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Building Through the Draft


Schottenheimer is being courted by the Dolphins for their head coaching vacancy

Only days after their exit from the postseason, the New York Jets are in the midst of a self-scout: a period of evaluating personnel. With a season of general manager duties under his met, Mike Tannenbaum spoke with reporters Wednesday afternoon about his team and its direction.

"I thought we had a good season," Tannenbaum said. "I was happy we were able to play some meaningful games down the stretch and obviously into the playoffs. I thought Eric (Mangini) and his staff did a great job during the season. I thought our team got better, especially down the stretch to give us a chance to get into the playoffs."

One of the most talented people on Mangini's staff is offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. The Miami Dolphins took note of Schottenheimer's innovative approach and asked the Jets for permission to interview the offensive guru for their head coaching vacancy. Permission was granted

"I think Brian did a really good job like most of our coaches did," Tannenbaum said. "He is deserving of the opportunity to interview for the job. That is a credit to him."

In the event Schottenheimer is hired by the Dolphins, the Jets are prepared to begin a new search.

"We try to have a short list for all positions because you never know what is going to happen," Tannenbaum said. "You try to have a pretty good short list of people if and when these situations occur."

Mangini was hired following six seasons as an assistant head coach in New England under Bill Belichick. If Schottenheimer reached agreement with the Dolphins, Mangini would share unique familiarity with the head coaches of two of his three AFC East rivals.

"He has done a great job for us and worked hard. If and when he would leave this organization, we would have to work hard to replace him," Tannenbaum said of Schottenheimer. "If it's within the division, that's just another obstacle we would have to deal with."

While the Jets will keep an eye on the Schottenheimer situation, this is a time for review and planning. Borrowing a phrase from former mentor Bill Parcells, Tannenbaum said the Green & White will need to create offseason lists.

"Once we are done with the critical analysis of our team, Eric and I will assemble our list of 'musts and needs.' We will pursue those musts and needs as soon as the '07 offseason begins whether it is on offense, defense or special teams," he said.

The National Football League's free agency period commencers in early March, and the Jets have created room for themselves under the salary cap. For many years, Tannenbaum has been regarded as one of the league's top cap analysts.

"I feel comfortable where our cap situation is," he said. "I don't even know what that final number is yet. There are still some nuances of contacts being netted out for incentives and things like that. But we should be in a comfortable cap situation and philosophically we want to build our team through the draft as much as possible."

Following free agency, the draft will follow in April. The Jets, who own three of the top 53 overall selections, have one first round selection, two second round selections, and one selection in the third round, fifth round, and sixth round.

"I would like to have the roster set as much as possible before the draft," Tannenbaum said. "What I have learned is if we can have the roster as well-prepared as possible before the draft, it puts us in a position to take advantage of opportunities that may present themselves, which I think happened last year. I really don't want to go into the draft saying we need to get X or Y. I think based on history what I learned is that is when mistakes can be made."

The Jets had a highly successful draft last year, and they'd love to duplicate that success in '07. Both of their first round selections, center Nick Mangold and left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, started every game. Rookie runner Leon Washington, a fourth round selection, led the team with 650 yards rushing. The versatile Brad Smith, a second fourth round selection, seemingly was used at every position on offense. On defense, corner Drew Coleman, a sixth round selection, and safety Erik Smith, a third round selection, each made significant contributions.

"If there is value in the free agent market, then I think that is something we would look at as a contributing factor to building our team," Tannenbaum said. "But again, our core philosophy is we want to build through the draft, try to re-sign as many of our own players as we can, coach them and develop them and help them get better."

After adopting a running back by committee approach and the likely impending retirement of Curtis Martin, the Jets may opt to draft a runner from the college ranks. Citing examples from around the league including the likes of Dallas and Jacksonville, Tannenbaum commented on the evolution of the position.

"That position is evolving where it's more than just one person," Tannenbaum said. "Obviously, we have been a little bit of the exception here with Curt for so many years. But I think from a macro standpoint what we've seen league wide – it's is more than one guy running the ball for each team."

But the philosophy on the running back position is no different than the team's overall approach. The goal now is to progress in each area including the offensive backfield.

"We are going to take a long hard look at it and see what we can do better," Tannenbaum said. "I think some of the pieces here, and we will see if there are areas to improve it once we move forward."

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