Time to Perform
Now that the draft is over, the next step of the New York Jets 2006 rookie class will be their toughest. With all hype aside, they must prove their worth in the National Football League, starting as early as next week.
A day after team physicals on May 11th, newcomers and coaches will take the practice field. Come next Friday morning, all college stats and NCAA awards are history, as the players must earn their respective fates.
As Coach Eric Mangini and GM Mike Tannenbaum have stressed habitually, the team and its starters will be determined by performance.
"Best players play," stated Tannenbaum. "I think that gives you the best chance to succeed, and that's what we're committed to."
That being said, here's what we might expect from the latest Green & White arrivals:
D'Brickashaw Ferguson, the team's first selection in the draft, is a lock for a starting role at left tackle. After starting four years on a Virginia offensive line that reached a Bowl game in each of those years, Ferguson has enough experience to make a swift transition to the NFL game. Not only does Ferguson's arrival mean fortified strength at left tackle, it adds depth to the line as a whole.
"Right now Adrian Jones is a tackle, but he can play left tackle," said Mangini. "To have two left tackles on the roster, with both having the flexibility to play right tackle, gives us a lot of versatility."
With the Jets second selection in the first round (#29 overall), Nick Mangold was selected and will compete with recently acquired free agent Trey Teague for the starting center position.
Mangold is considered the best center to come out of this year's draft after a tremendous career at Ohio State University. Last season, Mangold spearheaded an offense that generated 5,068 yards, while he graded 84.3% for blocking consistency without allowing any sacks.
Drafting Mangold as early as the Jets did will not make him the starting center from day one. The Jets picked up Teague, a veteran entering his ninth season, in free agency just three weeks ago. Teague has 80 career NFL starts and that pro experience is invaluable. However, Coach Mangini pointed out that Mangold, just like Ferguson, is quite versatile, which only helps his cause for playing time.
"What I've told Nick is the same thing I've told all the current players on the roster: your job is to come here, work hard, play where you're told to play, compete where you're told to, and at the end of the day we're going to sort out who the best players are," said Mangini. "He's going to give us great competition at a couple spots, both center and guard."
The selections of Ferguson and Mangold over a quarterback indicated the Jets desire to build the offense around the line. Giving their veteran quarterbacks a vastly improved front line will enhance each passer's proficiency, setting the tone for a very competitive preseason. This brings us to the Jets' next pick, their first choice in the second round and 49th overall, Oregon QB Kellen Clemens.
"We have four quarterbacks on our active roster and this is not to say that one of them is on the block or we're going to cut this person," said Tannenbaum. "We now have better depth at the quarterback position. That's where we are right now."
Heading into training camp, the quarterback position is obviously the Jets most consequential uncertainty, meaning the door is wide open for someone – regardless of age, experience, stats – to come in and take command.
"Ultimately it will be Eric's decision on who plays. There are tons of situations in the league, where a quarterback is the fourth pick and he doesn't play. A guy like Roethlisberger goes in and plays right away," said Tannenbaum. "Ultimately Chad Pennington could play, Patrick Ramsey could play, Brooks Bollinger, Kingsbury could play, a draft pick could play. Competition will put the best player on the team. We go by what we see."
With their first third round selection (76th overall), the Jets went to the other side of the ball and selected linebacker Anthony Schlegel. Schlegel was a key factor in Ohio State's dominant linebacking corps that included A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter, both of whom were first round selections. Tannenbaum is impressed with Schlegel's leadership qualities, desire for success, and his special teams ability.
"After serving as captain at the Air Force Academy as a sophomore he transferred to Ohio State and contributed immediately," said the first-year GM. "He is a player that we envision adding to the depth at linebacker and being able to contribute on special teams."
While most scouting reports don't give Schlegel much justice, Mangini says the tape doesn't lie.
"When watching A.J. Hawk, Schlegel kept showing up and showing up. It's something when you go to watch one player and the other guy keeps making tackles," he said. "This is a guy that hunts wild boar with a knife to give you an idea of the toughness he has."
The chances of Schlegel coming in and starting as a rookie are slim, but he says he will find a way to contribute.
"I'm going to do it," said Schlegel. "Special teams, linebacker, whatever they want me to do - I'll do it. I'm going to do it because all I want is to help the Jets win the Super Bowl and that is what is first in my mind."
With their next two picks, the Jets went with a pair of Smiths in the 3rd and 4th rounds.
Safety Eric Smith, a Michigan State alum, comes to Jets camp as a leader with outstanding character. There aren't many apparent holes in the secondary which includes Erik Coleman and Kerry Rhodes patrolling at safety. However, Smith doesn't have to look any further than Coleman to find some inspiration. Coleman, a fifth round selection from Washington State in 2004, has started 32 games for the Jets, having totaled six interceptions and 210 tackles.
Brad Smith, a prolific quarterback at Missouri, will begin his professional career at wide receiver, though this may change. He is a playmaker who could possibly be bounced around from receiver to running back and even quarterback if necessary. Smith holds the NCAA Division I-A career rushing record for QBs, with 4,289 yards, and he also became the first NCAA Division I-A QB to throw for 8,000 yards and rush for 4,000 yards in a career. Smith certainly adds depth to the entire offensive attack.
"His versatility to be able to run with the football is second-to-none," said Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel of Brad Smith. "I've been a coach for 29 years, five years here at Missouri, and he is by far the greatest athlete I've ever seen. He's also a much better person than he is a football player if that tells you what a great guy the Jets are getting."
Curtis Martin is still atop the running back depth chart, but rookie Leon Washington may provide a nice change of pace for New York offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Washington, the Jets fourth round selection from FSU, possesses sub 4.4 speed and could also be used as a punt returner.
In the fifth round, the Jets selected a tight end with only 12 career receptions on his resume. But new TE/FB Jason Pociask (150th overall selection), who played aside the talented Owen Daniels, made a name for himself as a premier blocking tight end.
"My father was my offensive line coach in high school and he was an offensive lineman himself, so it is in my blood and I take pride in it, especially when you have good backs to run the ball," said Pociask. "I take pride in blocking, that was my role and I embraced it."
The Jets filled out their 10 selections with cornerback Drew Coleman from TCU and defensive tackle Titus Adams from Nebraska. Coleman will add speed to the defensive backfield and will attempt to make an impact on special teams. Adams has been criticized at times for a questionable work ethic, but that doesn't seem to phase the 6'4", 305-pound former Husker.
"They say that about a lot of big guys," Adams said. "I'm just going to come up there and do my best to prove them wrong. I'm going to give it all I've got for the Jets."