The Forgotten Free Agent

By Justin Paley
Jets Staff Writer
January 4th, 2005
With a glut of free agents coming up this off-season there hasn't been much mention of the Jets' valuable OT Karrem McKenzie. (Jets photo)
With a glut of free agents coming up this off-season there hasn't been much mention of the Jets' valuable OT Karrem McKenzie. (Jets photo)
HEMPSTEAD, NY - On the field, Jets RT Kareem McKenzie is an intimidating force at 6’6 and 327 pounds. This year, McKenzie and the rest of the offensive linemen have led the way as RB Curtis Martin won the NFL rushing title, broke numerous Jets records and climbs the NFL All-Time Rushing List.

Off the field, McKenzie is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet. The sophisticated soft spoken McKenzie won two team awards, which were announced last week. First, he shared the Kyle Clifton Good Guy Award with DT Jason Ferguson. The award, voted on by the Jets front office members, recognizes exceptionally consistent willingness, cooperation and professionalism in their every day dealings amongst the various departments within the organization. McKenzie also received the Marty Lyons Award for Outstanding Community Service, which recognizes a player who “gives from the heart.” McKenzie serves as the Ambassador to Generation Jets Academy II at the East Village Community School in Manhattan.

Once the Jets season ends, McKenzie will become a free agent along with other Jets such as TE Anthony Becht, RB Lamont Jordan, DE John Abraham, and DT Jason Ferguson. When Jets fans talk about who they hope the team keeps, McKenzie’s name rarely comes up, however he is a valuable asset that the Jets need to re-sign.

McKenzie said there have been no new developments in a contract extension.

“I don’t worry about that,” McKenzie said. “I just do my part and let my agents and management handle that. I can just do my part to remain consistent.”

McKenzie has certainly been consistent since the Jets drafted him in the third round of the 2001 NFL Draft out of Penn State, where he was a three-year starter, earning All-Big Ten Conference honors three times.

In his first season with the Jets, McKenzie played in eight games as an extra TE in short yardage situations.

In 2002, McKenzie replaced Ryan Young at RT who was claimed in the expansion draft by the Houston Texans and has been the starter ever since. McKenzie was part of an offensive line that helped Martin rush for 1,094 yards. What’s even more remarkable was McKenzie was called for no penalties.

Last year, McKenzie started all 16 games and helped lead the way for RB Curtis Martin’s 1,308 rushing yards. McKenzie was called for only two penalties the whole year.

Before this season, the Jets offensive line was talked about as being the weakest unit on the team. That all changed when the Jets signed Pete Kendall on August 6 after the Arizona Cardinals released him. Kendall filled the void at LG and the Jets offensive line has clicked.

LT Jason Fabini, Kendall, C Kevin Mawae, RG Brandon Moore, and McKenzie have paved the way for Martin, who at age 31 claimed his first NFL rushing title with 1697 yards and 12 TD’s. Martin was one of three Jets named to the Pro Bowl and he rewarded McKenzie and the rest of the o-linemen with a Louis Vuitton luggage set.

Martin hopes the Jets can re-sign McKenzie.

“I want to keep them (together),” Martin said. “The more they play together, the better they are. I’d love to keep him (McKenzie). He’s an asset and a huge part of the o-line.”

Early this season, McKenzie was allowing more sacks than usual and Jets head coach Herman Edwards said his technique was lacking. He was impressed that McKenzie wanted to improve.

“That’s a pro,” Edwards said. “That’s a pro player. The good ones are always hard on themselves. As a coach, you don’t have to worry about a guy like that. They’re harder on themselves. They evaluate themselves. They have a standard for how they want to play. The coach sets standards for themselves. And he’s that type of guy. You like players like that.”

McKenzie talks about what he did to change.

“Work harder,” McKenzie said.

The o-linemen also have done a good job protecting QB Chad Pennington this season. They have allowed just 31 sacks this season, tied for seventh fewest in the NFL with Cincinnati.

Under Edwards, the Jets have been one of the least disciplined teams in the league. This season, the Jets have committed the second-fewest penalties (91) for the second-fewest penalty yards (693). Even more impressive is McKenzie has been penalized only once this year; a false start penalty in the regular season finale.

“It’s one of those things Herm has driven home,” McKenzie said. “We have officials on the field for practice and something we are really cognizant of. We want to do everything as best as we can.”

Jets offensive line coach Doug Marrone is in his third season with the Jets and has seen McKenzie mature.

“He’s a very productive player,” Marrone said. “He’s come a long way. He does tremendous preparation watching film and in the classroom.”

McKenzie talked about how he has been able to be consistent over his Jets career.

“Just practicing hard and studying film,” McKenzie said. “I try to be perfect and work every day on improving technique.”

Edwards has been pleased with the o-line’s play.

“I think they are playing well. They are blocking well and that is what you like. They are protecting the quarterback well.”

McKenzie talked about the cohesiveness of the o-line.

“We have a great group of guys who work well with each other,” McKenzie said. “And they have just one overall goal and that’s to get Curtis out in the open field and let him run.”

In today’s NFL that includes free agency and salary caps it’s rare for the same group of offensive linemen to be together for two straight years. But for the Jets to continue having success in the running game and on offense as a whole, McKenzie needs to be re-signed.

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