Cotchery works through the Packer defense
The New York Jets endured a trying 2005 season, suffering a mass of injuries on the way to a disappointing 4-12 finish. But Jerricho Cotchery, a then second-year wide receiver from N.C. State, received playing time with the offense down the stretch and was able to gain significant confidence.
"I got a lot of playing time at the end of my second year and gained that experience," Cotchery said in an interview with newyorkjets.com last week. "The best experience you can have is playing experience, and I got that at the end of my second year. Most of the second half of the season proved to be very valuable because I felt like I could go out there and make some plays. It carried over to my offseason program and even in the practices. I just felt more comfortable."
Cotchery, who caught only six balls his rookie season, got hot in those winter months and finished with 14 receptions over the final six games of the '05 campaign. Those are hardly earth-shattering numbers, but the then third receiver had only totaled 11 receptions in his first 22 career games. With a newfound comfort, Cotchery then impressed head coach Eric Mangini with a spectacular offseason.
"He was the most outstanding player in our offseason program. That caught my eye," Mangini said of Cotchery last August. "His work ethic and the fact that he distinguished himself in that way - I think is outstanding."
The effort paid off for Cotchery throughout the 2006 season. He registered career-highs in receptions (82) and receiving yards (961) while producing his first six receiving touchdowns. Now that Cotchery has established himself as an explosive NFL offensive weapon, the 6,0", 207-pound pass catcher does not have any plans to slow down.
"The offseason is going great so far," he said. "I have started out pretty fast. I have actually been working out every other day for the past two weeks. I am already ready to get back at it."
So Cotchery is back after it all right. The routine calls for light weights and a little cardio with focus on the core, hips, and leg work. He wants to be in top condition even before the Jets commence their spring workout program. Cotchery's off-field preparation last year led to a breakout on the field.
"I thought the key was for me to be able to hit the ground running once our offseason program started," Cotchery said. "I was able to do some thing like I'm doing now and get some things in order. I was already in good shape when our offseason program started. I didn't have to start right from square one once we got back."
Following the Jets' departure from the postseason, Cotchery said he took only a week and a half off.
"At this point last year, I was trying to think about some ways to help me out," he said. "When I am working out now, I think about how last year's offseason helped me out a lot. If I can continue to do those things, then hopefully I can do better than I did last year."
The Jets have a terrific one-two tandem at receiver in Laveranues Coles and Cotchery. Coles, whose 91 receptions were a career-high, very nearly produced the third 1,100-yard receiving total of his career. Both players are sure-handed targets who play fearlessly. They extend and contort for the reception, run with a brute physicality, and willingly block defenders. Coles and Cotchery are complete ball players who actually shared a quiet competition.
"We never really talked about, but you could see it happening," Cotchery said. "When you see somebody make a play, you want to go out there and make a play also. It carried over throughout the course of each game. We picked up a lot through the season."
Cotchery, who played a critical role in the Jets' 10-win regular season, excelled in postseason action as well. Against the Patriots, Cotchery scored on a 77-yard play after an intermediate pass from quarterback Chad Pennington. In defeat, Cotchery registered four receptions for 100 yards.
"For me, it was another game. I felt very comfortable," he said. "Fortunately, I was able to get some playing time my rookie year on offense. We made it to the playoffs that year, and I was able to get some valuable playing time. I was very comfortable that day."
When Cotchery returns to the Jets' facility here in Hempstead, he can also take solace knowing he will be in the same offensive system under coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
"Being able to have the same offense makes a very big difference," Cotchery said. "For the past three years, we have had three totally different offenses. Each offseason, we were trying to learn a new offense – installing from day one instead of adding from the previous year.
"I think this year we will be able to add some things here and guys will be more comfortable with everything the offense has," he added. "I think that will help out a lot – I know it will for me. Each year, we have had to learn a different system and not been able to get comfortable with the routes and different things like that. I think that will be a big difference for the offense as a whole this offseason."
Even though he talks like a savvy vet, Cotchery is just 24-years-old and won't celebrate another birthday until June. It would be safe to expect more from Cotchery, a young talent who burst on the national radar with a memorable 71-yard scoring reception against the Patriots during the Jets' home opener. Cotchery went up to haul in a Pennington pass, absorbed a huge hit and landed on a Patriot defensive back. Knowing his knee had never touched the fieldturf, Cotchery ran unimpeded to the end zone.
"That was one of those plays that just describes my game," he said when asked to reflect on the magical moment. "It just describes the way I play the game as a whole. It was just about hard work and finishing every play. That is what I try to do every day in practice. Even if you are down at practice, you get up and finish the play."
With Cotchery though, there is never really a finish to his work. Just a continuing evolution…