Leon Washington isn't required to work on Wednesdays during the Jets' off-season program. The weekly workout regimen is four days long with players having the option of coming in on their own on the hump day.
Washington, who led the Jets with 650 yards on the ground as a rookie, was one of many members of the Green & White who refused the time off this week.
"During the off-season I learned that to be a winner, you must do things that losers don't like to do. That means coming in on Wednesday, our off-day, to get extra work," he said. "When you look around and see Jerricho Cotchery, Hank Poteat and Frisman Jackson coming in on a Wednesday, it definitely tells you the championship attitude they have."
The shifty Washington said his teammates are in good physical condition heading into the spring season.
"A lot of guys came back in pretty good shape just like the way they left last year," he said. "They are looking slim and trim, so I can definitely tell a lot of guys learned from Coach Mangini last year about how to be a better athlete and a better player."
Speaking from a first-floor public relations office at Weeb Ewbank Hall, Washington appeared relaxed while sporting white shorts and a white conditioning T-shirt. He talked about taking boxing classes offered in the program and explained the similarities between the sweet science and football.
"If we have a linebacker blitz, that is an individual thing. You are one-on-one with that linebacker, so it's kind of like boxing," he said. "You are trying to block that guy, so you are throwing a punch. The hand-eye coordination with the boxing helps you coordinate your hands better to attack your block better. And it's also a one-on-one block, so I can't blame anybody else for the block. It is just me and that person. Who wants it more?"
The Jets used a committee approach at running back a year ago but obtained Thomas Jones on March 6 from the Chicago Bears in exchange for a swap of second-round selections in April's draft. Jones, in his eighth season out of Virginia, averaged 1, 272 rushing yards and 31 receptions his final two seasons in Chicago. Washington praised the Jones acquisition and said it will make the Jets a better team.
"It was great. That is the first thing Coach Mangini emphasizes, that this is a team," he said. "We are going to do whatever we can to give us the best chance of winning.
"I met Thomas, and he is smiling all the time and giving me high-fives. That is the attitude we need on this team, a championship attitude. I am all down for it. I look forward to working with him and winning games with him. He played in a Super Bowl last year, so he definitely knows what it takes."
Admittedly, it took Washington a little while to adjust to the professional game before excelling. In a story Mangini often recounts, the 5'8", 202-pound Florida State product played a little hot potato with the ball early in training camp. But Washington remembers one particular series of plays when his fortitude was tested by running backs coach Jimmy Raye.
"I remember Coach Raye must have run me eight or nine plays in a row, and I was tired and exhausted," he said. "He was basically showing me the hard work you put in now will help you to a late run. I had a lot of my struggles in training camp."
But Washington was not deterred. When he played in his hometown of Jacksonville, Fla., in Week 5, he rushed for 101 yards against the Jaguars, becoming the first Jets rookie to rush for more than 100 yards in 16 years. Two weeks later, he was named the club's Offensive Player of the Week after amassing 129 yards and his first two professional touchdowns against the Lions. He became a fixture in the offensive backfield in starting eight of the final 11 regular-season games.
Washington said he has learned to place a major emphasis on time management away from the field.
"In college, you go home and rest and hang out with your friends and play video games," he said. "But now you are a member of the National Football League and this is your profession. Every single thing you do extra gives you an edge over your opponent. If you come in and get in extra work and extra film work, you get that edge. There is no substitute for hard work. If you work hard and do the right things, most of the time things are going to work out positively for you."
The Jets' 2006 draft class became a tight unit. Washington said communal living led to a bond that still exists.
"We were pretty tight. We were over there at the hotel together and we were over there at the dorms together," he said. "That allowed us to be tighter as a unit. Just the other day we were playing cards, hanging out, having a good time. When you are on the field and you look next to you and see a friend, you can trust each other. That is what it's all about — developing that camaraderie."
When you like who you work with, then work becomes fun. A tested yet refreshed Washington isn't in need of a day off and is eager to begin his second professional season.