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Dawn of Green Mangini

To Jets, debut is pre - in name only




Maybe it's fitting that Eric Mangini will make his head-coaching debut tonight against the Bucs' Jon Gruden at Raymond James Stadium. Gruden, of all people, can relate to what the 35-year-old Mangini, the youngest head coach in the NFL, is experiencing.

Eight years ago, Gruden was in the same situation, hired by the Raiders at the age of 34. He shares his thoughts on Mangini in a clip that appears in the Jets' 2006 season preview video, saying, "Head coaches' years are like dog years. One year is like seven years, although it is a very exciting time for Eric."

Indeed, Mangini used the word "exciting" at least a half-dozen times in his most recent news conference. Once the game begins, the excitement will be replaced by the relentless, no-nonsense coaching style that turned the first two weeks of training camp into Club Dread.

Unlike Herm Edwards, who used to pamper his veterans in the preseason, Mangini will demand an honest night's work. When a player is removed from the game, it doesn't mean he's finished; he could be sent back in at any time.

So don't be surprised if you see the starters still in their shoulder pads late in the game, watching from the sideline sans the traditional baseball cap.

Mangini means business, evidenced by his refusal to announce the starting quarterback for tonight's game. That could be perceived as paranoia, but it's Mangini's way of saying that no one, not even the quarterbacks, gets preferential treatment.

Instead of the traditional depth chart, Mangini released a positional chart, listed alphabetically. At this point, everyone is a name and a number, 90 players fighting for 53 spots. Wide receiver Laveranues Coles spoke for a number of players the other day when he said he has no idea where he stands in the coaches' eyes.

"You have a little anxiety about it," said Chad Pennington, referring to Mangini's hesitancy in announcing the lineup. "It keeps you on edge."

Pennington, the clear leader in the quarterback competition, is the logical choice to get the first start. Then again, Mangini could pull a surprise, just to see how the principals respond on short notice. He said not to read anything into his choice, but there's no chance of it being ignored.

For Pennington, the game marks a personal triumph, his first competition since blowing out his shoulder last Sept.25 against the Jaguars. Battling long odds after two surgeries on the same shoulder, he completed a long, seemingly successful rehab to make it back.

Now for the next challenge: Absorbing a hit.

"Physically, I'm looking forward to getting banged around," Pennington said. "You don't ever invite that, but I'm looking forward to seeing how my body responds."

Mangini refused to acknowledge that Pennington's ability to take a hit is an issue, saying, "I'm not curious about that. I'm curious about how those guys block for all the quarterbacks."

Barring injury or implosion, Pennington will be the opening-day starter. The bigger question is the No.2 job. Patrick Ramsey has disappointed, leaving the door open for rookie Kellen Clemens and veteran Brooks Bollinger.

Another position to watch is running back. With Curtis Martin's career in jeopardy, the Jets are eager to see if Derrick Blaylock and Cedric Houston can do the job. If not, they almost certainly will trade for a veteran. The Redskins' Ladell Betts has emerged as a possibility.

The spotlight also will be on Mangini, who has at least one Gruden-esque trait: He sleeps very little.

"You go to bed at 2 or 3 a.m., and you wake up at 6 a.m., and you're not really that tired because you have enough stuff to get you going and to be excited about," Mangini said. "It's what I love to do."

Originally published on August 11, 2006

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Ballyhooed rookie LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson will make his NFL debut against one of the league's most prolific pass rushers, Bucs DE Simeon Rice. It's a good early test for Ferguson. "The ability to adjust to the speed and style of play, it's going to be exciting for him," Eric Mangini said. ... The Bucs' backup-QB job is open, and they'll be taking a close look at Brooks Bollinger, who may not make the Jets' roster. Bollinger has a fan in Bucs QB coach Paul Hackett, the Jets' former offensive coordinator. ... The Jets will unveil their new 3-4 defense, with Dewayne Robertson at nose tackle and Bryan Thomas at outside linebacker. Thomas may sub for Trevor Johnson. ... It'll be interesting to see if WR Justin McCareins, who began camp in Mangini's doghouse, is in the starting lineup. ... CB Derrick Strait could get a long look at safety. .. . Several players aren't expected to play tonight: RB Curtis Martin (knee), SS Erik Coleman (appendix), CB David Barrett (groin), NT Sione Pouha (knee) and rookie CB Drew Coleman (knee).

