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Center Spotlight Could Be on Colin Baxter

Posted Sep 19, 2011

As the final seconds of the Jets' victory over the Jaguars ticked off the clock, shadowed beneath the lopsided 32-3 victory was an unsettling loss. Starting C Nick Mangold suffered an ankle injury late in the first quarter and was replaced by waiver pickup Colin Baxter.

Today Mangold underwent an MRI that showed a high ankle sprain. This afternoon head coach Rex Ryan said of Mangold, “It doesn’t look good as far as playing this week” when the Jets travel to the West Coast to take on the Raiders in Oakland.

Baxter, an undrafted free agent from Arizona, spent training camp with the Chargers before being placed on waivers on final cutdown day. He was picked up by the Jets shortly thereafter, and will be hard at work over the next several days to be prepared possibly for his first NFL start.

“I’ve got to do a lot this week,” Baxter said in the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center locker room this afternoon. “I’ve been doing a lot with Coach Cally [Bill Callahan] after practice, working on sets and technique. I’m in there with Rob [Turner] after meetings. I’m going over it at home, here and the hotel.”

Today, head coach Rex Ryan weighed in on what he thought of the young substitute center.

“I think Baxter did a great job considering how he was thrown in there,” said Ryan. “He had a couple of mental mistakes, but I was proud of the way he jumped in there. Whether it’s Nick or Baxter or whoever in there, we move on.”

Baxter said he prepares himself each week as if he is going to start, but admitted that until he entered the game on the last play of the first quarter, he had never actually snapped a ball to QB Mark Sanchez, having worked in practice mostly with backup Mark Brunell.

“I’ve got to work hard and keep getting better every day,” said Baxter. “I’ve got to clean up my mistakes. The things I did OK, I’ve got to do better. The things I did poorly, I have to do well.”

His work ethic was highlighted this afternoon by Ryan, who praised his approach to his job.

“The thing about that young man is that he doesn’t want to make mistakes,” said Ryan. “Those two mental mistakes were too much for him. You love the mentality that he has. He wants to go in there and compete.”

If Baxter indeed does get the call at center this week, it would end Mangold’s streak of 82 consecutive regular-season starts, which currently ranks fourth among active centers.

“It will be interesting now, because since I’ve been head coach of the Jets, Nick’s always been the center,” said Ryan. “I hope he can go, but we’ll see.”

Meanwhile, plans will be made to play without Mangold, who is a vocal leader on the offensive line and one of the key bodyguards for Sanchez. For a rookie like Baxter, there is no better role model to learn from.

“I’m definitely going to be in his ear all week,” said Baxter, “asking him questions about technique, plays and assignments. I just want to make sure I’ve got everything straight and see how he would do it.”

Brandon Moore, fellow offensive lineman and consummate veteran, spoke today about the importance of communication with the new, young center.

“Things that you wouldn’t normally have a verbal command for, you probably say more to confirm it,” said Moore. “Make sure he knows what he’s doing, I know what he’s doing, and everybody else knows.”

Baxter’s whirlwind rookie season will continue its torrid pace as the Jets will travel to Oakland on Friday for Sunday’s game.

“It’s crazy,” he said. “It goes to show that if you keep working at it, you’ll get your shot, some sooner, some later. Mine just happened to be sooner.”

Preseason Live: New York Jets

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