Undrafted free agent safety Nate Lyles has some pretty good Green & White connections.
It began with Corwin Brown, who, when the two first met, was a fellow Chicagoan and an ex-Jets DB embarking on his coaching career with Al Groh at the University of Virginia.
"One of my high school coaches was real good friends with Corwin," Lyles said during the Jets' weekend rookie minicamp. "Then he recruited me to Virginia. It seemed like he knew a lot about what was going on, he knew how to talk to the players. He'd been under Coach Groh and Coach Belichick. Obviously, he had a great deal of information about the game from them."
But Brown had so much info that coach Herm Edwards brought him to his Jets staff right after college recruiting season ended. So Lyles started his college career at UVa in '04 without Brown but under Groh, who was beginning his fourth season as the Cavaliers' head coach after leaving the Jets following his one season as head coach.
"I think the whole mentality with Coach Groh — how you approach the game, how it's a business, how you carry yourself on the field — helped me a lot," Lyles said. "He definitely preps us for the next level."
And in his first years as a hard-hitting safety for the 'Hoos, Lyles made the acquaintance of another Jet-to-be: tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson.
"I learned a lot of things from Brick, just how he approached the game," Lyles said.
Asked how close a DB and an OT can be, Lyles explained, "We were good, we were good. He used to cut my hair. We hung out lots of times."
With all of this help from former and future pros, Lyles overcame a serious injury in 2005 and ensured he would find an NFL home — as it turns out, with the Jets.
His connections won't help him win a roster spot, but his pro day performance helped get him this invite. While the focus that day was on the three Cavaliers who attended the NFL Combine, led by DE Chris Long, Lyles produced some numbers that were combine-quality: two sub-4.5-second 40s, a 36" vertical leap and 22 reps on the 225-pound benchpress.
"Football is really important to Nate," Jets head coach Eric Mangini said at the minicamp. "And he's tough. He's got all of the core characteristics, learning about him — that is very apparent. I think to go through the things he went through and to come back and be as successful as he was in college football, that's hard to do. I have a lot of respect for that."
Mangini, coordinator Bob Sutton and new DBs coach Jerome Henderson all also liked the idea that Lyles is familiar with their system.
"There's a lot of carryover between those two systems," Mangini said. "Whenever you get a Virginia player, they pretty much know the language and nuances. Al changes, he adds things, we add things. But a lot of the terminology is very similar and concepts are similar … and probably the speeches are similar."
For all those connections, Lyles certainly felt the electricity when he signed up to join the Green & White.
"I did a little research on them. It seemed like a good program and a place I'd like to be," he said. "I'm learning a lot out there. I'm trying to step up to the plate and take advantage of the opportunity."