Kerry Rhodes is a cunning young man. Last week, the 24-year-old Jets starting safety bolted around the New England offensive line into enemy territory and single-handedly bombarded Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for a strip-sack.
That play alone could precisely signify the times for Rhodes. As one of the Jets players who stays relatively quiet in the locker room, Rhodes has loudly displayed leadership in the Jets secondary.
Though just in his second season of pro football, Rhodes is unleashing his leadership and talent just as he unleashed the fumble causing attack on Brady.
"I think he's really starting to develop some positive leadership skills in the secondary, really embracing the idea of being a core communicator," said head coach Eric Mangini of Rhodes. "You can see it in his preparation during the week and that keen maturity."
In fact, this isn't the first glimpse of promise the first-year head coach has seen in the young Alabama native. Mangini, working for his prior employer, interviewed Rhodes before the talented defensive back entered the draft.
"I actually interviewed Kerry at the other place," said Mangini. "We had a really good interview with him during the college process. You could see how intelligent he was - that was the initial meeting that I had with him."
Rhodes has improved in every aspect while embracing the new Jets' system and beliefs under Mangini and coordinator Bob Sutton. He has proven his maturity as a player by working all training camp without the assistance of his fellow starting safety Erik Coleman, who was out due to illness.
Already this season, Rhodes has shown his teammates, the coaching staff, and now the rest of the NFL that with the proper mix of talent and headship, his growth is feasibly boundless.
"You see it showing up in the game," said Mangini of Rhodes' evolution. "The strip-sack fumble, how he's around the ball. I think that's really good for him to proactively try to improve, get the coaching, embrace the coaching, really work on it, and then see the results. It's really good for him, and obviously really good for us as well."
The Jets defense already has a number of vocal leaders including linebackers Jonathan Vilma and Eric Barton. To have Rhodes' vision of the entire field from the defensive backfield is a much welcomed bonus. What he sees and does directly affects all of those around him.
"You have to do your job and you have to do what you do first," said the Louisville product. "If you do everything right, people will follow you. If you don't, they won't. You have to do it right first and then get everybody else on the same page."
So far this season, Rhodes is tied for a team-high in solo tackles with 12 and tied for the sacks lead with one. He also collected an interception in the Green & White's season-opening win at Tennessee. Mangini credits the development of Rhodes to his hard work onsite and his desire of learning through communication off the field as well.
"He is trying to improve himself by talking to the older players or really figuring out the areas of weakness and the things that you can work on outside of the building, outside of the regularly scheduled practice time," said Mangini. "When he asks me about different things that he could do to improve at his position, he's taken those things in and he's acted on them. That proactive behavior is great."
Thursday Injury Report Jets Doubtful: OL Trey Teague (ankle)
Questionable: CB David Barrett (hip), WR Laveranues Coles (calf), WR Tim Dwight (thigh) & OL Pete Kendall (thigh)
Probable: *DL Dave Ball (hand), *LB Matt Chatham (foot), *QB Chad Pennington (calf), *S Kerry Rhodes (ankle) & *DL Kimo von Oelhoffen
Bills Questionable: S Matt Bowen (shin) & LB Takeo Spikes (hamstring)
*Denotes players who participated in practice