In the last few years, Sione Pouha's name hasn't surfaced much when speaking of the New York Jets' front seven. After missing the entire 2006 season with a knee injury, the third-year defensive tackle has been nearly forgotten by many, but certainly not by head coach Eric Mangini.
"I think Sione has done a really nice job," Mangini said in Thursday morning's press conference at Weeb Ewbank Hall. "He was doing a really good job last year during training camp prior to getting hurt. You see some improvement every day, which is really what you're hoping for with any player."
Following the 2005 season, Pouha's rookie year, the Utah native went through somewhat of a football reawakening. This, he recalled, was the foundation in improving his production that he and Mangini see today.
"My whole approach was just picking something and working at it," said Pouha. "From last year, even before the injury, my thing to pick was my weight, my ability to find the weight I wanted to play effectively at. I wanted to try and find where that happy medium was."
"He's got good strength, he's got a good punch," said Mangini. "He's consistently working on that punch, delivering the blow, and that's something he's getting better at. Coming back, he's done the same work in the off-season with his body, conditioning and with block recognition."
Pouha was drafted in the third round with a playing shape of 6'3" and 325 pounds. Although such proportions are within the ideal weight range for inside D-linemen, Pouha and the Jets staff thought that perhaps less might be more.
"I'm around 310, 308 pounds, so I found that medium where I can perform my best at," Pouha said. "I wanted to find where I can play well with both size and speed; where you can still maintain the same kind of power. Finding that spot was the first key."
Once Pouha found that perfect balance, it was on to Steps 2, 3 and so on.
"The next thing to work on was my technique — my hands, hips, legs, wherever the technique was needed," he said. "Third was to just learn the game of football; learn the schemes, learn the formations. Put that all together, you just see improvement because you're putting so much work into it. I think just a mixture of a lot of things just went towards it. I still have a long way to go and a lot more things to learn, but I'm taking one thing at a time."
With all of this in place, Pouha came back with high hopes for his second season but the injury to his knee early in training camp put him on the shelf.
"It was tough" Pouha said in August. "I knew I wanted to be out there but I had another mission, which was to take care of my injury. I took care of that and I just cheered them on."
Pouha was able to stay healthy this preseason, and in doing so answered the questions and concerns he was unable to answer in 2006. In the four preseason games, Pouha accounted for six total tackles and two pass deflections.
After a successful August, it was clear that the knee had healed and he would be a reliable cog on the Jets front line. Pouha then added three solo tackles off the bench in the season opener.
"I'm making sure that I'm putting myself in the right situation where the coaches can use me in whatever system that they may have," he said. "I just have to make sure I'm ready and prepared for wherever they want me to be. Availability is not just being out on the field, it's being both mentally and physically ready to be on the field."