Nick Mangold's a Center of Attention

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Mangold looks at a teammate before the snap

For a pro football center, Nick Mangold is a budding standup comic. Actually, he uses his deadpan sense of humor to deflect questions that another guy might respond to by saying, "Buzz off."

Asked about a set of plays from his college days, which only ended after the 2005 season, Mangold said: "Unfortunately, with the amount of information they put in up here, my head has kind of pushed everything else out so I don't really remember too much from the Ohio State playbook."

And when I dared to whimsically suggest that the Jets-Giants rivalry might be approaching Ohio State-Michigan status for him, he wryly replied: "I don't know. I haven't looked in the history books enough. I'll get back to you."

But beneath his glib, hirsute exterior, Mangold is a big reason that Jets fans shouldn't be alarmed about the amount of experience that left the locker room with this week's trade of Pete Kendall to Washington. The man is a natural-born leader.

"Well, we have a bunch of great guys and we've been able to do some good things this camp," he said of his O-linemates. "It's nice to be the captain. I kind of get final say on the field. Then in the locker room I get put back into my second-year status."

Head coach Eric Mangini is happy to be able to say that Mangold is the man in the center of his line.

"Nick's really good," Mangini said in the days before Saturday night's 39th renewal of the Green & White's summer soiree with Big Blue. "He has the ability to really react to those quicker noses and then also the ability to anchor and not give ground to those stouter noses."

He went on to describe Mangold's technique in terms of how he sinks his hips, his hand placement, his shoulder-width base. "It's just sound fundamentals that he has," said the coach.

And when Mangini was asked whether, with all the positions he's had others on the line playing since he got here, Mangold was a candidate to play elsewhere.

"I haven't moved Nick," he said. "I'm comfortable with his flexibility right where it is."

Mangold described his progress in terms of being fully immersed in the second year of the Mangini-Brian Schottenheimer-Tony Wise system.

"It's so much easier, a, not being a rookie, and b, having your system, the guys around you, the coaches. You're not learning the base stuff, you're learning the little stuff."

I asked Nick, without giving away any state secrets, for an example of the "little stuff" he was talking about.

"Like your steps. You know the base play. Now you get to focus in on whether you take a step 6 inches this way or at a 45-degree angle that way," he said. "Last year I kind of glossed over that. I just made sure I had the information."

The fans haven't glossed over the importance of Mangold to the offense. It's one thing for a player like Kevin Mawae, the six-time Pro Bowler whom he succeeded at center, to be popular with the fans. But it is slightly amazing to note that after only 17 NFL games, Mangold's No. 74 has risen to third among current Jets in jersey sales, behind only Chad Pennington's No. 10 and Thomas Jones' No. 20.

"It means a lot to have that kind of fan base. I really appreciate it," he said. "It's one of the neat things about playing for the Jets and in the NFL."

It may be a lot to expect of this smart, tough guy out of, appropriately, Centerville, Ohio, that less than a year after he made everyone forget he was a rookie center, he can make Jets fans forget that he's a second-year team leader.

But Mangold is up for the task. Asked about his captaincy back with the Buckeyes, he said he received that honor as a senior.

"Yeah, as a captain you get a lot put on your plate leadership-wise," he said. "But I'm happy it's on there."

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