Solid Player Leadership Is the Key for NY Jets Success in 2009
Leadership is not taught. Rather, leadership is born inside the soul of the individual; he sets an example for others, rallies the troops, and encourages others to do their best.
For the New York Jets, five individual players stand out as leaders of the team. They will be counted on by new coach Rex Ryan to set a winning example for the team throughout the 2009 season, establishing the mean and nasty demeanor that he is looking to bring from the Ravens to the Jets.
Center Nick Mangold, receiver Jerricho Cotchery, linebacker Bart Scott, Safety Kerry Rhodes, and defensive tackle Kris Jenkins are five key pieces for the Jets in 2009. All five provide the kind of stability and on field leadership necessary for a franchise transitioning from the placid Eric Mangini to the confident and overall tough guy in Rex Ryan.
NICK MANGOLD: Mangold was a Pro Bowl center last season, and deservedly so. When the Jets were looking for a replacement for Pro Bowler Kevin Mawae in 2006, they picked up Mangold late in the first round in the hope he could develop into a solid NFL center. So far Mangold has turned out to be just as good, if not better than the future Hall of Famer.
Mangold does a great job in creating running lanes for Thomas Jones and Leon Washington. His astute athletic ability allows him to push away oncoming defensive tackles and move up the line to push away a linebacker or safety to clear the running lane.
This season, Mangold will be a big help to Mark Sanchez or Kellen Clemens. For obvious reasons, Mangold will have to protect either one from oncoming blitzes by making different audibles at the line of scrimmage to adjust to the blitz. More importantly, off the field, Mangold is going to be counted on to give his support and confidence to the young quarterbacks.
For example, if Sanchez is having a bad afternoon, throws a couple of interceptions and looks lost on the field, Mangold will be asked to reinstill confidence in the rookie reminding him that the rest of team is behind him every step of the way.
This kind of support from a veteran player like Mangold can only make a rookie feel more confident about his own abilities.
KERRY RHODES: Rhodes is one of the longest tenured players left on the Jets roster. His veteran presence in the locker room, gives him enormous credibility around rookies and free agents on the team.
Rhodes is very well spoken and upfront to everyone in the room; revisit his reaction to Brett Favre's lack of leadership at the end of the season as an example. This summer Rhodes' ability to learn and play well in the 46 Defense will only add to his stature on this team.
He has never been to a Pro Bowl in his career, but eventually that will change.
In each of his first four seasons, Rhodes has put up gaudy numbers in tackles, sacks and interceptions. His best season came in 2006 when he put up 99 tackles, five sacks and four interceptions.
Rex Ryan has compared him to All Pro safety Ed Reed, and the comparisons are very fair; Rhodes has excellent speed, good ball hawking skills and a nose for the football.
When a receiver gets in his way, Rhodes is very physical, just look at last season's 47-3 thrashing of the Rams when he speared a couple of receivers to force dropped passes. Expect Rhodes to have a huge season in the 46 Defense and finally make the trip to Miami for the Pro Bowl.
Jerricho Cotchery: Cotchery is extremely important to this offense this year in many ways. First, he will be the No. 1 target for either Mark Sanchez or Kellen Clemens. Cotchery has great hands with an ability to make the tough catches down the sideline, or in the corner of the end zone to help out his quarterback.
By earning the trust of his young quarterbacks, Cotchery essentially is making their transition that much easier, especially Sanchez. Sanchez is raw to the NFL, and if his recent OTA struggles are any indication, he needs a receiver he can trust when a play breaks down during a game.
Furthermore, Cotchery is the de facto leader of the receiving corps. He is the lone veteran presence at wide receiver as many others lack the resume and experience that Cotchery possesses.
Cotchery will have to take this offense on his back, make big plays across the middle or down the field in order to setup scoring opportunities at critical junctures.
He could help the team further by coaching the younger receivers during practice, reminding them about which route to run, what to do in tight coverage, and how to push off a corner without getting flagged for it.
Throughout his career, Cotchery's numbers increase with each season. Last year, he was the team's leading receiver with 71 catches for 858 yards and five touchdowns.
He proved to be Brett Favre's favorite target in the first half of the season, whether it was the 61 yard touchdown catch on opening day in Miami, or his version of a helmet catch in New England on a chilly Thursday night, Cotchery is always open to make the big play.
Bart Scott: Coming over from the Ravens, Scott brings instant credibility and leadership to the Jets. He knows Rex Ryan's defense like the back of his hand and has been a big help so far to the likes of Vernon Gholston and David Harris.
The young linebackers will pick his brain about the 46 Defense throughout the summer, and with his help, they should become better players on the field.
In an article by Randy Lange on New York Jets.com, Scott and Gholston are shown to both hail from Detroit, which could play a huge role in their relationship.
Simple things like familiarity about a certain town, friends and even restaurants, could help Gholston, a guy who felt out of place his rookie year, feel right at home in his ability to learn the 46 Defense since he will have a friend to help all the while.
Moreover, Scott's presence alongside someone like Harris will only make him better, allowing the young linebacker to make more plays when the time calls for it.
Scott's presence is being felt all over the team right now. He has been spotted during practice playfully taunting and trash talking to his teammates as a way to loosen everyone up. Even quarterback Kellen Clemens took notice when he was quoted on Jets.com as saying:
"It's awesome. All it does is up the intensity. It’s fun being out there competing against your boys, and a little bit of trash talk here and there just makes it that much more enjoyable. It’s never personal with Bart or with anybody else. It just keeps it light."
Scott's on the field work speaks for itself. He only has one season of 100 plus tackles, but 94 tackles in 2007 and 82 tackles in 2008 is nothing to sneeze at. Now that he is the featured middle linebacker with the Jets, expect his tackle numbers to jump back up to triple digits, and his sack numbers to increase.
Scott is here for one reason: to make everyone around him better. His energy and knowledge carries much weight; he will be more like an on-the-field coach, much the way Ray Lewis is for the Ravens.
Kris Jenkins: Jenkins is not the first guy you think of as a leader to this team, but his presence is significant. Last season, Jenkins' ability to plug up the middle to stuff the run, and put pressure on the quarterback, was a big part of the Jets success on defense.
The Jets were seventh in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing 94.9 yards per game. Jenkins played a big role in that.
He finished 2008 with 52 tackles and 3.5 sacks; his first half was brilliant leading the Jets front seven into opposing quarterbacks and forcing mistakes. His performance against the Bills in the middle of last season was key to a 26-17 victory. Jenkins recorded a sack and a pressure that led to an interception for a touchdown.
However, poor play from Jenkins in the second half played a big role in the Jets collapse. All of sudden running backs like Denver's Peyton Hillis were running all over the Jets late in the season. Whether it was injury or fatigue, Jenkins didn't play well down the stretch.
This upcoming season Jenkins will be the man in the middle again. Even though Ryan's 46 Defense is drastically different than Eric Mangini's read and react schemes, the defense still comes out of the 3-4 formation, planting Jenkins at nose tackle yet again.
At 349 pounds, Jenkins and the Jets will have to find a way to keep him fresh all season if the defense is to succeed.
The Jets could substitute Sione Pouha more often for Jenkins to keep his legs fresh, but Jenkins has to be on the field. When he was on the field last year, the Jets had one of the best defenses in the game. Without him, the defense suffered.
If Jenkins can regain his dominant presence on the defensive line, then everyone else will follow his lead. Shaun Ellis will play better, Marques Douglas will play better, the linebackers will get more opportunities to make big plays via sacks, and the defensive backs will have more time to set themselves up to make an interception.
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