The New York Jets' off-season wheels are already in motion. Once Mike Nugent's overtime winner defeated Kansas City and ended the 2007 season, the Green & White moved rapidly into the new year.
"Ultimately, what we have to do and what we are starting on is evaluating the whole roster," said Jets head coach Eric Mangini. "We'll look at the things that we need to do in terms of the players we have, developing those players and evaluating those players. We'll also look at the system and what we can improve and look at the organization and the things that we can improve."
Late last week, Mangini huddled with staff in meetings here on the second floor at Weeb Ewbank Hall. One of the goals of the upcoming campaign will be a return trip to the postseason as Mangini would prefer not to be in off-season mode right now.
"You never want to be in a situation like this. The key thing is: What can you learn? What can you take away and how can you make sure it doesn't happen again? That's what I'm going to work at and Mike [Tannenbaum] is going to work at," Mangini said. "Ultimately, it's my responsibility to figure out a way to improve the team and improve the things we're doing, so we come out on the positive side of those close games."
Since the Jets dropped a number of close contests, they're slated to pick sixth overall in April's NFL Draft. But that's three-plus months away even as fans discuss the names of potential Top 10 picks like Glenn Dorsey (DT, LSU), Darren McFadden (RB, Arkansas), Jake Long (T, Michigan), Chris Long (DE, Virginia) and Matt Ryan (QB, Boston College). Now with only one BCS bowl left — tonight's national championship game between Ohio State and LSU — the college all-star season is right around the corner.
The Jets' college scouting department is going to have a busy month. On Friday the Cactus Bowl (formerly the Snow Bowl) will be held in Kingsville, Texas. The Cactus Bowl features the best Division II senior talent in the nation and carries the slogan "The best players you've never seen."
Just a day later, the 62nd annual Hula Bowl will kick off once again in Honolulu, Hawaii. A quartet of Jets — S Erik Coleman, DT Sione Pouha, WR Brad Smith and QB Brett Ratliff — are Hula Bowl vets.
Back on the mainland a week later, the East-West Shrine Game is scheduled for Jan. 19 at the University of Houston's Robertson Stadium. The game, which has raised more than $14 million for Shriners Hospital, will feature former NFL coaches as Dick Vermeil heads the East squad and Mike White takes the West's reins. Leon Washington, a multipurpose threat for the Jets who was just named team MVP, WR David Ball and OL Robert Turner are all Shrine Game alums.
Then in late January, the NFL takes over the small town of Mobile, Ala., for Senior Bowl Week. The game will be played Jan. 26 in Laad-Peebles Stadium, but the pro scouts and the coaches put a heavy emphasis on the practices leading up to the contest.
Billed as an "NFL coaches convention," draft prospects will be under the watchful eye of hundreds of interested onlookers. Senior Bowl alumni on the Jets include ILB Eric Barton, WR Jerricho Cotchery, CB Andre Dyson, T D'Brickashaw Ferguson, ILB David Harris, OLB Victor Hobson, C Nick Mangold, K Mike Nugent, QB Chad Pennington (2000 Senior Bowl MVP), OLB Bryan Thomas and WR Chansi Stuckey.
Harris, a second-round pick from Michigan, was a defensive stalwart in his rookie campaign. In 16 games but with only nine starts, he paced the Jets in tackles and tied for the club lead with five sacks.
"With the rookies, Davis Harris goes from a role player to a key player," Mangini said. "I didn't realize he could rush the passer that effectively — I don't know if he realized it."
One of the newer all-star games is set to take place at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, on Feb. 2. The Texas vs. the Nation battle matches top college stars from the Lone Star State against top seniors from across the rest of the nation. Jets rookie OLB Jason Trusnik played in the inaugural game after a tremendous career at Ohio Northern.
The Jets scored big in last year's draft, acquiring both Harris and CB Darrelle Revis, a junior who left Pittsburgh early and started 16 games. Both players played well in their first seasons and have Pro Bowl potential.
As for tomorrow's stars, the Jets are already working on that today.