Jets RB Leon Washington was recognized by his teammates today. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Most of the time, it’s hard for a team enduring the kind of season the Jets are having to find some motivation. Nevertheless, it was the hot topic of Jets’ head coach Eric Mangini’s pre-practice presser as he announced the team awards for this season.
QB Chad Pennington was the recipient of the first award announced, which was the Dennis Byrd Most Inspiration Award. This season has been tumultuous for Pennington. He was injured during the first game of the season, and has been benched for a good portion of it after some ineffective and uncharacteristic play. Nevertheless, he remained professional in the midst of a turbulent season, leaving a strong impression on his coaches.
“I think when you look at Chad, and you look at his professionalism, the way he carries himself in that context and also personally the things that he does in the community, the things that he does in the building for the team, I think it’s an outstanding choice,” Mangini said.
Said offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, “I’ve always spoken very highly of Chad. You look at what he did last week, and that points to professionalism. We have a number of players like that, that can go into a game having maybe not as many reps as they would like but still go out and perform in a winning fashion. Chad treats himself and looks at himself as the starter of this football team, and that’s the way I believe all of the players need to look at themselves, because you never know when your opportunity’s going to come. Chad did a great job of seizing that opportunity and performed well on Sunday.”
The next award announced was the Curtis Martin MVP Award, and the winner of that award was RB/KR Leon Washington. After Justin Miller was put on the Injured Reserve list after the team’s Week 2 match in Baltimore, the second-year player from Florida State filled in very nicely from the start. Washington ran back a Miami kickoff 98 yards for the touchdown, giving Gang Green their first win of the season. He would add two more kickoff return scores throughout the course of the season, giving him a lead in that category.
“I think Leon has done a really excellent job filling in for Justin Miller when we lost Justin, then producing the way he’s produced,” said the head coach. “And his role on offense, whatever we’ve asked him to do, whether it be in the running game, in the passing game, protection, any of those elements, he’s really done a great job.”
This kind of accomplishment is great for Washington, considering his struggles last summer during his rookie year. His start was a rocky one, fumbling the ball to the point where he ran lots of laps during sessions. That served as a motive for Leon to better his game.
“Leon is just an excellent example of a young player that came in and he had a rocky start his first couple camps, but he just kept working at it and he continues to keep working at it,” Mangini explained. “I really like his approach and toughness. It’s a good example of size not being the distinguishing factor in success.”
Despite being an apparent Pro Bowl snub, Washington is still enjoying the kind of year he is having right now. Yet winning the team MVP award came such a surprise for him, he even told the media who he voted for.
“It is a great thing to be honored,” he said. “I was kind of surprised because we just voted the day before. I voted for Kerry Rhodes. I thought he was a guy that did a lot this year. It just says a lot about what my team thinks of me, what type of player I can be and what my future is with this team.”
As far as the motivation goes for the team’s final two games, Washington’s battery mate in the backfield, Thomas Jones, simply stated that football is still only a game that they love to play, despite how everything has not gone Gang Green’s way this year, and that making the most of the end of the season is enough motivation.
“It is still football and a game that we love,” he explained. “Things haven’t gone the way that we wanted to, but we are still in a situation where we have a job and are doing what we love to do. With two games left, we want to make the best of them and get some momentum going into next season.”
Schotty Holds Court
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer held his final biweekly press conference after today’s practice, discussing the upcoming game against Tennessee and the strategy the Jets’ offense will come in with.
Last week, OL Adrien Clarke had the task of containing Patriots DL Richard Seymour. It didn’t go well as Seymour went through Clarke and brought down Clemens, injuring his rib in the process. This week, he goes up against the Titans’ Albert Haynesworth, who is a cog in their defense. Clearly a test, but Schotty believes the offense can challenge him.
“Anytime you play a player of Albert’s quality, you understand the guy’s a great player it’s a tough match-up for anybody. But I think we’ll battle him and do the best we can and the guys will go out there and give it their all.”
Another topic of discussion was TE Chris Baker, who scored the Jets’ only touchdown last week in the bizarre weather conditions in Foxboro. Schotty has certainly been impressed with Baker’s ability.
“The thing that’s been fun to see is it doesn’t matter who the quarterback is the ball continues to find its way to Chris’ hands. That’s because he’s getting open, and he’s doing a lot of really good things. When you look at Chris, he’s always had excellent hands, but he’s really worked on his route-running skills, the ability to get open in tight space, and the ability to give a hint in the opposite direction and work on top of the route skills. Chris has done a terrific job.”
Titans’ Rushing Game Just As Deadly
Titans QB Vince Young is very talented and touted by all in the football world; there is no question about it. Part of that is his ability to not only be effective in the passing game, but also in the rushing attack, which ranks a formidable fourth in the NFL with 134.6 yards per game.
“They have a unique ability, three very good runners,” Coach Mangini said. “When you add in the fact that the quarterback can be such a threat in the running game, you can do certain things and gain a blocker that the defense can’t counter because the running back is the quarterback.”
Mangini isn’t the only one taking notice of the threat that Tennessee’s runners—Young included—pose.
“Vince Young is a big part of the offense and you got to include him when you talk about the rushing game,” said LB Victor Hobson. “You also have to include LenDale White too. He’s a big back, powerful runner, and has very good vision. You definitely have to take that all into consideration and be prepared for them.”
L.C. Media’s Favorite
Another award that was announced by coach Mangini in his presser was the Eskenazi Media Award. Named after Gerald Eskenazi, a former long-time Jets beat writer for the New York Times, the award goes to the Jets player that has been the most media friendly in the season.
This year’s winner comes as no surprise as Laveranues Coles was given the award for the 2007 season. Throughout the course of the season, Coles has been sought after by the media, making him the face and voice of a team mired in struggles.
Despite that kind of accessibility, he was not available to the media after practice today to discuss his award.
QB Situation Still Same
In his press conference, coach Mangini said that the situation over who will start at quarterback this Sunday has remained the same; whoever starts, Pennington or the injured Kellen Clemens, is anybody’s guess.
Speaking of Clemens, he saw limited action in today’s practice for the third consecutive day. While he did partake in the opening drills during the media session, he was limited later on because of the rib injury he suffered last week. Meanwhile, Pennington was active in the session. If the past week indicates anything, it’s that Pennington will likely get the nod as this week’s starter.
Today’s team practice, which was held on the lower field, had a holiday twist during the half-hour span given to the media for access. The songs that were played over the speakers were Christmas tunes sung by the likes of Mariah Carey and Bruce Springsteen. Practice was status quo at best. However, it did end unexpectedly early as players were made available to the media earlier than usual.
INJURY REPORT (as of Thursday)
New York Jets
Limited Participation in Practice
TE Chris Baker (back), QB Kellen Clemens (rib), WR Laveranues Coles (ankle), TE/LS James Dearth (foot), Justin McCareins (thigh), OL Brandon Moore (neck), DL Dewayne Robertson (knee)
Full Participation in Practice
WR Jerricho Cotchery (finger), WR Brad Smith (back)
Did Not Participate in Practice
LB Keith Bullock (knee), LB Gilbert Gardner (calf), TE Ben Hartsock (team decision), DL Albert Haynesworth (hamstring), C Kevin Mawae (calf), OL Benji Olsen (thigh), LB David Thornton (knee), RB LenDale White (knee)
Limited Participation in Practice
S Vincent Fuller (shoulder)