Including the preseason and playoffs, Ferguson started 21 games this season
Your typical NFL offensive lineman is big, nasty, and a technique aficionado. Linemen share a few qualities but there are distinct differences with each individual. For Pete Kendall, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, and Nick Mangold - the three most talked about offensive linemen during the New York Jets' 2006 season – they each hold unique perspectives of the past year.
Kendall, a veteran guard of 11 seasons, was sandwiched in-between the rookie center/tackle duo all season long. From training camp double sessions, to team meetings, to nearly every snap of the season (Kendall missed weeks two and three with a leg injury), his leadership of the pair of first round picks was crucial to the club's success.
"Pete has been great," Mangold said earlier this season. "The amount of information that is in his head could fill up eight playbooks. Every time he opens his mouth, I am paying attention."
With 158 regular season games and four postseason contests under his belt, Kendall has witnessed his fair share of ups and downs in this unforgiving league. This summer, Kendall will turn 34-years-old and then begin preparations for a 12th professional season. The 6'5", 292-pound Kendall, a feisty competitor, hopes to one day play in the NFL's final game. But even after early playoff elimination, Kendall was pleased to be playing significant football late in the season.
"There have been a lot of times where I've known my fate by Thanksgiving, so in that regard, this was an enjoyable season for me. To be playing meaningful games into November and through December, and then to qualify for the playoffs was certainly much better than last year," he said. "Ultimately the goal is to win a Super Bowl and right now I'm 0-11. There is a sense of disappointment, and we felt like we had a chance this year and we weren't able to come through.
"As hard as we worked this year, we weren't able to get it done," he added. "So there is going to have to be a regrouping, a refocus, and a commitment to what it takes to do more."
After being selected fourth overall in last April's draft, the pressure was on Ferguson to protect quarterback Chad Pennington's blind-side. The veteran passer was returning from multiple surgeries in the '05 calendar year, so pass protection was of the utmost importance. Facing some of the league's fiercest pass rushers, Ferguson struggled at times but will undoubtedly be better for the experience. Ferguson, a Freeport, Long Island native listed as 6'6", 312 pounds, must now embark on his first offseason as a professional football player.
"I'll probably take a week off and go back and start looking at things and just try to understand what's going on," Ferguson said. "You never know what's going to occur in this league, but you always have to stay faithful and do the things that you can to make sure you're team is successful."
Going against the league's best defensive ends, Ferguson held his ground and in the process, learned week after week. With a professional off-season regimen of weight lifting and film review, Ferguson should only be better come training camp.
"I learned a lot," said Ferguson. "I know how individuals like to play me; I know my strengths and weaknesses now. I know the things that I need to work on, and I have 16 weeks of film that I can look at and study throughout the offseason."
Game in and game out, there was a marquee name standing across from Ferguson. That list included Richard Seymour, Aaron Schobel, Dwight Freeney, Jason Taylor, Alex Brown, etc… A challenge each week and that will not change in the future.
"I don't know if I could put a grade on the year, but I did learn a lot. I had the opportunity to play against a lot of the top defenders in the league," said Ferguson. "It built more confidence in myself, and I know the things I need to improve upon. I've gained experience and that's so valuable; I just hope I can use this for the betterment of the team next year."
The long-haired Mangold, a 6'4", 300-pound center who impressed throughout with his consistent play, was smiles all season long and that didn't change as he cleaned out the Buckeye paraphernalia from his locker during the final media day at Weeb Ewbank Hall.
"It was a lot of fun," Mangold recalled. "From the beginning - the rookie camps to the mini camps to right now - it's been a blast. It was a lot of fun. That's all I can say about it; it was a blast. It's one of those things that has been a fun experience going through it all, being a rookie."
When Mangold's football season ended the previous four years, it meant hitting the books en route to business management degree at Ohio State. After graduating last summer, Mangold will slowly adapt to offseason life as a professional.
"It's going to be a learning process. Usually I would have had to go to class," said Mangold of his near future. "I can't stay away too long because I'll get bored. It will probably be a couple of weeks, but then I'll be back at it."
There is one unifying bond between the interesting trio. They played 2006 as a unit and laid everything on the line for each other. This group cared for one another and it showed in the win column.
"The one great thing about this team is when we go out and play, we play hard, and we play for each other," Kendall said. "We take the coaching, we take the game plan, and we try to execute it to the best of our ability. We go out there and we play for the guys in this locker room, so I think there is a good group assembled here."
"There are a bunch of great guys in this locker room who wanted to work hard, who did work hard, and who wanted to be out on the field for each other," Mangold added. "These guys cared for each other in this locker room."