Chansi Stuckey during a game vs. FSU
Generally, the fourth practice of training camp isn't an indicator of much, but the last couple of days have shown what the Jets think of Chansi Stuckey.
The wide receiver, who was placed on injured reserve with a foot injury after the 2007 season opener, has been returning punts and lining up in the slot for the first-team offense. With veterans Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery, the flanker and split end slots are solidified, but there was question as to who would emerge as the third receiver.
To this point, it appears Stuckey is competing for the spot.
"It would be an honor just to make the team," the receiver said after practice. "I don't come out here thinking I'm a star or getting a big head. I'm grateful for the opportunity and I know what I have to do."
What he's done thus far is pick up where he left off a year ago, when he impressed the coaches in training camp and led the team with 11 receptions in the preseason.
Listed at 6'0", 196 pounds, Stuckey doesn't have great size, nor is he a speedster, which is likely why he went below the radar and slipped to the seventh round (235th overall) in the 2007 draft. But it's the subtle aspects of his game that have made him successful.
He's nimble and has good hands and leaping ability. And he's tougher and more physical than he looks, fighting through press coverage, blocking downfield and showing a willingness to go over the middle.
"Me being smaller, a lot of guys don't see me as physical, so I try to be a different type of player," he said. "Sometimes it catches them off guard."
From last season to now, Stuckey has improved his route running. He has been used on a lot of underneath patterns and has managed to weave through traffic and create separation.
The disappointment of the injury was difficult to handle, Stuckey said, but he used the time off to learn, becoming more acclimated with the system while also dissecting his game and finding things he could refine.
"He didn't treat it like a year off," coach Eric Mangini said of the receiver's placement on IR. "Chansi did a great job of using that time to stay ahead of the learning curve and grow. I've seen that in the OTAs, in minicamp and I've seen that out here."
He made two standout plays in this morning's practice. The first was a reverse that drew a reaction from the crowd. He sprinted around from the strong side, turned the corner and ran up the sideline. The play only netted about 15 yards, but along the way, he dodged several tackles, showed off a nifty stutter step and finished up with a spin move along the sideline to elude Kerry Rhodes.
Near the end of the session, Stuckey dropped a pass over the middle. He broke free on a crossing route and was wide open, but he allowed the ball to hit him between the numbers, literally, and it deflected off his pads. On the next play, he was thrown to again. That time, he made a diving catch over the middle for 10 yards.
"Part of being a professional is putting things behind you, good and bad," he said. "The last play can't affect you on the next one. You have to forget about it."
Call it temporary amnesia, because Stuckey remembered the drop after practice. Immediately after the session ended, he spent five minutes catching balls from the Jugs machine and another 10 minutes catching them from quarterback Brett Ratliff.
"I still had to make up for that drop, though," he said with a chuckle.
There doesn't appear to be any complacency. Stuckey, who said that he studies film of Marvin Harrison and tries to model himself after Panthers star Steve Smith, said he considers everything a potential weakness, including his strengths.
"You can get too comfortable thinking you're good at one thing and it starts to slip," he said. "I need to keep grinding and working hard at all the intricacies of the position."