INSIDER SATURDAY TEAM REPORT
By David Fletcher
Jets Insider.com Staff Writer
December 23rd, 2006
Saturday mornings at Jets camp are normally reserved for team meetings and last minute adjustments before traveling to the location of that week’s game. Gang Green won’t suit up for its Week 16 game against the Dolphins until Monday night, however, so Head Coach Eric Mangini chose to take advantage of the extra day to run a full walk-through in the practice-bubble.
“It’s more than a Saturday, but not quite a Friday,” Mangini said. “We’re reviewing the whole game plan,” he explained during an early-morning presser, adding that unlike Friday walk-throughs, Saturday’s practice would be “pretty condensed.”
Condensed it was, as the entire practice lasted less than an hour-and-a-half. The team spent the full practice session inside the practice-bubble for the first time this season since Hofstra’s cold, wet, and windy weather is a poor approximation of what the Jets’ will see in Miami this Monday. The most recent game-day forecast calls for light winds, a possibility of rain, and a high temperature of 80 degrees.
The Jets’ biggest issue going into the prime-time match-up against the AFC East-rival Dolphins is the health of starting-WR Laveranues Coles and starting-RB Cedric Houston. Both suffered injuries during the Jets’ Week 15-win in Minnesota that have had them listed as “questionable” on the team’s injury report all week long.
Coles, who was just recently voted the team’s MVP by his teammates, did not participate in many practice drills on Saturday. Fear not, though: Coles’ injured back did not appear to be bothering him as he spent the session in doing light exercises and joking with Jets S Kerry Rhodes. Coles has been active in practices this week and has been playing through injuries all season, so there’s no need to worry as far as he is concerned.
Houston, on the other hand, is a bit more of a mystery. Houston has been on fire lately since returning from a knee-injury suffered earlier this season, but against the Vikings he suffered an injury to his calf. After not practicing on Wednesday and Thursday and seeing very limited action yesterday, Houston was back on the practice field today taking a few carries and quite frankly, not looking too bad at it. He was working with the third-string offense, however, and does not appear to be a viable option for the upcoming game.
If Houston isn’t up to full strength by Monday, there is a good chance that Mangini will simply deactivate him for the game, despite his recent success. Mangini seemed less than thrilled about the prospect of activating Houston for the game in addition to RBs Kevan Barlow and Leon Washington.
“It’s more than just the running back position,” he told reporters Saturday. “If you have an extra guy up, who do you put down?”
Mangini added that because everyone on the team has a role with special teams in some way, “there’s three or four things that shift with every decision to add or subtract.” He took a moment to acknowledge Special Teams Coordinator Mike Westhoff’s flexibility in that area, since Westhoff has found a way to keep the Jets’ special teams among the league’s best despite the constant personnel changes.
If Houston in unable to play, Barlow will likely get some reps for the first time in nearly a month. Barlow has been inactive for the past three games, but rather than complaining, he has used his time off to better his game. His abilities to catch the ball and block have seen vast improvement over the span, as well as his play on special teams.
“We ask these guys to do a lot of different things,” Mangini said of his running-backs, although the same can be said for all members of the Jets under Coach Mangini. “It’s not really pigeon-holed as ‘this is the one thing that you do.’”
No Jets player has better-exemplified the values that Mangini has been preaching than future Hall of Fame-RB Curtis Martin. Martin, who has been sidelined due to injuries all season long, has been hailed for his running, blocking, catching, and leadership abilities through his career. Unable to fulfill those roles this season, Martin has now stepped up as a teacher.
“He’s been such a big part of our season even though it hasn’t been on the field,” Mangini said when asked about Martin’s contributions to the team this season. “He’s been sort of a mentor for not just the backs, but a lot of guys.”
-Leon Washington continues to improve as a punt-returner, which is an area where he struggled in training camp and the earlier parts of the season. Washington took over the job full-time when veteran-WR-KR Tim Dwight was placed on IR with a foot injury. In practice on Saturday, Washington showed an improved ability to make cuts at full speed while running back punts, and the burst of speed he can put on when he finds a hole is similar to that of Jets’ Pro Bowl-KR Justin Miller.
Speaking of Miller, the Jets have seen teams beginning to kick away from the dangerous return-man in recent games, usually opting for shorting kickoffs to lead-man Leon Washington. For that reason, Washington got a lot of reps on the kickoff-return squad as well, and he appears to be getting a hang for it quite quickly. Miller has been helping him with his technique, aiding in his speedy development.
-Mangini took time out to acknowledge the work done in last week’s victory by a pair of undrafted-free agents who rose through the ranks this season to the active roster. WR Wallace Wright had four tackles on special teams, and FB Stacy Tutt “was actually very instrumental on Cedric (Houston’s) touchdown run.”
-With a couple of young children in his house, Coach Mangini shared how he and his wife planned to deal with him being away from Christmas. “Tonight’s Christmas Eve in my house,” he chuckled. “We’ll wake up in the morning, and it will be Christmas… We’ll just go through it like we would a normal Christmas morning.”
As for Mangini and his team having to play on Christmas day, the first-year coach believes it has its pros and cons. “You’d love to be with your family, but it’s a great opportunity as well,” he said, citing the fact that the Jets will be in the national spotlight for the first time this season on Monday.
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The Jets have some time to spend with their families this afternoon and this evening before flying their charter to Miami tomorrow. Be sure to check out our Jets – Dolphins preview on the Jets Insider.com homepage!