Rich Cimini

Originally published on August 11, 2006

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'GINI'S SPELL: Jets coach Eric Mangini holds court with quarterbacks

Kellen Clemens (left) and Chad Pennington at a recent practice. Gang

Green opens their preseason tonight against against the Bucs in Tampa.

August 11, 2006 -- TAMPA - When the Jets take the field against the Buccaneers tonight in the preseason opener for both teams, it will represent more than the usual unveiling of another new squad.

There is so much newness to the Jets it's as if they could be an expansion team.

For starters, tonight represents Eric Mangini's first game of any kind as an NFL head coach. It'll be compelling to see how he responds, even though it's merely a preseason opener.

"This is an exciting time for me," Mangini said. "It's an exciting time for the organization. It's an exciting time for the team to finally work against somebody besides Green or White. Everybody collectively is looking forward to that.

"I think there's an added element of uncertainty, because the volume of guys you face during a preseason game is significantly more than you would during the regular season. That is positive as well, because you see a lot of different types of players in the preseason."

For the Jets, there is so much to watch tonight.

Beginning at quarterback, where Mangini curiously has refused to name who his starter will be tonight, so begins the intrigue of this unknown team.

Chad Pennington has been the best performer in training camp, though Mangini has refused to acknowledge such. Pennington will likely start tonight with the first team, though with Mangini, you couldn't rule out him sitting Pennington and looking at the other three quarterbacks - Patrick Ramsey, rookie Kellen Clemens and Brooks Bollinger.

The running back position is even cloudier than the quarterback spot for the Jets because Curtis Martin's status remains muddled in a shroud of mystery. Martin remains on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) and his return to practice is unknown.

That leaves Derrick Blaylock, Cedric Houston and rookie Leon Washington to share carries, with no clear-cut favorite there to assume the starting job should Martin not be ready or a trade not consummated.

The offensive line features two new starters and only three returning - Adrian Jones, who's moved back to right tackle, right guard Brandon Moore and left guard Pete Kendall.

The newcomers are both rookie first-round draft picks - left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold. Both have had their moments, good and bad, in camp.

The receiver position is fairly set at the top with Laveranues Coles the top man and either Justin McCareins or Jerricho Cotchery the No. 2. Cotchery is pushing McCareins, who might not be one of Mangini's favorites.

Watch out, too, for Tim Dwight, who figures to be a valuable role player as a third or fourth receiver and a punt and kick return man on special teams.

In general on offense, many - including the players themselves - are curious to see what new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will bring to the field in terms of philosophy and playbook.

Schottenheimer, like Mangini, is in this role for the first time in his career. Don't expect to see the Jets open the playbook tonight, of course.

Defensively, the Jets have as much to look at as on offense, beginning with who'll rush the passer and how effectively without the departed John Abraham.

Dewayne Robertson is in a new role as a nose tackle, and Shaun Ellis has to step up and be the best pass rusher.

Linebacker Jonathan Vilma is also in a new role in the 3-4 scheme, having to take on more tackles and roam to the ball. It'll be interesting to see how he adjusts.

The Jets' secondary is also in flux with a new cornerback trying to win a starting job in Andre Dyson, a second-year corner trying to make his name as a starter in Justin Miller and an incumbent trying to hold on to his job in David Barrett.

At safety, starter Erik Coleman is out for some more time after having an appendectomy. He could be replaced by Derrick Strait.

