Fourteen-year veteran fullback Tony Richardson has been out or limited for the past week with a hip pointer, but he expects to be back soon. He's listed as questionable for Friday night's preseason opener at the Meadowlands against the Rams.
In his absence, Jehuu Caulcrick, an undrafted free agent who spent last season on the Jets' practice squad, is taking advantage of his time with the first offense.
"I'm trying to benefit the team any way I can, whether it's short yardage and goal line and if they want to put me in there, or if I am just a lead blocker — I'll do my best to get the running back or myself in the end zone," said Caulcrick after Tuesday morning's practice.
The second-year fullback is one of the many young players still trying to secure places on the Jets' regular-season roster.
"Every year going in you have competition. You just have to come in and work hard every day. You can't take a day off," said Caulcrick. "That's the mentality I'm going in there with and that's what I've always gone to practice with. It's the same thing – go out and work hard every day."
Fullbacks must work hard to block for the running backs, as the first ones to take a pounding from the defense. The 6'0", 250-pound Caulcrick is learning valuable career lessons from one of the best FBs of all-time in T-Rich.
"We spent a lot of time together," Richardson said. "It started last year and carried over to this year. We work out together when we can, spend a lot of time just talking about concepts."
"It's been awesome. He's been a real professional, a great guy," said Caulcrick. "He's helped me out a lot, and not just him — Thomas Jones, Leon Washington and Coach [Anthony] Lynn. Everyone's been putting in a great effort in helping us. But T-Rich has been really outgoing, more than he has to, to help me out."
Like a lot of Jets players, the former Michigan State Spartan is looking forward to his opportunity to hit someone other than his teammates in a game situation. He expects to get a lot of playing time, although because of the nature of the NFL and the uncertainty that surrounds each week, he's not sure what kind of minutes he will actually get.
"We'll see if he'll get extensive work in this game," said head coach Rex Ryan. "He's improving. The first thing about being a fullback is you'd better go in there and hit somebody, and he's not afraid to do that."
Caulcrick has a lot of competition for a roster spot, and not only with the other fullback on the roster, rookie Brock Christopher. The Jets have also use their tight ends in the backfield on occasion.
But Caulcrick sees his game as versatile, too, lining up at both the FB and RB positions.
"If he can learn both positions, obviously for longevity purposes, I think it could help him," Richardson said, "and I think he's done a good job of grasping everything that they've thrown at him."
After becoming a Jets final cut last summer, Caulcrick was signed to the practice squad. He has felt more camp-equipped than this year's set of rookies.
"We're going through a new coaching staff so we didn't know what camp was going to be like coming in here," he said, "but being through camp once already, you have a leg up on the rookies that are here now because you know what to expect, you know how to train yourself and prepare your body for camp."
A SuperPrep All-American from a Clymer High School graduating class of 26 and Western New York's all-time leading rusher, Caulcrick hasn't forgotten where he came from.
"Western New York has been nothing but great to me. There is a lot of support back there. I feel like when I'm doing all this, I'm not just doing it for me but I'm also doing it for them out there," he said. "It's a tremendous opportunity to come from such a small school and be at this level right now and I couldn't do it without the support back there and the help of God."
He's already gone through a lot in his 26 years of life — being a refugee from Liberia after experiencing the death of his father as a child — and uses his past as motivation for his future.
Richardson, who's spoken to him briefly about the situation, has encouraged him. Said T-Rich:
"I think anytime you have some adversity early on in life, especially when you start to have a little bit of success, it's something that you can always tap into anytime you need a little extra push."