Jets S Kerry Rhodes along with several young players have stepped up on defense during the second half of the season. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
For the second consecutive season, the Jets’ defense has seen a formidable second-half turnaround. After nines games that featured players such as LB Jonathan Vilma, DE Kenyon Coleman and CB David Barrett play below their expected performance levels resulting in a handful of letdowns, Gang Green has resurged in stopping opponents behind rookies Darrelle Revis and David Harris.
Harris, specifically, was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for November, the first month he received the opportunity to start full time for New York. Harris was thrust into the role of signal caller on defense after the season-ending injury to Vilma, and despite his quiet demeanor off the field, head coach Eric Mangini noted that the Michigan product has settled in quite well.
“What I like about him is he’s doing a good job with his downhill play, being physical with the blockers, and then he’s also got a nice feel for moving through traffic, and he’s fluid in space, both in man-to-man coverage and zone coverage,” Mangini said. “He’s gotten better and better each week, a little more bass in his voice each week, a little more authoritative, and that’s going to come with experience and time.”
Harris, on the other hand, admitted he is soft-spoken, and laughed when asked about the supposed deepening of his voice over the past few weeks.
“The more you play, the more comfortable you get, and you get used to playing with your teammates a lot more,” Harris said. “I’m a quiet guy, so I don’t know where [the bass comment] came from,” he laughed.
Truth be told, though, the rookie’s transition from college signal caller to professional signal caller has been quite impressive. Stepping into one of the NFL’s worst units statistically, Harris’ presence has helped New York hold the Super Bowl-contending Steelers to just 16 points, and then Miami to zero offensive touchdowns in the Jets’ second win in three weeks.
That begged the question as to whether or not, upon the return of Vilma, Harris could coexist in the starting lineup.
“I don’t think you can ever have too many good players and player that can all do different things and play different roles,” Mangini said. “There’s a lot of guys that play now each week and play meaningful reps and how they play and how they contribute, you cover up based on what you’re doing and who you’re facing, so I think those are positive things.”
Harris has only been one-half of the rookie presence for the Jets’ defense, though. Lining up at cornerback, Revis, another quiet personality, as joined the New York’s newfound inside linebacker in revving the team up for a second-half run.
“I assume as they get older, they’ll be the guys that take people under their wing and help them along,” Mangini said of the two.
Perhaps the most important part of the duo’s growing in the system has been their personality inside the locker room. Targeted as two of the league’s top defensive rookies, Mangini noted that neither player has let their success go to their head.
“They show the proper respect for the older guys but aren’t intimated by anybody,” Mangini said. “It’s very important for them to be as much of a tem player as they possibly can be, regardless of where they were drafted, and that’s what you’re looking for is they want to fit in and contribute as quickly as they can. They’re both humble guys that work hard and appreciate when the older guys help them and really take to that and seek that stuff out, and that’s going to help them grow.”
While looking ahead is something an NFL franchise never wants to do, the future may be looking greener for the Jets with a young, improving defensive core.
Speaking of Vilma…
According to Mangini, Vilma has been combining rest with work in Miami as he works to get in shape for next season.
“He’s approaching this in typical Jon style which is always positive,” Mangini said. He then continued to say that Vilma’s rehabilitation regimen is “all incremental steps and hitting targets, and when [Vilma] hits a target, [he’ll] move on to the next one.”
Vilma was at last week’s game against the Dolphins, and may speak to the team before their home game this Sunday with the Browns.
Elam and Rhodes on the same page
Another one of the Jets’ surprising duos has been the two-man safety tandem of Kerry Rhodes and Abram Elam. For the first half of the season, Rhodes found himself in a much less aggressive role than last year, forced to stay in coverage and not get a chance at big-play sacks and interceptions. With the improvement of Elam, though, the Jets’ safety has rekindled his ability to change the game with one play.
“He’s a good guy. He’s a smart guy and he wants to be a good player,” Rhodes said of Elam. “He’s one of those players that wants to be good, and he’s not going to settle with being average.”
Mangini echoed Rhodes’ comments, saying that Elam’s hard work has “helped Kerry—and Kerry has really helped [Elam] as well. It’s benefited both sides.”
Rhodes also acknowledged that Browns’ tight end Kellen Winslow is the best in the league, and it will be a challenge covering the Browns’ leader in receptions.
“To put it in simple terms, he’s a receiver at tight end. He causes match-up problems for a lot of people.,” Rhodes said. “It’s going to be a challenge for us defensively, and he’s definitely their main weapon.
Winslow has 65 receptions this year for 909 yards and five touchdowns.
C.J.’s on a roll
Staying on the defensive side of the ball, recent weeks have debuted a secret weapon for Gang Green: C.J. Mosley.
Limited in the first seven games of the season to the tune of just seven tackles, and then sitting out weeks eight and nine against the Bills and Redskins, Mosley has seen his playing time step up after the bye, resulting in 2.5 sacks and six tackles over the past three games.
“I’m really happy with C.J. I think he’s done an outstanding job,” Mangini said. “He’s got some inherent pass rush ability that shows up. He’s really done a good job working with the other defensive lineman, not being in there all the time, working with those guys when he can to understand how they’re going to run the games, things like that.
Mosley admitted waiting his turn was tough, but added that he whatever role he has he will fulfill.
“It is hard [waiting], but when you have to do your job when your number is called, and when it isn’t called,” Mosley said. “
Mosley has seen time at each end position and at nose tackle this year, his second season with the Jets.
While Nugent improves, Graham lags behind
Another Jet that has stepped up remarkably in the second half of the season is K Mike Nugent. After a first half that exposed Nugent’s issues with longer kicks, the third-year player has improved substantially the second half of the season, hitting all nine of his attempts, including a game-winner.
Yet, as Nugent improves, P Ben Graham, who has shown flashes of brilliance, has struggled mightily, seeing his average punt distance slipping to just 30.5 yards last week against Miami.
“Ben is working on it, and the key thing is just to focus on the process and not worry about the outcome,” Mangini said. “You can’t get caught up in focusing on the result as much as what do I have to do to be more consistent with my kicks or my technique, whatever the case may be, because when you start worrying about the water when you’re golfing, that’s where it goes, the sand trap, whatever it is. You’ve go to focus on the swing.”
Graham’s job may be in danger with rookie punter Jeremy Kapinos waiting in the wings for an opportunity.
Brady not the only 6th-rounder
Browns’ quarterback Derek Anderson, arguably the player most valuable to his team thus far this year, was another quarterback drafted in the sixth round. Anderson’s stats this year have been quite impressive, as the third-year signal caller has thrown 24 touchdown passed with just 13 interceptions.
Injury Report (as of 12/5/07)
New York Jets
Did Not Participate in Practice
WR Jerricho Cotchery (finger)
Limited Participation in Practice
WR Laveranues Coles (ankle), TE/LS James Dearth (foot), C Nick Mangold (calf), DT Dewayne Robertson (knee)
Full Participation in Practice
TE Chris Baker (back), WR Chris Davis (shoulder), TE Joe Kowalewski (shoulder), WR Brad Smith (back), WR Wallace Wright (thigh)
Did Not Participate in Practice
DE Simon Fraser (illness), TE Steve Heiden (ankle), LB David McMillian (knee), LB Antwan Peek (knee), DE Orpheus Roye (knee), RT Kevin Shaffer (knee), DL Robaire Smith (Neck)
Limited Participation in Practice
DL Ethan Kelley (knee), CB Eric Wright (knee)