Cracks In The Brick?

By Mark Cannizzaro
Jets Head Writer
December 15th, 2006
Jets rookie T D'Brickashaw Ferguson is looking to bounce back this week after a horrible game against Buffalo. (Jets Photo)
Jets rookie T D'Brickashaw Ferguson is looking to bounce back this week after a horrible game against Buffalo. (Jets Photo)
The questions this week were coming at D’Brickashaw Ferguson with more rapidity than a succession of oncoming pass-rushing defensive ends.

“What happened last week?’’

“Was that your worst game as a pro?’’

“How do you think you’ll recover from it?’’

Sure Ferguson, the Jets’ prized top draft pick in last April’s draft, has his most difficult outing of his rookie season in last week’s loss to the Bills, during which Buffalo defensive end Aaron Schobel conducted a clinic with three sacks and a forced fumble.

But when you step back and think about that game, it was really Ferguson’s first real bad game as a pro this season. For the most part, he’s been terrific, as has his rookie line mate, center Nick Mangold, also a first-round draft pick.

“I’ve moved on,’’ Ferguson said when asked for the umpteenth time about the Buffalo game. “Last week was a game that I can learn a lot from, I can improve upon and I've done that. I've looked at it, but I realize that we're going against Minnesota this week and that is the focus for this week. You have to turn the page and as soon as the game is over, you look at what you can. I'm not harping on it; it's over.’’

“You've got to move on. There's time to look and reflect and there's also the fact that I have another opponent this week. I can't be worried Saturday night like, 'Damn, if I would have had that block.' Even if I did a great job, I can't be like, 'Wow.' You've always got to keep your eyes on the target.''

That next target, of course, is Sunday’s opponent, the Vikings, in Minneapolis. Jets’ head coach Eric Mangini sounded all week like he has no worry about the way Ferguson will respond.

“ ‘Brick has been through a lot of games now,’’ Mangini said. “We've been through a lot of games as a team He's started every one of them. He's gotten a ton of reps, not just in the games, in practice. He's faced some of the premiere pass rushers in the league. This is just the way it works. Some weeks are better than others.

“The nice thing is that you get another opportunity here this week to go out and improve. What were the mistakes? What things could I have done better? Then going and correcting those throughout the week and making sure you execute those the next time you play.

“Brick has made real progress,’’ Mangini continued. “One area where Brick has improved significantly is he's always been very conscientious, but his attention to detail is improving. Not that it was bad, but I think it's getting better. It's getting to that thing we talked about, being a pro, your approach. A lot of times I'll start on Wednesdays and I let him kick the day off with some questions. Very rarely does he get things wrong. I'm pleased with that.

“That's all part of the maturing process for those guys. Different styles of play, different schemes, different blocking schemes, how you prepare during the week, what you take away from the experience and put sort of in your vault so you can draw on it the next time.’’

Schobel made some mention after last week’s game that Ferguson has trouble with power rushers. Mangini shot that down.

“As athletic as (Ferguson) is, that really helps him in terms of leverage and angles,’’ he said. “You can generate a lot of power with the proper base, the proper stance. When you throw your hands is really important. If you throw them too early, they can break them down. You really have no power. You always want to time it up almost like you're snapping into his chest where you can generate the most power.

“Those are things, regardless of whether you're 380 or 290, that can really help you also is your footwork, how wide your base is. You don't want to be more than shoulder-width apart. Then how you time off that punch which is critical for offensive linemen. On the flipside, you'll see with defensive linemen where they're breaking down the offensive linemen's hands. That's the counter to it. As they're going to throw the punch, you're always trying to chop that down and use it against them to generate some type of opening, some type of crease.’’

Jets’ veteran left guard Pete Kendall, who’s had a large role in helping Ferguson’s progress, is another voice who believes Ferguson will rebound fine,.

“He seems fine,’’ Kendall said. “He's an even-keeled kid. There are going to be times when you have a game like that and for the people on outside looking in it's easy to look at a stat sheet and say, 'You must have been awful.' There are as always extenuating circumstances. He'll he OK.’’

Said Ferguson: “There were some things that was like, 'OK, this is not how I would want the game to have gone.’ You can always learn from what you do. You can always analyze and say, 'Let me change this up.' I think initially it was, 'Man, I didn't play the way I wanted to.' But it's one game. If you're ever going to improve, you can't always hover on the fact that I didn't play as well as I wanted to.''

Ferguson’s rookie line mate, Mangold, is another player who’s been impressed with the way Ferguson handles things, good and bad.

"Being the No. 4 (overall) pick you might think he could have a big head,'' Mangold said. "But he was the same guy he was in January, since mini-camps. He stayed the same guy, the same level, the same preparation.''

So, too, has Mangold, who has made Jets fans forget about perennial Pro Bowl center Kevin Mawae in a hurry.

“Nick is one of those guys that not a lot fazes him,’’ Mangini said. “That's really good. Even from the first week he got here after his exams. He put the ball on the ground a couple times. That fazed him and me. But as he moves on, he's very comfortable in there. He's comfortable working with Pete (Kendall) and with Brandon (Moore). He's comfortable working with the rest of the guys, which is incredibly important.

“With Chad (Pennington). He does a nice job of, as he sees something and is exposed to it, being able adjust to it. He'll get better with that. He started a lot of games in college and high school. He's been the starter for a long time.

“He’s done an excellent job of preparation. Second to that is that he's never rattled. Nothing ever overwhelms him, whether it's preparation, whether it's game time. Whatever it is, a new look, he just takes it all in stride. It's pretty amazing as a rookie to be able to do that. A lot of times there a are lot of things that can get rookies rattled.’’

Kendall said, “He’s even keeled and has got a balanced approach to it. I guess it’s easy to be even-keeled when you’ve played as well as he has. He's done everything you would expect a center to do. The fact that he’s a rookie makes that more imporessive. He’s been able to handle the mental aspect of it and the physical aspect of it.

“I’m sure if he had some glaring breakdowns the story would have been, ‘He’s no Kevin Mawae.’ But he hasn’t had those breakdowns.’’

Things to look for in Sunday’s game against the Vikings:

-Can the Jets run on the Vikings’ defense, which has allowed an average of 54 yards rushing per game? Seven of the Minnesota opponents this season have failed to rush for more than 17 yards as a team against the Vikings. The Jets are ranked 17th in rushing offense.

-Can the Jets’ special teams win the game for the? The Vikings have had their struggles this season. They are among the six worst teams in the NFL on kickoffs and kickoff coverage. Their punter, Chris Kluwe, is ranked 29th in net average.

-Will the Vikings beat themselves? They have committed a league-high 100 penalties for 744 yards and committed the eighth-most turnovers in the NFL. Of their 28 turnovers, five of them have been returned for touchdowns, including an 88-yard interception return for a touchdown last Sunday in Detroit. Opponents have scored 87 points off Vikings' turnovers. The Vikings are 1-4 when they commit three or more turnovers.

- Will Chad Pennington rebound with a big game? He’s been flawless in games played inside domes _ a 69.7 completion percentage, eight touchdowns, one interception and a 124.3 passer rating in games at Detroit, Indianapolis and St. Louis. The Jets, however, lost two of those three games.

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