To Jets head coach Eric Mangini, being selected in the NFL draft or signing an NFL contract doesn't necessarily make someone a professional football player. Technically, everyone in the NFL plays professional football, but the first-year head coach says there are miles of separation between playing professionally and being a professional.
"They are different," Mangini said Friday. "A lot of guys play pro football, but the great ones are truly pros, and the guys that maximize their ability are pros.
"Just like with any job," he added, "if you work at it and continually try to get better, then you're always going to move forward and make progress and head in the right direction."
This aspect of Jets football is heavily emphasized in the days leading up to gameday. The 3-3 Jets host the 1-5 Lions Sunday at the Meadowlands in an intra-conference battle. Mangini sees the final days of the week as a cleanup period, where his players are expected to take what they have learned all week and fix it as a group and on their own – like a professional.
"Thursday and Friday are so important because they are the days that you can get into your book when you go home at night," Mangini said. "It's a different level of preparation. The game plan is in place. You've practiced it, talked about it, walked through it, made some mistakes, taken some notes, and it's important to review those notes to continue your individual preparation and fine-tune all those things that collectively we've been working on."
One former player many NFL fans view as the ultimate professional is Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice. Rice epitomized the drive and dedication it took to reach maximum potential, no matter which stage of his career he was in.
"We had watched a piece on Jerry Rice and people were talking about Jerry Rice and saying he was scared to death of getting cut," Mangini said. "Jerry Rice used to work as hard as he worked because he was scared."
The youngest head coach in the league expects his players to follow suit with a tremendous work ethic and they have. Mangini has engraved this message as one of the "core Jets values" – the commandments of Green and White football, and his players have responded with early success. Being a professional means doing more than just attending meetings and executing at practice. Mangini demands his players to move beyond the norm.
"That goes such a long way toward execution on Sunday and it's something that's outside of the normal practice routine," he said. "It's significant and it makes a huge difference week in and week out. It's something that we consistently reinforce because it is such an important part of the overall performance of the individual and the unit."
Not only does this professional approach to each game directly affect the win/loss column, Mangini says it separates the starters from the substitutes. Regardless of the name on your jersey or what was done a week before, a year before or in college; what only matters is what do you present today.
"That's the way it should be is that you're judged on your performance, not necessarily your contract or your draft status or your lot in life," he said. "It's what have you earned, what opportunities have you earned, and what have you done with those opportunities and do you give the group and the New York Jets the best chance to do what we're working for every week, which is winning. I believe in that."
Reaching into his memory bank, Mangini referred to one of his first mentors, a man who happens to be one of the most influential figures in the NFL.
"I forget how Bill Parcells used to phrase it, something like, 'I'm selfish. I'm going to play the players that give me the best chance to win,'" Mangini said. "But it really went back to that same core concept of playing the guys that have earned that time and that really do give the group an opportunity to win, and that's what I'm committed to doing and that's what I believe in. I think it's important not only to the individual but more importantly to the group and the team."
Prior to this season, Laveranues Coles was a thorn in Eric Mangini's side when the first-year head coach worked as a defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator in New England. A comical Mangini said Friday that he is happy to have Coles now on his sideline. "When I was at the other place and the Jets traded back for him, I thought, 'what a headache,' just because he is so productive, he is tough, and he is a great runner after the catch," said Mangini of Coles. "He and I enjoy each other's company, and he's given me a nice nickname, which has permeated quite extensively. I came home the other day and Jake was watching Elmo, and the focus on Elmo was penguins. He said, 'Hey, dad, watch this,' and he was walking around the living room like a penguin. I thought maybe he had lunch with Laveranues. It was pretty funny."… Rookie corner Drew Coleman has started the past two games opposite Andre Dyson and Mangini has seen progress from the youngster. "He has gotten better with understanding the concept of the defense, where he fits in relation to the other defensive backs and where he fits in terms of his help on a specific coverage," Mangini said.
Friday Injury ReportJets
Questionable: FB B.J. Askew (foot), CB David Barrett (hip), WR Laveranues Coles (calf), WR Tim Dwight (thigh), RB Cedric Houston (knee), & OL Trey Teague (ankle)
Probable:*DL Dave Ball (hand), *RB Kevan Barlow (calf), *LB Matt Chatham (foot), *OL Anthony Clement (shin), *OL Pete Kendall (thigh), *QB Chad Pennington (calf), *S Kerry Rhodes (thigh), *WR Brad Smith (thigh) & *DL Kimo von Oelhoffen (knee)
Lions Out: DT Shaun Cody (toe) & S Kenoy Kennedy (foot)
Questionable: LB Alex Lewis (knee), FB Cory Schlesinger (hamstring), OL Rex Tucker (knee) & G Ross Verba (hamstring)
- Denotes players who participated in practice