pick, has 4 1/2 sacks.

"For the draftniks and for the people who see April as their favorite month of the NFL season I'm sure it'll be interesting for people to see," Jets' left guard Pete Kendall said. "But it's also a good match-up because it's the left offensive tackle against the open-side defensive end.

"There are a lot of parallels for those two guys as far as how their rookie seasons have gone,'' Kendall continued. "I think the biggest similarity is they're both getting better by leaps and bounds as the season as gone along."

Ferguson and Williams spent a good deal of time together during pre-draft get-togethers and got to know each other a little bit.

"I knew that I would eventually have the opportunity to go up against him," Ferguson said. "He's been excellent; he's been a great player for them. He's very athletic and can do a lot of things. I feel like I've grown. I'm always looking to improve, but I'm glad I've made some progress."

-Chad Pennington is coming off a poor performance against the Bears and, in general, has struggled of late. In the Jets' last three losses - to Jacksonville, Cleveland and Chicago - he's thrown seven interceptions and no touchdown passes. The Texans allowed Bills' quarterback J.P. Losman to throw for nearly 400 yards last week, so Pennington might have a chance to make some big plays in the passing game.

-Texans' head coach Gary Kubiak has expressed some concern about receiver Andre Johnson, who leads the NFL with 74 receptions, 13 more than his nearest competitor in the NFL, New Orleans' Reggie Bush, and 14 ahead of his nearest competitor in the AFC, Indianapolis' Marvin Harrison.

Johnson has missed almost all of practice this week with a deep thigh bruise. Though he's been listed as probable, Kubiak conceded that he was "concerned."

"It is a concern; I'm not going to hide that from anybody," Kubiak said. "I think the thigh bruise is a bit more than we thought it was."

Johnson has started every game for Houston this season and hasn't missed a game since he sat out three straight in October 2005 with a calf injury.

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