INSIDER THURSDAY TEAM REPORT
By David Fletcher
December 21st, 2006
With just four days remaining until the Jets’ pivotal Monday night game against the rival Dolphins, focus shifted Thursday afternoon to – as usual – third-down situations. Despite enjoying great success on third-downs throughout most of the season, Gang Green struggled in that area during the fourth quarter of a Jets-Dolphins game earlier this season, nearly costing them the game.
The Jets’ defensive meltdown in the final quarter of that contest is clearly a concern for first-year Head Coach Eric Mangini and his team, who are currently in the thick of the AFC Wildcard race. However, Mangini believes that poor defense was not the only factor in the near-collapse.
“Offensively, we had two three-and-outs there at the end and didn’t chew up a lot of time,” Mangini pointed out during his Thursday presser. Those three-and-outs were not simply the product of bad play by the Jets, though; Miami’s defense is truly a force to be reckoned with.
Of all the Dolphins’ defensive players, no one has caused more Gang Green-headaches than veteran-DE Jason Taylor. The ten-year NFL veteran recorded a sack against the Jets earlier this season and currently leads his team in interceptions.
“He’s tough, and he’s a problem every play,” Mangini said of Taylor, who has tormented the Jets and Mangini’s former team, the Patriots, for the past decade. “He’s the type of guy where even when you’ve got him taken care of… it’s still a problem.”
Taylor’s head coach, Nick Saban, has been equally impressed by his star defender. “I haven’t been around many players who have impacted a team as much as he has,” gushed Saban during a Thursday-afternoon conference call. However, Taylor - a top-candidate for the NFL’s Defensive-MVP award - was noticeably unenthusiastic about all the praise he has been receiving for his individual accomplishments.
A true team-player, Taylor is more concerned about the helping the Dolphins organization succeed: something even his career-year couldn’t achieve this season. For the opportunity to play in January, an emotional Taylor admitted that, “I’d trade in every sack I ever made and every play I ever made.”
Taylor will be going up against rookie-LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson – a match-up won by the veteran earlier this season. However, the player Taylor will face this week is an entirely different one from the first meeting… and Taylor’s the first to admit it.
”You can see on tape he’s moving better,” Taylor said of Ferguson during a Thursday conference-call. “He doesn’t seem so fidgety.” Taylor even went so far as to comment on where he thinks Ferguson’s career will take him, stating simply, “He’s definitely gonna be a force.”
With a Jacksonville loss, the Jets need only to win out to clinch their playoff berth. Although most players are trying to avoid any playoff-talk (in accordance with Coach Mangini’s ban of “the p-word”), OL Pete Kendall had no problem sharing his thoughts on the issue with reporters.
“I think they [young players] sense that it’s important, but I think they need some time under their belt, go through some down years, to understand what an exciting opportunity this is,” he explained. “I can sit and tell these guys that I’ve had three playoff games in ten years, but I don’t know if somebody tells you something, it registers the same way as experiencing something.”
LB Victor Hobson, a four-year veteran of the NFL, has had the good fortune of being able to play in the playoffs already despite his relatively-short NFL tenure. Still, Hobson understands that there are two games left to be played before a return to the postseason is a possibility and intends to approach each of the final two games like every other this season.
”We know it’s gonna be a dog fight,” he said of the upcoming game against Miami, “and we’ve got to be prepared for it.”
-Future Hall-of-Fame RB Curtis Martin, who has not played at all this season after offseason knee surgery forced him onto the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list and eventually to Injured Reserve (IR), made a surprise appearance in the Jets’ locker room today. Martin showed up dressed in warm-up pants and a tank-top, walked straight to his locker, grabbed his running-back’s gloves, and headed out.
Approximately a half-hour later, Martin showed up at the practice field during special teams drills. He did not participate in any activities on the outdoor field, however he did go into the practice bubble, gloves and all. Less than a minute later, the rest of the team’s running-back corps filed into the practice bubble, presumably to get some hands-on help from the great CuMart.
-OL Pete Kendall, voted the Jets’ “Good Guy” of the year by the team’s beat-writers today, was surprised to find a book entitled Football Coaching for Dummies in his locker today, which he claimed was a gift from his “secret Santa.” Kendall, an 11-year veteran of the NFL, joked that he thought the gift was from a coach and was a suggestion as to what he should be doing next season (as opposed to playing yet another year).
-RB Kevan Barlow, who has been inactive for the past three games, explained to reporters how he made the most of his time on the bench. “I took advantage of the time off by mentally trying to grasp the offense and learn a lot of things,” he said, adding that, “I think I have.”
Barlow was even spotted sitting on the bench last Sunday with eye-black under each eye, even though he was not active for the game. When asked if he was a late scratch and that’s why he had on the eye-black, Barlow laughed and responded, “I was just pumped up… I try to get myself into it mentally.”
This Monday, Barlow may not even have to watch the game from the bench. RB Cedric Houston missed his second-straight day of practice after suffering a calf injury in the team’s win over the Vikings. He is listed as questionable.
-Congratulations to DL Dave Ball and his wife, who had a little boy named Mason on Monday night. Coach Mangini joked by saying that the team had some “housekeeping” news and that they’d added someone to the roster before announcing the birth of Mason. Ball was in attendance at practice today.
New York Jets
The team continues its normal practice regiment tomorrow and will also meet for a brief time on Saturday before flying to Miami. Be sure to check back to JetsInsider.com for a full game preview!