Crunch. That's the sound of rookie fullback John Conner getting low and sticking linebackers and safeties at Jets training camp in Cortland, N.Y.
As the plastic of shoulder pads meet, the 5'11", 246-pound Conner has the beef and guts to take on any would-be tacklers and turn them into lawn furniture. The University of Kentucky product and Cincinnati native has been one of the most impressive rookies and pleasant surprises of Jets camp, showing skills that remind other players and coaches of fullbacks from yesteryear.
"You'd better get everything behind you when you go take him on because he's a load," safety Eric Smith said. "He's been hitting a lot of people. He's definitely been impressive. He's a real physical, old-school fullback."
Conner has had the opportunity to learn from one of the best in the business, 16-year veteran Tony Richardson. Despite coming to the Jets as "The Terminator" and earning nicknames such as "No Neck" and "Bowling Ball" from head coach Rex Ryan, Conner is fully aware that he needs to develop his skill set. As an apprentice to a player like Richardson who has blocked for the likes of Adrian Peterson, Priest Holmes and Marcus Allen, Conner is extremely grateful to be able to add knowledge and intelligence to what he already possesses physically.
"Tony is teaching me a lot of things," Conner said. "It's good to have him on the team because he's been in the league so long and he teaches me a lot of the little things that I need to work on and things with the playbook and little running tools."
On first glance, however, the two play different styles of fullback. Richardson will be there to make sure Conner learns to take care of his own body and to take on blocks with finesse and agility to go along with the power he has a penchant for displaying.
That force, needless to say, has gone far from unnoticed.
"He was blasting guys," Ryan told reporters after Tuesday's morning practice. "He took the wind out of three guys today. I don't think I've ever seen that before. He's a thumper and it just put a smile on my face. As Mike Tannenbaum says, I get one draft pick a year and that was my pick. I don't know about you guys, but he looks pretty good."
For as much noise as his pad-popping blocks make on the field, you'll never hear a peep out of Conner on the field, and he's nearly as quiet off the field. A humble young man who was not even recognized by the Scout.com and Rivals.com recruiting services coming out of high school, he had to walk on to the Wildcats football team.
Once he got there, he ended up becoming a full-time starter and was named an All-American in 2009 by Pro Football Weekly. You wouldn't know it as he calmly discussed his hopes for training camp.
"I'm just trying to go out there and do my best every day and be an all-around fullback," Conner said. "Show them I can block, catch the ball and run the ball if they need me to."
He displayed that versatility in the SEC. After amassing 247 yards and four touchdowns on 54 carries and 193 yards and four TDs on 25 receptions during his four years at Kentucky, he was selected in the fifth round by the Jets.
Ryan joked that for the shells-only practice, he thought that Conner had come out in full shoulder pads—until the coach realized the bulk was just the player's massive neck, chest, back and shoulders playing tricks on him.
Although it is unclear just how involved Conner will be in the offense, he has already bought into the team philosophy of being willing to put himself on the line to achieve the ultimate prize. In his typical fashion, he responded in a way that would make any coach proud.
"I just want to help this team win," he said, "hopefully win a Super Bowl. That's the goal for the whole team, and I just want to do what I can to help the team out."