You would be best advised not to leave your seat when Leon Washington is on the field.
Now in his second-season with the Jets, the shifty running back with turbo burners has a knack for making big plays. In the preseason opener against the Falcons, Washington, subbing for hurt Pro Bowler Justin Miller, returned a kickoff 86 yards to get his team on track.
"Some people were like, 'How did you get run down?' Some people said, 'You're looking fast,' " he said of the return. "I'm just trying to prepare myself for a long season, realizing last season was 16 games and the preseason. That's 21 games if you include playoffs, so that's a long year and you have to prepare yourself the right way. I'm just trying work at it each day and get better for the season opener."
Nice sentiments for sure, but Washington already looks to be in midseason form. The Florida State product had the crowd on its feet on his second return, a nifty 28-yard run. He also accumulated 30 yards on his nine carries and 13 yards on his one reception.
With the Jets facing a third-and-18 early in the second half, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer called a draw. The 5'8", 202-pounder zipped past Falcons linemen and streaked to the outside for a 25-yard gain. If you review the game video, you see Thomas Jones on the sideline jumping up and down in approval.
"Leon Washington is a great person. He's a great running back," Jones said last week. "I'm excited to play in the same backfield as him."
The backfield has been Leon's the past couple of days as the durable Jones has been on the sideline with a lower leg injury. Washington, who called Monday's two practices "just another hard day of camp", believes the Jets' backfield duo can help each other grow.
"Obviously there are so many areas Thomas can help this team out with," he said. "He's been to the big dance before and he knows what it takes to get there. Coming into this new offensive system, I can definitely help him out with a few pointers because I played it in last year. We are all trying to help each other out."
Despite starting only eight games as a rookie, Washington led the Jets last season with 650 rush yards — the fourth-highest mark by a rookie in franchise history. He also was a threat catching the football, totaling 270 yards on 25 receptions.
"I feel a lot more comfortable, knowing what to expect and knowing what the coaches expect. That is the biggest thing," he said. "As a young guy, you're going all out and you don't really know what to expect. Just coming out here, I feel a little bit more comfortable with the offense and feel more comfortable knowing what Coach Mangini expects out of his players."
Not only does Washington possess game-changing skills but he also can step up and play a myriad of roles. Schottenheimer can use him in the run game and he's a scary receiver who presents mismatches. How many linebackers can cover this guy one-on-one? And special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff also can use the Jacksonville native as a spot return man.
"Whenever somebody goes down, you have to have somebody come in and step in. As a team, we all can benefit from that," Washington said. "Coach Mangini talks all the time that the team comes first, and whatever I need to do to help this team win, I'm down for it."
Not one to divulge too much strategy, Mangini owns a wild card with Washington.
"There will be some weeks where Leon will get more carries and that will fluctuate week in and week out, and there will be different packages that the guys will be in," said the second-year head coach. "What you want to be able to do is have the flexibility to adjust to whatever you anticipate seeing."
Mangini named Washington his special teams player of the week after the elusive back left the Falcons panting.
"It's always an honor when you are recognized for an individual effort, but at the same time you have to realize that whole entire unit helped create the holes that you ran through," Washington said. "It's really a special teams MVP for the entire unit."
As Randy Lange astutely pointed out on this site a few days ago, Washington did have an interesting night against the Birds. He touched the ball 13 times Friday and five of the touches (four runs, one punt return) went for minus yardage. Conversely four of them went for double-digit yardage.
You sense the Jets aren't going to try to harness his creativity. Washington knows he can't score every time he has the ball, but he brings explosion to these Jets.
"I'm a young guy who has played for a long time and scored a bunch of touchdowns. I kind of trained myself every time I touched the ball, I wanted to score," he said. "It's the NFL and you have to be realistic about it, but if I have the opportunity, yeah, I'm trying to score."