Washington goes for the tackle against Cleveland
The '06 Jets were solid in all phases of the game, built around a group of core athletes who consistently produced all season long.
On offense for example, wide receivers Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery answered the call when offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer needed a crucial first down. On defense, game-changing plays were provided from performers like Kerry Rhodes and Bryan Thomas when the club needed them most. Aside from clutch field goals by Mike Nugent and booming punts by Ben Graham, there was one player who proved to be a relentless force on the special teams unit.
"Rashad Washington has been a core special teams player for us. He is really outstanding on special teams, one of our best," said head coach Eric Mangini. "I really like Rashad's toughness - he is another guy who is a big, physical player. He has a very good ability to not just tackle but he is a physical player."
Washington finished the year tied atop the AFC with 24 total special teams tackles. Following the Jets' win over the Vikings at the Metrodome in December, Washington was rewarded by Mangini as Special Teams Player of the Week. In that 26-13 victory, Washington had two tackles and downed one of Graham's punts at the Vikings' 12-yard-line.
With the Player of the Week honors under his belt, Washington boarded the plane to Miami a week later and ended up having his best game of the season. The Jets beat the Dolphins 13-10 and Washington racked up a season-high six tackles (four defensive stops) and was also credited with half of a sack.
While he remained one of the better special teams players in the league, Washington was determined to improve his production on the defensive side of the ball as well. Sure enough, as the season progressed, Washington did too and he earned the opportunity to display his defensive talents on Sundays.
"Rashad is a very good special teams player and based on the things he has done on special teams, I thought it was important to give him the opportunity to expand his role and see if he could contribute on the defensive side of the ball as well," Mangini said of Washington, who had 12 defensive tackles in '06. "Each week guys have a chance, and they know they have a chance to improve their situation and contribute to the team based on what they do week in and week out."
The 6'1", 217-pound Washington has impressive credentials. A former running back turned defensive back at Kansas State, he racked up 195 tackles and three interceptions in 28 defensive starts for the Wildcats. It was at the Manhattan, KS campus where Washington blossomed into the versatile player he is now. The Wichita native also returned five blocked punts for 125 yards, caught a 33-yard touchdown pass, forced three fumbles, and had 14 rushes for 106 yards.
Mangini loves players who are versatile and Washington fits the desired mold.
"It's always that constant evaluation of what their contribution is," said Mangini. "They are generating opportunities for themselves and then providing opportunity to help the team win - not just in the area they have been contributing in, but in other areas as well."
Another player who made a name for himself on special teams and in practice was rookie cornerback Jamie Thompson. The undrafted rookie free agent surprised some in Jets Nation when he landed a spot on the team's practice squad at the conclusion of training camp.
"Jamie is a real fiery kid, a really good communicator and I've always liked that about him," said Mangini. "Communication is something that is very important for us."
Thompson proved to be important on the practice field. Mangini honored the rookie as the team's Practice Player of the Week following the Jets' 31-24 win over Detroit in October.
Then, on December 9th, the Jets activated the Oklahoma State alum to the active roster for their game against Buffalo at the Meadowlands. Thompson was on the opening kickoff coverage team versus the Bills and picked up his first career tackle a week later at Minnesota.