Jets RB/KR Leon Washington has been a bright spot in a bleak football season. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
When the Jets do battle with the Cleveland Browns in East Rutherford on Sunday afternoon, it will feature two of the most explosive kickoff return specialists the NFL has seen in recent memory.
For Gang Green, Leon Washington will be back deep to return kickoffs and make something huge for the Jets. The Browns, meanwhile, will counter with Joshua Cribbs, a back-up wide receiver who happens to be his team’s biggest weapon on kickoff returns.
Both Washington and Cribbs are very dangerous. Judging by each of their return statistics, they are also pretty much evenly matched. Cribbs averages 31.2 yards per return, making him third in the league in this category. Washington, though, is not far behind him in fourth, averaging 30.6 yards per return. Washington does lead the league in kickoff returns for touchdowns with three. Meanwhile, Cribbs is tied for second with two, alongside Chicago’s Devin Hester. Both have racked up over a thousand return yards, with Cribbs leading the way with 1,560 yards. Washington has 1,011.
Facing a talented athlete such as Cribbs is a challenge. The Jets are hoping that veterans such as Brad Kassell and Matt Chatham, who has spent the first part of the season on the PUP list, can perform just as well against Cribbs like they have been recently.
“Dealing with the return game that they have is going to be difficult,” said Head Coach Eric Mangini. “To have two veteran guys who can direct things, especially against the challenging return guys that we face of late has been extremely helpful.”
Kicking the ball to the likes of Cribbs or even Washington is enough of a challenge to a kicker like Mike Nugent. The attempt to stop such playmakers is left up to his teammates on the kickoff unit.
“It’s basically one of those things when it comes to being a kicker and you’re facing such a great returner, the biggest thing you try to do is to give the other 10 guys a chance to get down there and make a play.”
The way Washington and Cribbs have been playing, there would be some similarities between the two. Leon, while giving compliments to Cribbs, instead sees the three-year veteran from Kent State as similar to one of his teammates.
“Cribbs reminds me of Brad Smith. Both played quarterback in college, both love to play football, and they do well on special teams and offense,” he said. “The way [Cribbs] runs the ball is strong and hard. It will be a challenge for us to go out there and stop him.”
Leon Washington and Joshua Cribbs are indeed the most talented return specialists not named Devin Hester. The question that remains is: Who is better? Sunday’s game will have that answer.
Schotty Speaks to Media
After Friday’s practice, Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer held his informal biweekly press conference to speak about the state of the Jets offense.
Statistically speaking, the Browns defense is a weak link, ranking in the bottom half in nearly every category. But what effect does that have on the Jets offense’s preparation for Cleveland’s defensive unit? Next to nothing, according to Schottenheimer.
“I think stats can be deceiving. Looking at what they’ve done the last couple of games, their numbers are much better than they’ve been,” he replied. “We don’t ever get caught up with the stats; we get caught up with what we see on film. What we see on film is a defense that plays with a lot of energy and very opportunistic. It will be a good test for us.”
Another topic he was asked about was QB Kellen Clemens’ pocket presence and his inability to feel pressure from the backside, and whether it was a sixth sense that is developed overtime or not. While acknowledging that it happens to be a sixth sense, Schottenheimer said that this kind of ability takes time and experience to fully grow.
“Kellen does have very good feel and very good instincts,” he explained. “When you go back to the Baltimore and Washington games, there have been plenty of snaps that show he does have the ability to move around and buy some time in the pocket, and when some things break down, he gets outside, side-steps the rush, and gets out of bounds. I think it’s more of an issue of just the more you play, the better off you become at playing the game and position.”
Coach Mangini will be reunited on Sunday with another person on the opposite sideline, other than Browns head coach Romeo Crennel. Mangini coached Browns LB Willie McGinest in his six years with the Patriots. Both have earned Super Bowl rings as part of the Patriots’ dynasty.
When it comes to that kind of familiarity, Mangini knows that there is a balance between the upsides and the downsides.
“It’s got pluses and minuses because you know the problems that can be created, whether it’s by scheme or someone like Willie-Mac, who is an outstanding player,” he explained. “That’s always something that you have to deal with and you know that’s positive. Sometimes it really works to your advantage.”
Wolverine vs. Wolverine
When the Browns offense goes up against the Jets defense on Sunday, LB David Harris and WR Braylon Edwards, both former University of Michigan Wolverines, will be on opposite sides of the ball.
When Jonathan Vilma was placed on injured reserve, the rookie Harris was brought in to fill the void left by the veteran Vilma. Since then, he has become a presence in the middle linebacker role for the Jets. Edwards, a three-year veteran in the NFL, is the leading receiver on the Browns squad. He and Kellen Winslow are a one-two punch at wide-out, making them QB Derek Anderson’s favorite targets.
When asked about the possibility of facing his former collegiate teammate, Harris had only a simple response.
“I can’t wait for the challenge,” said he.
The chilly confines of the upper field was the location for the Jets practice Friday. During the half-hour span given to the media for team access, the routine stayed the same, from stretching to position drills to the special teams work.
Toys for Tots
Mangini announced in his pre-practice presser that the Jets will hold a Toys for Tots drive at Giants Stadium. To participate, fans must bring a new and unwrapped toy to any of the stadium gates and representatives will be there to collect it.
INJURY REPORT (as of 12/6/07)
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: TE Steve Heiden (ankle), LB David McMillan (knee), LB Antwan Peek (knee)
Limited Participation in Practice: DL Ethan Kelly (knee), DL Orpheus Roye (knee), RT Kevin Shaffer (knee), DL Robaire Smith (neck), CB Eric Wright (knee)
Full Participation in Practice: DE Simon Fraser (illness)