Jets rookie WR Jerricho Cotchery has been worked more into the Jets gameplan lately and is the heir apparent to WR Wayne Chrebet. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Jets WR Jerricho Cotchery has always had to figure out a way to stand out. As a freshman at North Carolina State, Cotchery was buried on the depth chart and played on every special teams unit, earning the team’s special team’s player of year award.
While QB Phillip Rivers got all the attention their senior year at North Carolina State, it was Cotchery making the big plays and catching the balls from him.
At the annual NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, while all the other prospects wore sweaters to their interviews with teams, Cotchery dressed like he was going to a real business interview and wore a shirt and tie and impressed the Jets coaching staff.
“There are certain guys who have it all figured out, their agents or parents tell them,” Jets head coach Herman Edwards said. “He was very quiet, (he said), ‘yes sir, no sir.’ He had a good handshake, he’s a person who looks you in the eye when he shakes your hand. That’s important. You learn that about a man right away. So he did all those things and you look at his career, where he played at. He caught a lot of passes. He was a productive player. He played in a good conference.”
The Scouting Combine is big for NFL prospects as teams come to see the top college player run through tests. But there are also interviews with the teams interested in the players.
Cotchery talked about how his interview with the Jets went.
“We had a very good interview,” Cotchery said. “It was laid back and that’s what I like. They got to learn a lot from me and how I am as a person and how I got about working as a football player. I got the feeling that they wanted me from the time that I met with them. I liked them. I went back and told my agent. It ended up working out with them.”
Edwards is a big believer in a player’s character and after talking with Cotchery, Edwards could tell Cotchery was someone he would want on his football team.
The Jets then drafted Cotchery in the fourth round of the 2004 NFL draft. Cotchery talked about his reaction to being drafted by the Jets.
“I was happy because I was drafted,” Cotchery said. “I wasn’t surprised because I knew I would be here. When I interviewed they showed much interest and I was happy to be with a team that wanted me.”
Certainly Cotchery’s stats also impressed Edwards and the rest of the Jets front office. During his four-year career playing for the North Carolina State Wolfpack, Cotchery was named to the All-ACC first team twice and broke Wolfpack records with 200 receptions and 15 100-yard receiving games. Both those records had belonged to St. Louis Rams WR Torry Holt. Cotchery also had 3,119 yards and 21 touchdown catches during his college career. Cotchery also returned punts his first three years at North Carolina State and had 31 returns for 226 yards.
With those type of stats it was surprising Cotchery fell all the way to the fourth round.
“The question the entire time I was in college was about my speed,” Cotchery said. “I think I’m fast, and as long as I think I’m fast it isn’t a big deal. Everyone is going to judge on how well you can do certain things. I think I can do a lot of things well, but obviously I can get better. I think I’m pretty fast but that was a big question when I was coming out and that’s why I was drafted later on in the rounds.”
Cotchery talked about the experience of playing with Rivers, who was selected fourth overall in the draft by the Giants before being traded to San Diego for Eli Manning.
“It was a great experience for me because I learned a lot from a real leader,” Cotchery said. “He’s a real leader and he worked at it every day, not just when the coaches were around. He did it on his own. I basically followed him around. Everything he wanted to do, I wanted to do with him-watch films, go out and throw balls-I just followed him around. I learned a lot from him because he was a smart quarterback. He knew everyone’s position on the offense-from the linemen to the receivers. I just tried to learn from him.”
Cotchery impressed during training camp this past summer and it seemed every day, he would be making TD catches in practice. In pre-season games, he made five catches for 75 yards and a TD.
There was even talk that he might surpass WR Wayne Chrebet for the third receiving spot behind Santana Moss and Justin Mccareins.
But so far Cotchery has remained quiet and has mainly been used on special teams where he has made seven tackles.
“I knew what my role would be,” Cotchery said. “I knew basically I would be used on special teams. So my mindset was on special teams and to work hard.”
As the Jets kickoff unit struggled, special teams coach Mike Westhoff decided it was time for a change and inserted Cotchery as the kickoff returner on November 21 against Cleveland. Cotchery returned one kickoff in that game for 30 yards as the Jets won 10-7. But he injured his hamstring and was inactive for the next three games. Cotchery said it was frustrating being on the sidelines.
“You’re doing so much without the team like getting treatment that you feel like you’re not part of the team,” Cotchery said. “When the team was in Arizona, I was watching on TV and it felt weird and I wanted to work hard to get back.”
Cotchery came back healthy this past week against Seattle and returned two kickoffs for 39 yards. He also showed his ability as a wide receiver, catching a pass late in the game for 15 yards. Edwards was happy to see Cotchery make the play.
“I thought that was a big play when he made that little slant in there,” Edwards said. “I thought the run was very good, broke a couple of tackles and got across the field. He was good. I was laughing with him after the game. I said, ‘You were trying to score, weren't you?’ He kind of smiled. Yeah, that's good, that's a good thing.”
Edwards talked about the attributes Cotchery has.
“He's a big, physical guy,” Edwards said. “He's quicker than a lot of people anticipate. He plays fast, he plays fast with his pads on. He's good coming out of breaks. He's tough. He's a physical receiver. He has very, very good ball skills and jumping ability. And he can jump over guys and catch the ball now. No doubt about it, he has that ability to do that.”
Cotchery has learned a lot from watching the veteran receivers.
“The guys have a lot of ways to run routes,” Cotchery said. “The main thing is picking up those things to help become better receiver. The things I take from them is to work hard and be a complete receiver.”
Moss feels Cotchery definitely has potential.
“He’s going to be a good receiver,” Moss said. “He’ll play a big role later on. You can tell he’s a tough guy from him making tackles. He’s a solid football player.”
Of the nine players drafted by the Jets in the 2004 NFL Draft, eight are still with the team and two are starters. While LB Jonathan Vilma and S Erik Coleman are starting and making an impact, Cotchery is coming along and will definitely be having an impact for the Jets in years to come.