Jets WR Justin McCareins finally got into a groove against New England last week. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
This past off-season brought about a wholesale of changes for the New York Jets. The team’s front office deemed it necessary to bolster a number of positions, none more important than at wide receiver. Instead of entering a bidding war to acquire trash-talking star WR Terrell Owens, the Jets turned their attention toward another big, physical target that has been highly productive in recent seasons. He does not possess the same public notoriety or name recognition of Owens, but WR Justin McCareins is widely regarded as a rising star that can wreck havoc on opposing defenses with his big-play capabilities.
The Jets wasted little time securing a player to complement WR Santana Moss and provide QB Chad Pennington another weapon in his arsenal. During the first week of free agency, Gang Green placed a call to Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese, inquiring about the availability of their big-play wide out. By March 5th, McCareins was on a plane headed to New York after the Jets sent a 2004 second-round draft choice to Tennessee. The Jets felt the trade was a bargain considering McCareins had been tendered at a first-round rate of $1.368 million, meaning any team that signed him would have given up a first-round pick in exchange for the Northern Illinois product. The Jets handed McCareins a seven-year, $31 million contract including a $7 million signing bonus to become a long-term fixture in their offense. They also felt they finally had the big target that they had been looking for since Keyshawn Johnson was traded to the Bucs four seasons earlier.
Throughout his career, McCareins has been forced to produce in limited playing time. Drafted by the Titans in the fourth round of the 2001 Draft, McCareins participated in just four games during his rookie season, catching three passes. In 2002, McCareins received more playing time, exhibiting early flashes of his big play potential. The 6-2, 215 pound McCareins caught 19 balls for 301 yards (15.8 ypc) and two touchdowns. After an injury sidelined Titans WR Drew Bennett early in the 2003 season, McCareins was given the opportunity to start 10 games and he enjoyed a breakout year. He ended up finishing with 47 receptions for 813 yards and seven touchdowns. With a starting job secured, McCareins’ biggest challenge now is becoming acclimated with a new offensive scheme and finding a rhythm with Jets QB Chad Pennington.
“I want to hold up my end of the deal and get the job done,” McCareins said. “I want to get Chad confident in me and do the right thing every play on the field.”
Through six games, McCareins leads the club in receptions (19) and receiving yards (260) this season. Head coach Herm Edwards has been pleased by the play of McCareins, but admits there is room for improvement after the former Titans star caught six passes for 83 yards versus the New England Patriots in Week 7.
“That would help us a lot if he could continue to play like that,” Edwards said. “We've got to continue to find a way to get him the ball and I think we did a good job of getting him the ball (vs. the Pats) and he made some big plays for us.”
McCareins stressed the importance of team success over individual production in evaluating his performance this year.
“We started out real good as a team on offense,” said McCareins citing the team’s 5-1 record. “Chad just has to be comfortable with what I’m doing and hopefully I can build off that and make plays for him. The catches will come, but the wins are my priority right now.”
After McCareins’ solid performance against the Pats last week, head coach Herm Edwards believes the production of WR Santana Moss will only improve now that he will face less double coverage.
“I think with what (McCareins) did last week, that will help (Santana),” Edwards said. “All of a sudden Justin is the guy that can make some plays, and now there will be some concerns about him, too.”
If McCareins can take the Jets and their offense to another level, the investment will be worth every penny. More importantly, by finally filling the void left by the Keyshawn trade, it can help the Jets reach their ultimate goal which is a World Championship.