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Brick Ready to Knock Heads with Texans' Williams


The Jets-Texans game has a whole passel of 1-on-1 and unit-on-unit tête-à-têtes to fill up a whole half-hour of the State Farm NFL Matchup show.

Darrelle Revis vs. Andre Johnson. The Jets' Ground and Pound posse against DeMeco Ryans and Houston's run-stoppers. The Jets' Bermuda Triangle of Kris Jenkins, Bart Scott and David Harris trying to make the Texans' Steve Slaton disappear.

What about the importance of Jets left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson vs. Texans right end Mario Williams?

"Oh, yeah," Ferguson said Wednesday. "For people that know."

Fans who always follow the football or the bouncing QB may want to cast a glance to No. 60 in green and white trying to keep at bay No. 90 in deep steel blue and battle red. It will have a lot to say about Mark Sanchez's chances of coming out of his rookie starting debut unscathed. It will have a major impact on Rex Ryan's odds of coming out of his rookie NFL head coaching debut with a win.

Brick never shied away from such comparisons, but he used to be a lot quieter about such matchups as he matured from the Jets' first-round pick and rookie starter in 2006 through growing pains and growing up in '07 and last season.

One of the themes this week is Ferguson's steady improvement over his first three seasons in the league — and the slings and arrows of outraged fandom that he had to absorb to get to where he is today.

"It was something I just had to accept. I had to eat it," he said of the criticisms he heard. "Talk about having skin like an armadillo. There's no going away, you're not going to give up. We all want to play like Adrian Peterson coming into the league and blow everybody away. But till you get it right, you've got to deal with the negativity."

Brick did that through what he called his slow, gradual improvement whose starting point was impossible to point to with any accuracy.

"You can feel yourself grow. You know when you're getting better," he said. "You start feeling it. You look at yourself on tape, you look a little different, you respond to different things. So you can feel when the scale is starting to tip in your favor. I never felt like it was an overnight thing, but I definitely knew things were changing for me."

While the start is shrouded in the past, some landmarks are visible. In July 2008 Ferguson just looked more of the blindside protector of his QB that he was billed as coming out of Virginia. After an off-season of diligent work with strength coach Sal Alosi and his staff, he even won one of Eric Mangini's strength awards — and the choice dorm parking space at training camp that went with it.

Late last season he found out he was a third alternate at tackle in the AFC Pro Bowl balloting. This summer he heard new head coach Rex Ryan say of him, "Oh, man, this guy can be special." That was about the same time that the once reticent player told "I'm definitely going to make the Pro Bowl this year."

"You can have more pride or self-confidence in what you're doing because you can see it," Ferguson explained Wednesday of his emerging attitude. "It's not just somebody paying you a kind word here or there. It's 'I've demonstrated I can do it on a continuing basis. I understand why I'm having success.'

"You're taking ownership of your game, putting yourself in more of a power position. You're the driver."

Of course, even the best starting drivers can use some high-test gas. Brick said he gets that from remembering some of those criticisms.

"I never forget," he said. "When I'm on the field, I remember all the comments and use it as fuel. I keep that, and I take it out on my opponents."

One of those opponents will be Williams, whom he used to run into in college when Virginia took on North Carolina State. And like Ferguson, Williams went through his own trial by ire, not living up to some shortsighted fans' notion of what the first pick of the draft was supposed to be in his rookie season.

But in the past two seasons, Williams has compiled 26 sacks, fourth-most in the NFL in that span. Ryan, asked about the Texan's development, replied, "It's frightening ... the guy is a stud."

Which raises the question: What happens when two players who were underappreciated as rookies and are now building very fine professional careers run into each other. Explosion? Matter/antimatter annihilation? Who wins this battle on Sunday?

Brick didn't answer directly.

"Heart. Who wants it more," he said. "You know what I'm saying?"

Yeah, I think we do.

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