Jerricho Cotchery popped into the Jets' recent minicamp. The team's former wide receiver was paying his first visit to the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center in Northern New Jersey for the first time since he was released in 2011.
"Walking in here and seeing the green is a special feeling," he said. He added: "My dad died in 2018, but he still had that Jets tag on the front of his car. I played for two other teams [Pittsburgh and Carolina], but he never took that off his car. For me, I've always been about the team, it's something my dad instilled in me. After my games in high school, he always asked about how the team would have played, if he hadn't seen the game, not just how I did. It's the way I looked at it, too."
He said that the "special feeling" for the Green & White harks back to the NFL Combine in 2004 when he interviewed with the Jets and felt a special affinity for HC Herm Edwards.
"I felt I made the best connection with the Jets because of that interview," Cotchery, drafted No. 16 overall out of North Carolina State, told senior team reporter Eric Allen on this week's edition of "The Official Jets Podcast." "It was a dream come true, something I worked for my entire life, and to have that moment when the Jets called on draft night, seeing the 516 number pop up gave me an exciting feeling."
But Cotchery, 40, was tossed a curveball by Edwards during his first training camp at Hofstra University when the coach engaged in a numbers game with the promising rookie.
"He's the reason I wore No. 89," Cotchery said. "I wanted to switch back to my college number, 82, but he kept saying Eight. Nine. Eight. Nine. the entire training camp. By the end, I guessed that I had to keep that No. 89."
Cotchery had a modest role in his rookie season, playing in 12 games as the fifth receiver and catching 6 passes for 60 yards. He did, however, have success as a kick returner -- 13 returns for 362 yards (27.8 yards a return) and 1 TD.
"When I came here, I was welcomed into a veteran group and it was a blessing for me," he said. "A bunch of veterans -- [Chad] Pennington, [Curtis] Martin and [Kevin] Mawae and working in the same room as [Wayne] Chrebet and [Santana] Moss. All of those guys, on and off the field, those first two years for me were a great learning experience."
Cotchery played seven seasons for the Jets (2004-10), catching passes from Chad Pennington, Brett Favre and Mark Sanchez. Overall in his Jets career he played in 175 games, made 524 receptions for 6,623 yards (12.6 yards a reception) and grabbed 34 TD passes. His best season came in 2007 when he made 82 receptions for 1,130 yards. In addition, he holds four postseason Jets franchise records, including playoff receptions (30), yards per reception in a playoff game (25), total return yards (294), and most 100-yard receiving games (2). He had 100 yards and a touchdown in a wild-card loss to the New England Patriots in 2006 and a 100-yard game in the 2009 AFC championship game at Indianapolis.
After two seasons under Edwards, Cotchery adjusted to new coaches (Eric Mangini and Rex Ryan) and quarterbacks who came after Pennington (Favre and Sanchez).
"Rex brought a free-flowing atmosphere, guys felt more relaxed and comfortable," he said. "Guys were having a lot of fun doing what we do playing this child's game of football. It's supposed to be fun, we knew we had work to do, but there was always a fun aspect to it. That's what he brought, we saw that free-spirited nature when we stepped on the field."
Ryan also helped take the Jets to consecutive AFC championship games (against Indianapolis and Pittsburgh). Yet for all the team milestones along the way and personal benchmarks, Cotchery said that perhaps his most memorable moment was a November game at Cleveland, an overtime win against the Browns.
With the game tied, 20-20, in overtime and the Jets facing a crucial third-down play, Cotchery showed he was tough as nails. If there was any single play that defined his career, this was it.
"Coming off line of scrimmage going against a defender, DBs like to do their thing," he said. "They try to get away with tugs. So he tugged my hand warmer and as I was pulling away I felt my groin pop. I was hopping around and it looked like Sanchez was going to get sacked. So I hop to where he can see me. He was looking dead at me. I had to come alive"
Sanchez threw a pass across his body to Cotchery in the middle of the field. He made the catch, got the first down and the Jets collected the win.
"I was mindful of where the marker was," he said. "I had to make sure we got first down before I made my way off the field. Obviously, feeling the groin, the adrenaline was going to kick in, but you have to have that kind of mentality -- just help the team out any way you can."
Fast forward to June of this year, and Cotchery found himself as an informed observer at minicamp, impressed by the players' enthusiasm and excitement.
"It was really great to watch the guys, the way they were flying around," he said. "The guys look like a close-knit group already. It was fun watching practice and meeting Coach Saleh.
"I was a fan of his before the Jets hired him. I really enjoyed watching him from a players stand point. I played against teams he's coached on and his excitement about his players, that's what you love. As a player, you feel like the coach is in this with us. That's what I've admired about him, his vision, how he wants to do things and how he communicates that."
As an accomplished former wide receiver, Cotchery had some tips for the Jets (mostly) young group that now includes rookie Garrett Wilson and second-year man Elijah Moore. How can they help their young quarterback Zach Wilson?
"Just be dependable," Cotchery said. "If you're supposed to be at a spot, be at that spot. And when you're at that spot, make the play. The more plays you make the more the ball will come your way. Quarterbacks throw to guys they can trust, and that's how the quarterback views it. Is he going to make the play for me?"
Cotchery is about to begin his first season as the wide receivers coach at Limestone University in South Carolina after spending three seasons (2017-19) as the assistant wide receivers coach with the Panthers under HC Ron Rivera.
"I love the game of football," he said. "I'm from Birmingham and as soon as you're born they put a football in your hand and ask who you'll be rooting for, Alabama or Auburn. My love for the game has taken me to Limestone University, working for an unbelievable coach and staff. I'm having a blast right now. I've only been on the job three months and I've had a blast coaching and recruiting, and getting ready for the fall."