The tides of change swept through the Jets' receiving corps on Tuesday night, leaving rookie WR Jeremy Kerley the heir of an important role. With the trade that sent Derrick Mason to the Houston Texans for an undisclosed draft pick, Kerley steps into Mason's former position as the third wideout.
"Not a lot of people can say they not only played but started in the NFL," said a gracious Kerley. "So I'm definitely excited."
Kerley is coming off a game where he showed glimpses of the threat he can be for the Jets offense. He caught his first career pass, a 9-yard touchdown, in the 30-21 loss at New England. He added two more receptions to end the day with three catches for 35 yards.
"What he did in the Patriots game, we saw it coming on the practice field," said head coach Rex Ryan. "It's hard to ignore the plays he's making. We're excited about Jeremy."
As a rookie, Kerley has already garnered a reputation as a hard worker with oozing potential. He has been used primarily as a punt returner and ranks 10th in the NFL with an 11.4-yard average.
"Now we're going to get to see a little bit more of him," said TE Dustin Keller. "I think everyone's going to be surprised at how productive he's going to be."
Bursting onto the scene this summer, Kerley immediately showed he was ready to contribute in the NFL.
"Coming in as a rookie, he had an outstanding training camp," said CB Darrelle Revis. "When his number got called the other day, he stepped up and made plays. We have a lot of confidence in him, and he has confidence in himself."
Kerley's quiet confidence and humility has helped him absorb the advice of veteran Jets, molding him into a better player and person. Mason in particular was a role model.
"He was a teacher on and off the field," said Kerley. "He definitely helped me out on my game. He's a great player, and he'll be great in Houston."
Kerley learned about the trade last night while reading his Twitter feed. Skeptical, he didn't know what to make of the news until he received definitive word from Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum.
"He said, 'Are you ready to be the man in the third spot?' And I put two and two together," said Kerley.
For a rookie who won't turn 23 until next month, he already has the maturity of a savvy veteran. Although his role has changed, his perspective has not.
"Like I've always said, this is a game," he said. "It's something where we wake up and we love to play every day. I just try to go out there and have that in the back of my mind. When things get tough, when things get hard, that's the first thing I think about; just having fun and playing the game."
Kerley was certainly having fun on Sunday when he caught his first career TD pass, but for some reason, he wasn't able to celebrate.
"If you saw, I kind of froze up a little bit in the end zone," he said. "I had a dance I wanted to do, but I caught the ball and my mind went blank. That was my welcome to the NFL."
As far as what that dance would have looked like …
"I can't tell you. That's for next time."
Only five games into his career, there will be many more "next times" for Kerley.