Miracle Man
By Kevin Newell
Jets Head Writer
December 3rd, 2004
Donnie Henderson has been nothing less than a savior to the Jets defense this season. (Jets Photo)
Donnie Henderson has been nothing less than a savior to the Jets defense this season. (Jets Photo)
HEMPSTEAD, NY - Remember Ted Cottrell?


First year defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson has quietly been the MVP of the Jets this season. His intensity, brilliant scheming, and superior rapport with his players have transformed the Jets D from sad sacks to sack meisters.

Yes, Cottrell was saddled with an aging defense. But let’s not forget that his passive defensive philosophy and his inability to have his players adapt quickly didn’t help matters either.

Henderson has had his charges playing at a high level since opening day. There has been little if any adjustment period. No learning curve has been necessary. And they’ve really come of age since the third game of the season.

Since then, the Jets have allowed a stingy 116 points. That’s 12.8 points per game. Not bad for a group that includes five new starters – rookies Jonathan Vilma and Erik Coleman as well as free agent acquisitions Reggie Tongue, David Barrett, and Eric Barton. Throw in nickelback Terrell Buckley and linebacker Mark Brown, who have been pressed into action as starters at some point, and that’s seven new defensive players who have made a seamless transition.

That says a lot about Henderson’s coaching ability.

The unit’s 168 total points allowed is tied for second with Pittsburgh in the league. Only the Eagles and Ravens, at 164 each, are stingier. Our old friend Cottrell’s crew with the Minnesota Vikings have surrendered 262.

Gang Green is ranked 7th in overall defense, tied for 6th in rushing defense with Atlanta, and 9th in passing defense. That is a quantum leap from the days of lingering in the high 20’s and low 30’s during the Cottrell years. (By the way, the Vikings are ranked 27th in overall defense. Some things never change.)

“We've gotten a little younger and a lot faster," says defensive end John Abraham said. "Coach Henderson is putting us in position to make plays. He's making the right calls and coming up with good schemes.”

Arriving from Baltimore, where he was the secondary coach, Henderson had never held a coordinator’s position in the NFL. So question marks abounded. Especially when former Buffalo Bills head coach Gregg Williams, the Jets’ presumed No. 1 choice to replace Cottrell, spurned Gang Green for the Washington Redskins.

However, Henderson honed his craft under the tutelage of former Ravens defensive guru and current Cincinnati Bengals head coach, Marvin Lewis. So he was well prepared.

Let’s not forget the job Henderson has done behind the scenes with the “suspect” secondary. Henderson, who groomed Ed Reed and Chris McCalister into Pro Bowl material in Baltimore, has done a yeoman’s job of working with what little the Jets have.

Ray Mickens has been out for the year and Jon McGraw has been injured all season. Both have been non-factors. Rookie Derrick Strait has also been banged up for a substantial period of time. Yet under Henderson’s watch, Coleman has blossomed into a future star and he, along with Tongue, Barrett, Buckley, and Donnie Abraham, the lone holdover from a season ago, have gone from the D’s weakest link to a formidable fivesome.

“At one time, I said they were a weakness,” says Henderson. “It might be time to say they’re a strength.”

It might be also time to realize that Henderson is the real deal. Let’s just hope he sticks around long enough to see this thing through.