Jets rookie CB Derek Strait (21) is now a regular player in the Jets nickle and dime defense. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
- When the Jets selected CB Derrick Strait in the third round of the 2004 NFL Draft, they felt he would be able to make an immediate impact in the secondary.
While fellow rookies LB Jonathan Vilma and S Erik Coleman have excelled this year, Strait has had trouble acclimating to the pro game.
“It has been kind of tough because we as rookies are coming in as rookies and then have to learn a totally different system than what you have been used to,” Strait said. “It has been a little difficult but you just have to go out and keep working at it.”
Strait had an impressive college career at the University of Oklahoma. Strait holds the Oklahoma record for starts in a career with 53 games. Strait received both the Jim Thorpe Award and Nagurski Award his senior season. The Thorpe award is given to the nation’s top defensive back and the Nagurski award is given to the nation’s top defensive player. Strait holds the school single-season record with five fumble recoveries as a senior. During his four year college career, Strait recorded 264 tackles, 15 stops for losses, 54 pass deflections, and 14 interceptions and three interceptions and six fumble recoveries.
Jets head coach Herman Edwards talked about why Strait was so successful at Oklahoma.
“He has great vision for a corner,” Edwards said. “That’s why he was able to get his hands on so many balls. When you get that many balls, you have to have some great eyes, some great instincts, and he has that.”
Strait had an impressive first couple weeks of the regular season. In the opener against Cincinnati, Strait broke up a third-and-19 pass from QB Carson Palmer intended for WR Peter Warrick. In the week 2 win over San Diego, Strait had a tackle while helping limit Chargers TE Antonio Gates to four catches. In the week 3 win over Miami, Strait recorded four tackles on defense and his first special teams tackle.
But then Strait broke his foot in practice on October 7 and was inactive the next five weeks. Strait dressed on November 14 and November 21 but did not see any action.
Strait got back on the field on November 28 against Arizona and played on special teams. Strait participated on the punt return unit against Houston.
Despite being 100%, Strait was inactive for three of the final four regular
Strait knew his time would come and it did this past week against San Diego in the AFC Wildcard game. Frustrated with the lack of production by veteran CB Terrell Buckley, Jets defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson inserted Strait into the nickel package.
“The coaches said to stay ready,” Strait said. “We’re going to put you in the nickel so be ready to play. I wanted to step in and not hurt the team.”
Strait did a nice job, finishing with six tackles, as the Jets won, 20-17 in overtime. On third-and-one for the Chargers on their 35-yard line in overtime on their first possession, QB Drew Brees handed the ball to RB LaDainian Tomlinson, who ran left and was stopped by Strait for no gain. The Chargers were then forced to punt. It gave the Jets defense a chance to regroup.
Edwards was pleased with Strait’s performance.
“He did a good job of playing in there,” Edwards said. “The last couple weeks he's been practicing in there. Donnie (Henderson) and those guys felt, let's just get him in the game. Why not. Let's throw him in the playoff game and see how he reacts. He was excited. He's been pacing the sidelines for the last couple weeks wanting to play.”
Edwards knows with experience, Strait will improve.
“He’s a young player, he’s learning,” Edwards said. “He has some moxie about himself. He’s not afraid to tackle. I think we like that about the guy. The more he plays in there, the more comfortable he’ll become playing the position.”
With more experience under his belt, Strait should be an impact player for years to come.