The Jets have had stability at the center position for more than a decade. Following Kevin Mawae's eight-year run with the Green & White, New York's AFC representative drafted Ohio State product Nick Mangold with the 29th overall selection in the 2006 draft and he's been a line stalwart ever since.
But Mangold, 13 years the junior of Mawae, doesn't get reflective when asked about the Jets' upcoming matchup with the 37-year-old's current team, the Tennessee Titans.
"I don't really think about it," Mangold said today. "When you have a guy like [Albert] Haynesworth in front of you, you really don't have time to think about much else."
Haynesworth, the 6'6", 320-pound defensive tackle, is considered by many to be the most dominant defensive player in the NFL. He is the star of the league's top defense as Tennessee is limiting opponents to just 13.1 points a game.
"He's a very good player — very powerful and very quick," Mangold said. "It's going to be a difficult task for us to be able to do what we want and get the job done."
"You don't have to account just for his 320 pounds coming off the ball — you have to account for his quickness," said left guard Alan Faneca. "You just can't fire off the ball and give everything you have. You have to account for where he's going. And when you have to account for where a 320-pound man is going, it's to his advantage."
This will be Mangold's most difficult challenge to date, but it's not like he hasn't faced quality DTs throughout the season. When the Jets got their huge win in Buffalo, Mangold made Marcus Stroud (6'6", 310) practically invisible, and he played very well against Vince Wilfork (6'2", 325) in last Thursday's OT decision over the Patriots.
This morning Jets head coach Eric Mangini named Mangold his offensive player of the week for keeping Wilfork at bay most of the historic evening. The Jets, whose 28.9-point average is tied for second in the league, scored 34 against the Patriots.
"It was awfully kind," Mangold said of the honor. "An offensive lineman usually doesn't get notice for things like that, so I appreciate it. But it's the skill guys who are making plays out there who did a good job for us."
A week after facing a front that specializes in three down linemen, Mangold and the Jets will see a four-man look from the Titans. While Haynesworth receives much of the attention, Tony Brown joins him on the interior and ends Jevon Kearse and Kyle Vanden Bosch are formidable. And the Titans also have an active group of linebackers led by former Syracuse star Keith Bulluck.
"Their front four is fantastic and their linebackers are able to move around because of their front four," Mangold said. "Once you deal with the front four, then you have to deal with the linebackers and that makes for a difficult task."
Mangold, who will receive serious Pro Bowl consideration, just quietly goes about his business each week. He's a constant who doesn't go underappreciated inside the locker room.
"He is a smart guy. He always puts himself in the right position, which is very important at center to be able to read things," Faneca said. "It's not like playing left guard or right guard or tackle where you're splitting the difference. You have to be able to put yourself in the right position by reading the defense, the 'backers and where everyone's at."
If Mangold can hold his own against Haynesworth, it would go a long way toward a Jets victory. When the Titans have the ball, the crafty Mawae will also have his hands full with DT Kris Jenkins. SportsCenter might be dominated by the skill guys, but these are both must-see confrontations.
"It's exciting to go against one of the best players and he's one of the best players," Mangold said of Haynesworth. "To have that challenge in front of you is exciting."
Will the daily practice battles between Mangold and Jenkins help they young center get ready for this weekend?
"Being able to go against Kris every day prepares you to go against anybody, but when you're going against Haynesworth, I don't think you're ever fully prepared from practice," Mangold said. "He is a very good player. He is a very tough adversary."
And Mangold is a rugged opponent as well. After releasing Mawae, a six-time Pro Bowler from 1999-2004, the Jets immediately found his successor and never experienced a dropoff.