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(8/7) Hutchinson: Martin's status for season uncertain

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Martin's status for season uncertain

Monday, August 07, 2006


Star-Ledger Staff

Before the NFL Draft last April, Jets running back Curtis Martin, his surgically-repaired right knee still bothering him, met with the Jets and told them they should strongly consider selecting a running back high in the draft because of his concern about his ability to play this season, a team official told The Star-Ledger yesterday.

"You know it has to be serious for Curtis to do something like that," said the official, who requested anonymity because of coach Eric Mangini's policy against discussing injuries. "That tells you a lot about Curtis. He's always concerned about the team."

Martin, a future Hall of Famer, underwent what was thought to be a routine arthroscopic surgery last December to clean out his knee but the knee hadn't responded and still hasn't. As the Jets enter their second full week of training camp today at Hofstra University, there is growing concern that Martin's career is in jeopardy.

The Jets decided to draft Virginia left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson with the fourth pick overall and Ohio State center Nick Mangold at 29th overall. They didn't draft a running back until the fourth round, selecting Florida State's Leon Washington.

If Martin does play this season, it's unlikely it will be at the start of the season. He was placed on the physically unable to perform list at the beginning of camp and the Jets are going to great lengths to keep him out of sight and away from the media.

Martin, 33, has had surgery on his right knee the past two seasons. It is believed that a great deal of the cartilage in the knee is gone and that's what is giving Martin trouble despite his well-documented threshold for pain.

"It's bone on bone," the official said.

The Jets, who are trying to keep Martin's condition hush-hush, have been quietly calling around the league inquiring about the availability of running backs. Chris Brown (Titans) and Thomas Jones (Bears), among others, are on their radar.

"Our starting running back on opening day may not be on the roster yet," the official said.

Jones, however, may be hard to pry away from Chicago, especially after starter Cedric Benson injured his shoulder in training camp on Friday night. Besides, Jones is nursing a hamstring injury.

Brown, who has requested a trade, appears to be the leading candidate although some in the organization aren't sold on him.

Part of the reason the Jets have been slow to address the running back situation is because they're reluctant to part with a second-round pick, the likely asking price for a starting-caliber running back. The Jets do have two second-rounders in 2007, having acquired one from the Redskins in a draft day trade, but they want to keep both as they seek to replenish the roster with young talent.

Right now, the Jets are standing pat. They want to see if a veteran becomes available at a cheaper price or if Derrick Blaylock, Cedric Houston or Washington steps up during the preseason.

Blaylock, a fifth-year veteran who was signed as a free agent two off-seasons ago, is currently starting in place of Martin. But some in the organization feel he's no more than a situational back at 5-8, 210 pounds.

Houston, a second-year pro, is a tough, solid runner but he doesn't appear to be a featured back. Washington is quick but raw. He's also only 5-8, 202 pounds.

Martin, entering his 12th season, made the trip to New Jersey over the weekend but was conspicuously absent from the sidelines and didn't come out to sign post-practice autographs.

Since the start of training camp, Martin, the fourth-leading rusher in NFL history with 14,101 yards, has been rehabbing. During his only interview, he said he's working as hard as the guys on the field and he wouldn't be working this hard if he didn't want to play.

But Father Time may have finally caught up with Martin. As is always the case with him, his spirit is willing, but his body may not be up to the task.

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