Cotchery works through the Packer defense
When Laveranues Coles returned to the Jets after his stint with the Redskins, he noticed a second-year wide receiver in training camp running poor routes. At the time, Jerricho Cotchery was just a former fourth-round pick who had done well on special teams but was still learning the nuances of his offensive position.
Coles, then in his sixth season and the group's doyen with a Pro Bowl on his résumé, immediately pulled the fledgling aside and began an on-the-spot receiver seminar.
"He pointed out what I was doing wrong," said Cotchery, who caught just six passes in his rookie season. "He was like 'Hey, I saw you lift up on this route' or 'You didn't do what you did before on the last one.' He really got into specifics, small things, and broke it down for me."
That tutorial and the following years' worth of tutelage worked. Fast-forward three seasons and Cotchery is among the NFL's best wideouts, coming off his second straight 82-catch campaign with a career-high 1,130 yards. Injuries limited Coles to 12 games and 55 receptions in 2007, and it was the grasshopper who emerged to fill the void.
Cotchery now finds himself in a similar position to Coles' in 2005: a leader with stats and status as clout. To the cadre of young receivers, he is a venerated veteran, a well of knowledge.
"Jerricho, he's a very good player-coach," said David Clowney. "He'll pull you to the side and say, 'The next time you run this route, try this out.' For guys like me and Chansi Stuckey, our second year in the league, that helps."
According to Cotchery, not only was it easy to step into a leadership role, but he felt obligated. After Coles took him under his wing, he said, it became his duty to pay it forward.
"It's a tight-knit group so that makes it easier," Cotchery said. "It's part of being a teammate. Down to the little things, like showing support. Especially on a hot morning like this, it's good to give the other guys encouragement."
But make no mistake, Cotchery, 26, hasn't settled into a rocking chair and reduced himself to just giving pointers and telling stories. He hasn't become complacent or even comfortable. In his fifth Jets season, the grit and moxie he had as a rookie is still there. As is the chip (or boulder) that became permanently attached to his shoulder after he fell to 108th in the 2004 draft.
"It's going to be on my mind forever," said Cotchery, who starred at North Carolina State but was overlooked by several scouts because he lacked ideal measurables. "All my life I've been battling for positions, working hard to get coaches' attention. It's something that's become me because I had to work for everything to get to this point."
He hasn't forgotten where he came from, how far he has come or how he reached the level he is at. He isn't the 6'4" receiver with 4.3 speed, but he's a grinder. Whatever he lacks in natural talent, he more than makes up for in savvy, toughness and precision. The bromidic description of an overachieving player, but an accurate one.
And it shows on the field. Anyone who has watched Cotchery will notice that he seems to always claw for an extra centimeter after the catch.
"I turn into a running back," said Cotchery, who does a lot of his work over the middle and in the short to intermediate range. "I know that the little things have helped me get to this point so I just can't take anything for granted."
In today's morning practice, he had two noteworthy receptions. On the first, he beat cornerback David Barrett for a catch near the sideline on a short hitch route. Barrett played tight coverage, but Cotchery stopped on a dime, spun and caught the well-timed throw. Later in the session, he shook free on a crossing route and caught a 5-yard pass from Kellen Clemens, then quickly turned up field and beat the defense to the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown.
"He'll catch it and he bursts and he's looking to score every time," Clemens said. "The guy is always where he should be."
Cotchery, who played with a broken finger last season, said that he is in "great" shape thanks to a rigorous off-season conditioning program. In addition to the OTAs and the team strength program, he worked out on his own in Arizona, doing "a lot of position-specific stuff."
To improve his footwork and strength, he spent hours each day running routes with weighted bands designed to restrict movement.
"He's the epitome of hard work and selflessness," Clemens added. "He's one of the few guys who practices like they play."
Cotchery, who subscribes to the "you get out what you put in" theory, expects to have his best season yet.