Last season after slumping to a 4-12 record, the Jets knew where their problems stood. Take last year's 23-20 overtime loss to the Redskins as an example. The Jets limited Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell to just 142 yards passing, but they were burned on the ground by running backs Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts, who combined to rush for 260 yards on 45 carries. The statistic glared like a sore thumb and spoke loudly about what needed to be improved upon if the Jets ever wanted to escape from the hole they had dug themselves.
The Jets fought for seven more weeks following the loss to the Redskins, but ended the disappointing campaign allowing an average of 134 rushing yards per game (29th in NFL). But still, the need for a premier run defender remained evident. That is of course, where Kris Jenkins enters the picture.
After spending the following eight seasons with the Carolina Panthers, Jenkins was traded to the Jets Feb. 29 in exchange for third-round and fifth-round draft picks. With the trade, Jenkins was forced to move from his role as a pass-rushing defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense to the less glorious positon of nose tackle in a 3-4 system.
"When I first got here, I totally understood that this was a grunt position and I just need to do what I have to do to be the best that I can to help the team out," Jenkins said.
Jenkins' arrival came with questions about not only his new defensive role, but with injury concerns as well. The 6-foot-4, 349 nose tackle played only five games between the 2004 and 2005 seasons due to a shoulder injury. However, try as they might, opposing offenses have been unable to control Jenkins along the line of scrimmage. In his first eight games as a Jet, Jenkins has recorded 27 tackles, 2.5 sacks and a mound of trouble for opposing running backs. In fact, his greatest accomplishments are not directly displayed on his statline, but instead in the team's stats, where the Jets rank fourth in the league in run defense (76 yards allowed/game).
The Jets are surely enjoying Jenkins' presence after last year's struggles and Jenkins is enjoying his time in New York and the growing attention he's been receiving for his impact on the football field.
"It's definitely been fun," Jenkins said of his growing popularity. "I'll definitely say that I have been enjoying the ride. I really don't consider myself a celebrity or anything like that, but I've definitely been enjoying the ride."
But while Jenkins has been making noise on the field for his improved play, his life off it has been quiet.
"When I leave, I'm not doing anything that's Hollywood," Jenkins said. "I'm going home and I''m taking care of my family. That's it, when I leave here, I look forward to taking the pads off and being Kristopher Jenkins. I don't always, in my free time, have to be number 77."
While Jenkins has enjoyed leading the Jets to a 5-3 record and a three-way tie for first place halfway through the season, his greatest satisfaction comes from proving his abilities to himself.
"It wasn't something like I was feeling like I had to show people," Jenkins said of his final years in Carolina. "I just wanted to show myself. I just wanted to answer some of those questions with myself."
A brief rainstorm in Florham Park, N.J. brought sloppy conditions to the 35-minute media window of practice. Much of the session was spent with Reggie Hodges booming punts to Leon Washington. Several of Hodges' punts seemed to be held up in the strong winds, but his kicks still featured distance and solid hangtime....Kicker Mike Nugent did not kick during the media window, but he did run light windsprints along the endzone....Tight end Bubba Franks, who left the Oakland loss with a hip injury, rode the stationary bike.
Nugent a "Possibility"
After injuring his right thigh in the Jets' season opening win over the Dolphins, Nugent has missed the previous seven games. But yesterday, Nugent's first signs of progress became evident as he was able to practice, albeit in limited fashion. Mangini said "there's a possibility" that Nugent will be ready for Sunday's game against the Rams. Mangini explained that Nugent has "been kicking for a few weeks in different degrees."
Thomas Continues to Improve
Last season, the Jets' defense totaled just 29 sacks. Through the first eight games of this season, the defense has already matched that total, thanks in part to additions such as outside linebacker Calvin Pace, Jenkins and improved play from defensive end Shaun Ellis. Outside linebacker Bryan Thomas is also enjoying a solid start to the season, as he's recorded 4.5 sacks. Today Mangini applauded Thomas' improvements.
"I think that Bryan has done a really good job this year and it's something that started in the offseason. It started with the way that he approached the weight room...and that's translated into his play. His focus has been excellent throughout the course of the year," Mangini said. "His ability to continue to improve is great as well."
Mangini Mum on Harris
Yesterday, reports surfaced that Jets' linebacker David Harris had undergone a surgical procedure on his injured groin. Today Mangini was asked about Harris' injury, but he refused to confirm that a procedure had taken place.
"I really shared all I was going to share yesterday," Mangini said.
Did Not Participate: TE Bubba Franks (hip), LB David Harris (groin), S Eric Smith (head)
Limited Participation: WR Laveranues Coles (thigh), WR Jerricho Cotchery (shoulder), K Mike Nugent (right thigh), LB Cody Spencer (shoulder)
Full Participation: TE Chris Baker (hip)
Did Not Participate: LB Chris Draft (foot), CB Tye Hill (knee), RB Steven Jackson (thigh), RB Travis Minor (concussion), DE Eric Moore (spine), RB Antonio Pittman (hamstring)
Limited Participation: DT Adam Carrikker (ankle)
Full Participation: S Oshiomogho Atogwe (thigh), S Todd Johnson (kidney), DE Leonard Little (hamstring), WR Derek Stanley (ankle)