Rhodes prepares for the tackle
In a league of perpetual uncertainty, the New York Jets have a firm sense of assurance in regards to their situation at safety for many years to come.
The emergence of Kerry Rhodes from promising rookie in 2005 to versatile defensive menace in 2006 means Coach Eric Mangini and General Manager Mike Tannenbaum have yet another young star to build around.
"I think he is really starting to develop some positive leadership skills in the secondary," Mangini said of Rhodes early last season. "He has really worked hard in preparation and is trying to understand how other successful safeties become successful and maintain their success."
"When Coach Mangini first came, he spoke with me and told me that I have the potential to be a good safety and a good leader," said Rhodes, a quarterback in high school and a fourth round draft selection out of Louisville in 2005. "I just took heed and tried to put it out on the field and see what I could do with it. It is working out so far."
The work equated to a thick stat sheet as Rhodes accounted for 98 total tackles along with four interceptions, tying Andre Dyson for the team-high in '06.
What separated Rhodes from the pack last season was his big-play ability. After hauling in an interception during the opener, the Alabama native recorded 21 combined tackles in weeks two and three in addition to three sacks and three forced fumbles – one of which was returned for a touchdown by linebacker Victor Hobson.
"He is a very rangy guy, but he is also able to play down in the box and play man-to-man coverage. Those things are all core elements of any position in the secondary, but safety especially," said Mangini, who just completed his first year at the helm. "I think that's really good for him to proactively try to improve, embrace the coaching, and then see the results."
In the Jets' three games immediately following their bye week, Rhodes exploded for his most productive stretch and it couldn't have come at a better time. The 6'3", 210-pound defensive back registered 10 tackles and a fumble recovery in the Green & White's memorable win at New England to jumpstart their playoff run. Rhodes then followed that up with a sack and a game-high eight solo tackles in the club's hard-fought 10-0 loss to the eventual NFC Champion Chicago Bears.
"He has a nice feel for accelerating at the right time, for hitting the gap and even taking on blockers. It is a little combination of ability and instincts," Mangini said of Rhodes' pass-rush ability.
Rhodes then finished off that steady month with a season-best 12 total tackles and one interception in the Jets' 26-11 win over the Houston Texans. That performance gave him 30 tackles in just three November games.
"I know I'm a whole lot better than I was last year. The worked paid off," said Rhodes, who spent the offseason not only studying tape of the league's best safeties, but interacting with them for added help. "Last offseason, I talked with Donovin Darius from Jacksonville and Rodney Harrison from New England. They have both been in the league for a while, they have both made plays in the league for a while, and they're both good players."
It was no surprise that Mangini took note of Rhodes' efforts.
"What I've noticed the most is Kerry trying to improve himself by talking to the older players or really figuring out the areas of weakness and the things that he can work on outside of the building, outside of the regular-scheduled practice time," said Mangini. "That proactive behavior is great."
More of Rhodes' proactive behavior can be expected in '07 as well. Not only will he have one more year of experience under his belt, his teammates will also have that much more faith in the rising leader.
"If you do everything right, people will follow you. If not, they won't," Rhodes said. "You have to do that first and then get everybody else on the same page. At the end, you can only say that we played as a team and we always played together."