Reggie Hodges had become something like a Space Shuttle pilot atop an ill-fated launch. Just when the the countdown enters "T-minus five minutes and counting," bad weather comes up or a loose tile comes off and the mission is put on hold.
Finally, Sunday at the Meadowlands, Hodges is set for liftoff.
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"I'm ready to go," said the man from Champaign, Ill., and Ball State (which, when you think about it, is an appropriately named school for any football player to attend).
Hodges is a softspoken, polite guy, so he doesn't give the impression that he's antsy as anything to get punting in his first NFL game in almost three years.
When he was signed and set to kick at San Diego three weeks ago and injured a thigh during practice, prompting the Jets to re-sign Ben Graham for two games, he bided his time and healed up. And when Graham was released again after the Arizona game, Hodges had a bye week to endure before he got to prepare for his next first game as a Jet.
"I stayed up here working on my rehab," Hodges said of the bye weekend, during which most players scattered back to their homes or points unknown for several days of R&R. "I wanted to make sure I'm 100 percent so I can help the team."
While Hodges is a quiet fellow, he has been launching some punts this week in practice. The several that soared into the stratosphere came in with unofficial hang times in the 5.0-second area.This quality has gotten Hodges invitations from several NFL teams, even though he hasn't punted in a game since, interestingly, his last as an Eagle — at the Meadowlands against the Giants on Nov. 20, 2005.
In the last few weeks, Hodges and his coverage unit have developed a mutual admiration society.
"That's my goal with every ball," Hodges said, "to hang it up and give our guys enough time to get down and make plays.
"This cover team is amazing," he added of Wallace Wright, Abram Elam, Ahmad Carroll and company. "That's going to be good, punting for a great cover team. I've been watching film since I got up here and I've just been kind of getting on guys without being in their faces about stuff, just watching these guys play. They get out and they cover."
"Reggie definitely can punt the football, now," Wright said. "He hasn't played yet so we're very interested to see how he performs in a game. We look forward to him going out there and punting the ball the best he can, and we're going to make him look good. That's our job: make the punter look good."
Upon Further Review
One more special teams note from the Arizona game before we move to Cincinnati. You remember that roughing-the-kicker penalty on Wright for mowing down the Cards' Neil Rackers like he was tall grass?
Wallace didn't do it. Or rather, the penalty shouldn't have been called on him since Arizona's Reggie Wells shoved him over a prone Jet and into Rackers, a detail that the officiating crew missed but that the Fox TV team picked up.
"I got pushed in the back. It happens," Wright said. "There's really nothing you can do. It is what it is. You just try to go out there, forget about it, make the adjustments and continue to play. You can't let it take you out of your game.
"At the time, the coaches get on you a little bit, until they watch the tape and then they'll straighten that out with you."
That's exactly what Mike Westhoff and Kevin O'Dea did with Wright. After all, the former undrafted free agent out of North Carolina, is the Jets' leader in ST tackles with nine, including a team-high five tackles on punt returns, and the flag in question was his first major penalty in his three seasons in green and white.
And Wright said he doesn't mind the little bit of misplaced flak he took from Westhoff during the game.
"He expects us to be perfect, and that's the way this game should be played," Wright said. "You wouldn't want a coach who doesn't expect the best out of you."