There's no reason the Yellow Brick Road can't have some potholes along the way. But right now D'Brickashaw Ferguson's path is as smooth and fast as midday on nearby Route 80.
"I've tried to improve the last couple of seasons," said the Jets' third-year left tackle. "I've used those experiences to aid me in what I'm trying to do now. I want to be a reason we're getting better rather than a reason we're not doing as well."
Ferguson first offered these lines back at the start of training camp, when it became apparent that something was different. He had reshaped his body and rehoned his mental edge. He said how the influx of those new/old offensive line veterans, Alan Faneca and Damien Woody, had affected him.
But head coach Eric Mangini noted that the transformation began even before the vets signed on.
"Brick identified what had to be done," Mangini said. "He saw the way to continue to grow and then he made the decision as to "This is who I'm going to be, this is how it's going to be," and he's followed up on that decision pretty much every day."
Ferguson has played better this season than in his first two years in the NFL, but it may not have hit home for the Green & White faithful yet. Mangini helped the perception along by announcing at today's news conference that Brick was his Offensive Player of the Game for the 26-14 triumph over Cincinnati on Sunday.
"It definitely feels good. It's the first time I won it in three years. It's significant to me," Ferguson said today in the locker room. "Typically it's highlighted for the player who has done well that game. You can tell a great quarterback, a great running back, wide receivers like we have. Those players are noted, duly deserved. For a linemen to have the opportunity to be recognized, it's really like, 'Hey, thank you.' "
Some may suspect the coach of presenting a "message" award, but this award is significant, considering that Thomas Jones had his first career three-touchdown game and Jerricho Cotchery and Laveranues Coles each chipped in with eight receptions.
But Ferguson's work stood up well in that company. He pitched a sack shutout against Antwan Odom and the Bengals' right-side rushers (neither sack of Brett Favre was given up by Brick).
And No. 60 was an anchor for both of Jones' scoring runs. On TJ's 7-yarder in the second quarter, Brick walled off his man for the beginning of a clear pathway, something like runway lights at night, as Jones followed his blocks all the way to touch-down at the goal line. And on the clinching 2-yarder, Brick and the left side fired across the line, mowing down Cinci defenders and giving Jones an unimpeded landing spot for his dive.
Sacks yielded, of course, are a key O-line measure for many critics. And such stats when compiled by people who don't know blocking responsibilities on stunts and blitz pickups can be quite speculative. Yet those outside numbers are the only ones that fans hear about.
For instance, by the judgments of Stats Inc.'s correspondents, Ferguson gave up 10 sacks in 2006 and 13.25 in '07. That might have given the impression he was losing ground, even though two other measures (one independent, one from the team) both show him giving up more sacks as a rookie, fewer last season.
But that's history. As for this season, all the measures agree that Ferguson has yielded 1.5 or two sacks, putting him at worst on a pace of five to 6.5 sacks — a marked improvement.
Not surprisingly, none of this moves Brick one way or the other. Asked how many sacks he's been debited with by O-line coach Bill Callahan, he deflected the question.
"As an offensive lineman, you just continue to work hard," he said. "The game is a lot deeper than that. Things start to click a little bit and you put forth a better game."
As for his critics, Ferguson shrugged.
"I never really listen to that stuff. I stay out of the paper and I stay out of the media. At the end of the day it's a process as you work toward your goal," he said. "Eventually, people are forced to look at you in a different light."
It is surely true that Ferguson has benefited from Faneca lining up next to him every play and from Callahan's coaching. But Faneca said that, while he has passed on a few tricks of the trade, said the bottom line is that "He's a self-motivator."
And Mangini, the master of the awards ceremonies after each Jets victory, has shined a new light on the performance of his quarterback's blind-side protector ever since the end of last season.
"You're always going to have programs for guys, you're always going to try to help them with their growth and lead them along a path," the coach said. "But at some point, once they make that decision that that's where they're going, things accelerate."