Often times in professional sports, some of the most valuable players on a team are the ones who do the dirty work behind the scenes. Running back Derrick Blaylock is one member of the Jets - although he didn't receive a lot of playing time in 2006 - who was a valuable commodity to the franchise through his sacrifice, hard work and discipline.
"The way that Derrick operates, whether he's active or inactive - his preparation doesn't change," head coach Eric Mangini said of Blaylock. "He is a great example active or inactive, getting a lot of reps or not getting a lot of reps. He prepares the same way as if he is going to be the starter. That is what you want everybody to do."
In his second year with the Jets, Blaylock earned the starting job for the season opener at Tennessee after future Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list. The Jets rode the right arm of Chad Pennington that afternoon, and Blaylock (36 yards rushing, 10 yards receiving) and the rest of the running game was forced to play second fiddle.
Using a committee approach at the position, rookie Leon Washington and veterans Cedric Houston and Kevan Barlow received the bulk of the regular season work. Washington led the team with 650 rush yards and his 25 catches also paced the running backs. Houston (374 rush yards & 5 TD) and Barlow (370 rush yards & 6 TD) gave the Jets straight ahead options in the backfield to complement the shifty Washington. Blaylock would dress in just three more games following the opener, but he maintained a positive attitude all season long.
"My main focus is on this team. How can I make this team better? How can I help the team? That is the kind of guy I am. I'm the guy who wants to come in to play a role and help the team out," said Blaylock. "Week-in and week-out, you have to approach it as if you're the guy. You have to be prepared and I take pride in doing it."
"Derrick is a smart guy," Mangini said. "He and I have talked and our relationship is exactly the same as it will always be. Things change and everybody understands that each week the needs change."
Although used in a reduced role, Blaylock remained dedicated in terms of his weekly preparation. Following the Jets' 26-13 win at Minnesota in mid-December, the former Stephen F. Austin standout was awarded Coach Mangini's most coveted honor, the Practice Player of the Week.
"Derrick is doing a great job for us," said Mangini of Blaylock. "He always gives us a really good look at the opponent's running back. This week that was especially important for us. Stopping the run was one of the key factors in the game, and he really helped us get a really solid look."
"I take it back to the point where we are professionals," added Blaylock, whose wife Kristen welcomed the birth of their third son, Tori, in September. "What I'm thinking about day-by-day is coming out and focusing on what I have to do and practicing hard. I don't feel like I've been forgotten; I'm a part of this team and whatever I can do to help - I'm there."
Even if he was not able to enjoy the limelight of many Sunday afternoons, Blaylock consistently favored a professional approach.
"Things like that happen, this is a business," he said. "Sometimes you're going to dress and sometimes you're not. You can't look at it as if you're not going to dress and then get down on yourself. You have to keep practicing, stay in it and it'll happen. I'm just focused and prepared to do what I have to do."