Toughness is what defines Sean Ryan as a football player. It's what coaches saw in Ryan as a walk-on at Boston College, and they knew they had to get him on the field as a starter, first as a defensive end, and then at tight end.
It's what led to USA Today naming Ryan "the most competitive player in the Big East" in 2002.
It's what led Bill Parcells to classify Ryan as "that tough Irish guy" when trying to get a hold of Ryan before the 2004 NFL Draft.
And it's what Jets head coach Eric Mangini likes most about Ryan's play as a blocking tight end.
"He's a guy that was recommended to us through Bill and kind of has been what was advertised," said Mangini. "I like his work ethic and toughness."
But in last Friday's preseason game against the Falcons, and throughout practice this week, it's been Ryan's receiving skills that have raised the eyebrows of reporters, Jets fans and even Ryan himself.
The tight end caught two touchdown passes against Atlanta. The first was a diving reception coming across the end zone as Kellen Clemens threw wide while scrambling, and the second was a wide-open catch on a blown coverage by the Falcons.
"Sean Ryan's first catch on the first touchdown was phenomenal," Clemens said. "That ball should have probably been incomplete. That's a great catch on his part."
For Ryan it was his first NFL touchdown and the first time he found pay dirt since his senior year at Boston College, when he caught two touchdowns against West Virginia in 2003.
"Just getting any kind of grab was special," he said. "But getting in the zone was a long time waiting."
Ryan continuing catching key passes in camp. At the end of Monday's morning practice, he found an opening in the corner of the end zone, made another catch of a Clemens pass, then emphatically spiked the ball on the grass. And the tight end made a similar reception Tuesday, coolly catching a play-action pass from Clemens in the end zone.
"Well, my dad said I can't let anyone think that was a flash in the pan, what happened last week," said Ryan. "So I've got to keep rolling, keep playing hard, and let the coaches know you're going to be consistent day in and day out."
He'll try to stay on his roll in the Jets' second game of the preseason schedule, when the Minnesota Vikings come to the Meadowlands for a nationally televised game Friday night.
What Ryan does do consistently is block, which is the area of his game that earned him the reputation of being a tough player. While he is tough, versatile may be the more appropriate adjective when describing his skills as a blocker.
In practice this week, Ryan's blocking assignments included players of all shapes and sizes from S Erik Coleman (5'10", 200) to DE Haynes (6'4", 283). Ryan, at 6'5" and 265, is sized well to handle players that possess both power and speed.
"You've got to trust your technique in every aspect," said Ryan. "You just go out there and obviously each player is different. Blocking a guy like Bryan Thomas is different than blocking a guy like Vic Hobson or a guy like, the other night, [Falcons DE] John Abraham. All those guys have different little things, and you've got to use your technique to the best of your ability and hope you get the job done."
Tough as he may be as a blocker, Ryan, like any other player on offense, admits there is no thrill like scoring.
"You always enjoy getting into the end zone, especially," said Ryan.