Rookie Minicamp Photos Day 2
"Transition game" meant something completely different to J'Nathan Bullock in March than it does now in the first days of May.
In March, Bullock was a power forward averaging 15.2 points and 7.1 rebounds a game for Cleveland State's NCAA Tournament basketball team. Now he's transitioning into trying to become a New York Jet.
"I can't believe I'm really here," he said during this weekend's rookie minicamp in front of his stall in the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center locker room. "But it's time to do it."
There's a lot of football in Bullock's past. It just hasn't been played in his last four years at Cleveland State, which doesn't even have a football team. During his schoolboy career at Flint (Mich.) Northern High, he was a natural — he played every skill position on offense (averaging 11.5 yards on 75 carries, 22.9 on 19 catches and 18.4 on 17 pass attempts as a senior), end and linebacker on defense, and even kicked and punted.
Now that he's left the hardwood for the gridiron, the comparisons to Antonio Gates are apt. At 6'5" and 240 pounds, he's a little lighter but similarly built to the Chargers' accomplished TE. They had similar college hoops production and they entered the NFL as undrafted free agents.
What's more, Gary Waters, the Cleveland State coach, is the same guy who coached Gates at Kent State seven years earlier. This is obviously no coincidence.
"It's just the way he runs things around there," Bullock said of the Waters program. "He wants all his guys to be over 300 pounds in benching. Right off the bat, for a basketball player that's a lot of work. I was up to 340 for the season. That really helps you. And we do footwork drills and stuff like that, which can transfer over."
The transition began in earnest last month when Bullock held his own CSU "pro day," which was attended by Jets TEs coach Mike Devlin and coaches and scouts from more than a dozen other NFL clubs. His speed (4.80 in the 40) wasn't impressive, but his hands were (no drops on 60 throws of varying lengths).
Bullock said the Jets showed "immediate interest," which led to him signing on with the Green & White and suiting up Friday for the pads-less minicamp.
How's it been going for the dreadlocked honor student? This morning's practice offered a glimpse into his prospects.
In 7-on-7 drills, first-round QB Mark Sanchez tried to thread a pass to Bullock over the middle that CB Marquice Cole broke up with a physical play. A few snaps later, Sanchez found him open over the middle but Bullock dropped the pass.
But then Bullock made a play that showed his potential. Split wide, he took a few strides, made a quick slant and, shielding rookie safety Emanuel Cook with his large frame, he latched onto another Sanchez pass, tucked it away and turned upfield.
Head coach Rex Ryan remembered the play.
"They flexed him out there wide today," Ryan said. "He got inside of the corner for a nice catch. He was an excellent football player in high school but he's been away from the game for a while. He's a little more natural than most basketball players."
Sanchez had a similar take.
"J'Nathan, he's doing well," the charismatic QB said. "When we just tell him it's 1-on-1, it looks like he's trying to box somebody out for a rebound. He looks good, though. He's an athlete and that says a lot. It's easier to teach a basketball player to play football than vice versa. He's doing really well. He's got a lot of raw talent. With the coaching staff here, he'll sharpen his skills and he'll be just fine."
Of course, Bullock will also have to block if he's going to play in the pros. But one more play this morning hinted at promise there. Ryan gave a very favorable review of Jamaal Westerman of Rutgers at this camp, but Westerman (making his own transition, from DE to LB) was neutralized on one run by Jehuu Caulcrick. There's no tackling or hitting in this camp, but Bullock looked to have great position and balance in keeping Westerman away making the play.
These are all just one-play snapshots, but there's promise that Bullock can make this crossover. Just as he committed to basketball coming out of high school, he says he's now "taking this opportunity 110 percent" to make the Jets.
"I can't say playing football is something I always wanted to do. I just had aspirations to play at the highest level," he said. "The opportunity didn't come for me in basketball, but it came for me in football, so I've taken it. And now I'm running with it."