Jets safety Oliver Celestin has gone from the Minnesota Vikings practice squad in November to being a big part of the Jets defense now. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
- Please excuse Jets S Oliver Celestin if he takes a moment to exhale. Signed to the Jets’ active roster in early November, Celestin has been thrust onto the special teams coverage units while simultaneously attempting to digest Donnie Henderson’s playbook over the past two months. Since then, the 23-year old New Orleans native has benefited from his hard work and perseverance, as he’s become a key reserve in the Jets’ defensive backfield and saw significant action with the first team defense last week due to an unproductive Reggie Tongue. Celestin credits his experience over in NFL Europe last season for assisting his development after joining the NFL ranks as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2003.
”It helped me out being a guy that hadn’t played in a while,” Celestin said, who was released after spending his first NFL training camp with the Cleveland Browns. “I was able to present myself in front of teams and work on my craft. The language barrier (initially was a culture shock), but players were friendly helping me make the transition. I was able to isolate myself and just focus on football.”
It turned out to be a great move for the Texan Southern product, as he showcased his skills in the NFL’s version of the minor league. As a member of the 2004 World Bowl champion Berlin Thunder of NFL Europe, Celestin recorded 35 tackles and seven pass breakups while playing the corner position. His NFL Europe performance landed him on the practice squad of the Minnesota Vikings earlier this season. When the Jets were desperate to bolster their secondary depth following the season-ending calf injury to backup S Derek Pagel, they plucked Celestin from Minnesota and signed him to their active roster. From the first day he stepped foot on the practice field at Weeb Ewbank Hall, Celestin has impressed coordinator Donnie Henderson.
“"I'm pleased with him so far,” Henderson said at the time. “I wouldn't be afraid right now to put him in the dime. We've just got to make it simple for him."
What came simple to the athletic Celestin was his experience in the college ranks. The 6-0, 207-pound defensive back played in 40 games at Texas Southern, registering 229 tackles and 11 interceptions. In his senior year, Celestin recorded 82 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 6 interceptions, including two touchdowns. Celestin talked about his strengths and what he brings to the Jets’ defense.
“I’m mobile and I run pretty good,” he said. “I have an aggressive mentality.”
That aggressiveness helps Celestin chase opposing return men on special teams, but the Jets unexpectedly pressed the talented youngster into a prominent role last Sunday. Henderson pulled the maligned veteran Tongue in favor of Celestin during the second half of last Sunday’s game versus the St. Louis Rams. Celestin was somewhat critical of his cameo appearance last week as he continues to adjust to the club’s defensive scheme.
“I think I did pretty good,” he said. “I felt I was inconsistent with my technique and that’s something I’m working on this week. If you have good technique, it is hard to get burnt.”
While the Rams’ high-powered offense commonly makes many NFL defenses feel squeamish, it was Celestin’s lack of experience that led to his anxiety after LB Jonathan Vilma hobbled off the field following a bone-jarring tackle on special teams.
“Celestin got into a panic,” head coach Herm Edwards explained after the defensive back called an inopportune timeout. “He didn't think we had enough guys to call time¬out. He hasn't been here long enough to know the rule. You don't get to do that, unless it's the fourth quarter or second quarter. He didn't understand that. But he's okay, he's fine.”
Regardless of the gaffe, Celestin is held in high favor with the Jets as the coaches have yet to decide if Celestin or Tongue will start alongside S Erik Coleman this Saturday versus the San Diego Chargers in the AFC Wild Card game. Celestin discussed his comfort level in acclimating to Henderson’s scheme in just eight weeks.
“(I’m) pretty comfortable,” said Celestin. “Football doesn’t really change in terms of schemes. But it’s the different terminology that you have to learn.”
If Celestin has learned anything, he should remember how far he’s come since his NFL Europe stint. Now that he has re-joined the NFL ranks, he’s confident that he will persevere and become a regular fixture with the Jets.
When that time comes, the Jets will have another promising young prospect manning their defensive backfield, finally allowing Celestin to breath a sigh of relief.