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Robert Turner Holds His Own in a Tight Spot

Robert Turner assured a reporter after the Jets' win over Kansas City that he has no receiving incentives written into his contract.

"I don't know that I would label myself as being in a pass-catching position," Turner said. "I could catch if they needed me to, though."

That's the kind of guy Turner is. He said he hadn't really played any tight end since probably around 2002 for Lake Travis High School in Austin, Texas, and even then only "in the jumbo package, to get some movement on the goal line."

Yet there he was helping out in a pinch Sunday at the Meadowlands, playing about 20 plays at tight end — or as the third tackle at the end of the line, take your pick — for the suddenly TE-challenged Jets.

"It was a little unfair, him against Gonzalez in his debut," head coach Eric Mangini deadpanned at today's news conference. "But I thought he held his own."

"I was in there for a lot of snaps," he said. "Being new to the position, I just wanted to make sure I did the right thing."

Tackle Damien Woody said more often than not, that's just what Turner did.

"That was great that he was able to go in," Woody said. "O-linemen don't play tight end. He did a great job."

Turner sure did right by the Jets. Bubba Franks was already deactivated with a hip injury from Oakland when the Jets filed their inactive list 90 minutes before the Chiefs game. Then Baker had a hip situation of his own flare up. He left the field before kickoff and had to sit out the game.

That left rookie Dustin Keller alone at the position — unless you include Turner and Wayne Hunter, who's played TE in the Jets' heavy goal line packages this season.

In fact, Turner is the embodiment of two planks of the Mangini philosophy. The first is versatility, being able to play multiple positions well enough to play them in a game.

"You Don't Know How It's Going to Go"

"We do practice Robert and Wayne there. We actually practice three or four different guys there. We do that on both sides of the ball," the coach said. "That's just because you don't know how it's going to go at any particular point. We felt comfortable where we were with Chris. It just happened right before warmups — no one expected that. But I'm glad we had done the reps prior to that so we had something to draw on.

"It was more of an emergency-break-glass situation, but the glass got broken before we broke a sweat."

The other quality that Turner has is love of the game. The New Mexico product made it to the Jets as a rookie free agent last season, was a final cut, returned to the practice squad for most of the year, then was activated in December and made his NFL debut — at his "normal" guard spot — in the Jets' last two games.

He worked at center and guard this training camp and figured to be the team's interior line depth, until he branched out for the Chiefs game.

"I'll play wherever the organization needs me to," he said. "If they need me to play defense, I'll go to defense. If they need me to play fullback, quarterback— I like to think of myself as a team guy, and whatever they need, I'm going to do. If that means standing on the sideline and holding a clipboard for the rest of the season, that's OK with me."

That was pretty much his role for the first six games as either an IA or a DNP. But all the while, he was grinding on the Jets' scout team — and gaining admirers on the defensive side of the ball.

"Working with me and the other guys, that's not going to do anything but make him better," said DT Kris Jenkins, who often leans his 349 pounds on Turner's 308-pound frame in practice. "That helps us get loose. We go into a week of practice and he tries to make sure his blocking is better than whoever we've got to play against that Sunday."

"He does a great job of giving us the looks and playing us how teams are going to play us," DE Shaun Ellis confirmed, "how they grab us and hold us, all that stuff."

A Rare Respect for the Game

It's too early to say what the TE position will hold for the Jets as they head for a key game for them at Buffalo. But Turner had an interesting postgame evaluation of how he played vs. experienced KC ends Tamba Hali, Turk McBride and Alfonso Boone that bodes well for the Bills if he's pressed into such duty again.

"For all but one play, I think I had a heck of a game," he said. "And I'll probably beat myself up about that sack coming free for the next week or so. That's not something I wanted to do. Thank God it didn't cost us anything."

The sack in question came on the first play of the offense's last drive, when he yielded Hali's 5-yard sack of Brett Favre. But Favre bounced back on the next play with an 18-yard completion into a tight spot for Chansi Stuckey to get the drive back on track toward the game-winning TD catch by Laveranues Coles.

Jenkins offered a strong prognosis for Turner.

"Rob has a respect for the game that a lot of people don't have," Jenk said. "He's humble. He wants to learn more. He's intense about getting better, and that is always something that breeds success in athletics.

"He's very big, very quick, very athletic. I think Rob Turner is going to be in this league for a long time."

But at what position? Jets fans are just going to have to watch the games to find out.

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