Defensive FAs: Football's in Mattison's Blood

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RB Danny Woodhead, Chadron State

The acquisition of rookie free agents serves a twofold purpose for the Jets. In addition to increasing competition, the Green & White also have numbers on their minds heading into the summer.

"What we do is we look at the composition of the roster going into training camp, so you have a certain amount of spots that you want to fill," said Jets head coach Eric Mangini. "You may carry whatever the number is of receivers — nine or 10 — and the number of defensive backs. You're trying to build the maximum level of competition, but you also have to have enough people in those spots for, of course, training camp, preseason games and all those elements. A lot of different factors go into it."

Here is a look at the 2008 defensive crop of the undrafted free agents who will participate in this weekend's rookie minicamp:

Football is the blood of DE Bryan Mattison. His dad, Greg Mattison, was just hired as the Ravens linebacker coach and has 37 years of experience as position coach and defensive coordinator. Most recently, the elder Mattison served as the University of Florida's co-defensive coordinator/defensive line coach from 2005-07.

Last season, Bryan Mattison racked up nine sacks and forced four fumbles for the Iowa Hawkeyes. The 6'3", 290-pounder gained 20 pounds in the past calendar year and registered 25.5 sacks in his career.

"There's not much I can say about Bryan," head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "He just goes so hard all of the time. It doesn't matter if it's practice or a game. He just goes and goes. He's not real flashy, but a guy that just digs and digs and digs. He really reminds me of an Aaron Kampman type."

Recognized for his leadership throughout his stay at Iowa, Mattison started 37 of the 49 games he appeared in, registering 171 tackles (92 solo) and 32.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage.

"People like to get drafted because it sounds cool and you get a little bit of a signing bonus," he told the Iowa City Press-Citizen before the draft. "The fifth, sixth and seventh round, the signing bonus is great and it's more money than I have right now, but in the real world, it's not life-changing. To a college kid, anything over a hundred bucks is great."

It's safe to assume Mattison got more than a hundred bucks to sign, so the high-motor defender will probably be happy this weekend.

CB Al Phillips doesn't have a long commute to the Weeb. The 6'1", 195-pounder is a Wagner product and he'll just have to cross the Verrazano and jump on the Belt Parkway, then the Southern, then the Meadowbrook to find his way to Hempstead.

A three-time All-Northeast Conference selection, Phillips displayed some ballhawking skills at Wagner with 17 career interceptions. Last season he tallied seven picks and 18 PDs.

Phillips, who spoke with Jets secondary coach Jerome Henderson after the draft, averaged 27.6 yards on kickoff returns and 11.2 yards on punt returns.

"I am excited about competing for a spot on an NFL team," said Phillips in an article published on the Northeast Conference website. "It's a great opportunity and I intend to show them what I can do."

The Jets have an interesting connection with Virginia S Nathan Lyles. He was recruited to UVa by Corwin Brown, the former Jets DB and assistant coach who now serves as Charlie Weis' defensive coordinator at Notre Dame.

Lyles (6'0", 243) is a big hitter who excels in the box. Last season, he totaled 68 stops (39 solo) including 4.5 tackles behind the line. He finished his collegiate career with three interceptions.

The tallest free agent on the field will be Washington State DE Ropati Pitoitua. Born in Samoa, Pitoitua stands 6'7½" and weighs 297 pounds. He didn't play football until his junior year of high school and then racked up a career-high five sacks as a Wazzu freshman.

Wingate University, a small, private North Carolina school, received plenty of production from DE Kenwin Cummings. Over the past two seasons, the 6'2", 258-pounder collected 16.5 sacks for the Bulldogs.

"There were actually a couple of different teams that showed interest, but the Jets showed the most significant interest," Cummings said on the school's Website. "Baltimore and Kansas City were also in the mix."

Although not a burner, Cummings can track the ball down and figures to be used at inside linebacker as he pursues his pro dreams.

"It was definitely always a goal of mine as a young kid," he said. "As I progressed I began to think, 'Hey, I can really do this.' Now, here I am with an opportunity to play for the Jets."

You might not immediately recognize the name of S Marty Tadman, but this tryout invitee was a key contributor in Boise State's thrilling 43-42 Fiesta Bowl upset of Oklahoma on New Year's Day 2007. Tadman (5'11", 182) was named defensive MVP of that classic after picking off two passes, one which he returned for a score.

Tadman started 12 games for the Broncos last season and was named their defensive player of the year, finishing with 83 tackles, two interceptions and 10 PDs. He also had six interceptions in 2006 and five in '05.

TulsaILB Nelson Coleman, also a tryout player, was a tackling machine. After playing only one year of varsity ball at Dallas Skyline High, he recorded 411 collegiate tackles, including 137 last year. The 6'2", 235-pound Coleman has already earned a bachelor's degree in management.

How about DE Wallace Artis? He's an impressive looking 6'5", 268 and also bench-pressed a Furman-best 450 pounds last spring. And DE/OLB Karl Noa played both DE and OLB for the Hawaii Warriors, but in all likelihood he'll be an OLB this weekend. Noa, a 2003 graduate of Kamehameha Schools on Oahu, had 42 tackles and 4.5 sacks last season as UH went undefeated in the WAC and finished 12-1.

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