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Rookies Paying Huge Dividends

By Mark Cannizzaro
Jets Insider.com Head Writer
December 5th, 2006
The Jets have four remaining games to this regular season, which means 12 are already in the books. There’s a saying in pro football that once this time of the season arrives there are no longer any rookies.

Still, though, in name at least, the Jets are very much being propelled this season by the significant (and some rather stunning) contributions of a rather successful corps of rookies, most of which are draft picks.

Another frequently-used saying in the NFL is that it takes three years before you can truly measure and evaluate a team’s draft.

In the case of the Jets, they’ve got a pretty good head start on that three-year period in that their draft class has been a revelation.

Their two starting rookies on the offensive line _ left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold _ have not only performed like veterans since they arrived to New York, but they, too, have conducted themselves as if they’d been there a few years already.

Ferguson, playing the toughest pass-protecting position in the game, has allowed only three sacks in 12 games so far this season. He, too, has delivered numerous pancake blocks and is getting better and better with his run blocking.

Mangold has made everyone forget about Kevin Mawae in a hurry, quarterbacking the line making the calls and run blocking very well, including some excellent down-field blocking.

When Leon Washington was drafted in the fourth round _ with the pick “traded’’ to the Jets by the Chiefs as compensation for Herman Edwards _ it was hardly believed that he would be such a factor on the team so quickly.

Yet, platooning at running back with Kevan Barlow and Cedric Houston, he leads the Jets with 511 rushing yards and three touchdowns. He’s had two 100-yard rushing games and has been a key performer on special teams.

Indianapolis’ Joseph Addai and New England’s Laurence Maroney are the only two rookie backs who have rushed for more yards than Washington among AFC rookies.

And how about Brad Smith?

When he was drafted in the fourth round and converted from college quarterback to NFL receiver, Smith figured to be a project, maybe someone who could find a small niche on special teams.

Yet Smith has become one of the most dangerous playmakers on the team as a multipurpose weapon who can catch passes as a receiver, take a handoff, an option toss or a reverse out of the backfield as a receiver, throw a pass as a quarterback and make key tackles in kick coverage as a special teams player.

Another Smith _ safety Eric Smith _ has also quietly forged a role on the team, playing in all 12 games in nickel and dime packages and on special teams.

Drew Coleman, a sixth-round draft pick, had been starting at cornerback before his missed tackle allowed Bears’ receiver Mark Bradley to score the only touchdown of the game in the Jets’ 10-0 loss to Chicago last month.

Former Ohio State linebacker Anthony Schlegel, who was inactive for the first nine games of the season, has even gotten into the last three games and been a contributor on special teams.

Kellen Clemens remains assumed as the team’s quarterback of the future as he sits, watches, learns and waits.

Not including Clemens, that’s seven draft picks making a significant contribution to the success of the Jets, who are 7-5 and in great position to make the playoffs.

In the past, critics would get on former Jets’ general manager Terry Bradway for touting how many of his draft picks were on the roster, as if that was some sort of badge showing how great his drafts were. The thought was always that Bradway would influence the coaching staff into keeping as many draft picks as possible so it made the team’s drafts look successful.

Mike Tannenbaum, the current general manager, doesn’t need to strong-arm anyone into keeping his picks. When you have eight rookie draft picks contributing the way the Jets do, there’s no need for politics.

INSIDER EXTRA POINT

Even if you turn down your radios and televisions you cannot hear that clamoring for Chad Pennington’ starting job anymore, can you?

Coming out of the loss to the Bears, you’d have thought Pennington had turned into the worst quarterback in the NFL the way many Jets fans and media outlets turned on him.

Now, two games later, two wins later, two standout passing performances later, no one wants Patrick Ramsey calling signals behind Nick Mangold anymore.

The NFL probably hasn’t seen as efficient and dominating and surgical a passing performance this season as the one Pennington put on in the first half against the Packers on Sunday. Only a couple of garbage-time interceptions soiled what would have been phenomenal statistics for the game.

"Chad has made a lot of good decisions, even those games where he really wasn't maybe as efficient as he has been here the last couple weeks, he's made a lot of good decisions in those games,’’ Eric Mangini said. “That's just been another example of receivers and Chad working that much harder to improve the timing, improve the mechanics of the passing game. It’s just the consistency of approach and reevaluating where we need to get better, targeting those areas, practicing those areas and then fixing the problems.’’

The bottom line to the calls for Pennington’s job are this: With due respect top Ramsey and Clemens, can you imagine anyone else running the Jets’ complicated no-huddle offense with the efficiency of Pennington?

Didn’t think so.

“Chad's capacity for information is very high, so that helps because you don't have to come up with the same thing multiple times to get it right,’’ Mangini said. “And then, he has that ability, that presence on the field, to direct traffic and when traffic is not exactly flowing the way you'd like it to, to be able to settle everything down and go.’’

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