Other than watching the differing combinations of lineups at practices, you have no idea where Mangini is putting anyone. The depth chart the Jets released this week featured players listed in alphabetical order.


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August 11, 2006 -- TAMPA - Don't be fooled or misled by any starters or position rotations in tonight's preseason game between the Jets and Buccaneers.

That's a direct message from Eric Mangini.

The quarterback position in particular is something Mangini insists not to read into whoever starts and plays.

Mangini wouldn't even divulge what his quarterback rotation for tonight's game will be, which is a rather silly ruse.

So, if Chad Pennington starts and is relieved by Kellen Clemens. . . .

"I wouldn't read into it too much," Mangini warned. "It's simply going to be a function of where we are in terms of numbers, the different combinations that we want to get with receivers, the offensive line and the backs.

"There are going to be a lot of different guys shuttling in and out of a lot of different positions. It's just an opportunity now against an opponent to distinguish themselves one way or the other."


When it was suggested to Mangini that he might be "looking forward" to Pennington getting hit for the first time to see how durable he'll be, Mangini said, "I honestly would much prefer that none of the quarterbacks get hit."


Mangini has been positive about the transition DT Dewayne Robertson has made from working as a three technique lineman to a nose tackle in the 3-4 scheme.

"Dewayne has done a really good job in terms of working at the different techniques that we've asked him to use and the different shades we've asked him to use," Mangini said. "He's really embraced getting better as a technician and I've been pleased with his work ethic at practice. Like anybody else, there have been a couple of steps forward and a step back here and there, but he's been consistently working at getting better at the position."


Second-year CB Justin Miller had a rocky start to camp, but has been coming on of late.

"I thought Justin, early in camp, wasn't where he needed to be in terms of technique," Mangini said. "I liked the way that he has gotten better, through the coaching, with his techniques. He's got really good natural ability. I see a lot of positive things there.

"Now, he needs to keep developing in terms of being a technician, understanding where his help is, and understand where he fits in with the defense. I think that he's got great upside."

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Preseason opener can give Mangini clues on where team stands


Newsday Staff Writer

August 11, 2006

How many questions can be squeezed into one preseason game?

The Jets are about to find out, and with any luck, several answers may sprout from tonight's opener against the Buccaneers in Tampa.

How will the new 3-4 defense perform? Will offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's new schemes shoot sparks or sputter out of the gate? Can running backs Derrick Blaylock and Cedric Houston be impressive enough to slow the Jets' increasing urgency to find a replacement for Curtis Martin on the trade market? What will happen the first time Chad Pennington takes a hit on his twice-repaired right shoulder? Are rookie offensive linemen D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold up for the challenge of starting in the NFL?

"We want to go against competition," linebacker Jonathan Vilma said, "and see where we stack up."

First-year coach Eric Mangini is curious about that himself. He said he welcomes the "element of uncertainty" that comes from playing a team with its own sets, its own preseason goals, its own way of doing things.

"You see a lot of different types of players in the preseason," Mangini said. "As difficult as it is to really home in on the core things because of the multiple personnel, it's also good because you get to see the various looks and styles of players."

The Jets, of course, will have their own various looks at quarterback. Mangini has yet to announce who will start, but even if he sits until the fourth quarter, all eyes will be on Pennington. The seven-year veteran is returning from a second shoulder surgery and has looked sharp in training camp. Tonight, however, he removes that red jersey that protects him from the thumps of his teammates in practices.

"Physically, I'm looking forward to getting banged around," Pennington said. "You don't invite that, but if it happens, you're looking forward to how your body responds to it and how mentally you respond to it."

Mangini was less excited about the prospect of any of his quarterbacks getting roughed up. He did seem eager, however, about taking an NFL field as a head coach for the first time, even if it is a month before the regular season begins.

"I'm really looking forward to it," he said. "There was that phase where we had a lot of meetings and a lot of time in the building and then being out here with the players and coaching on the field and seeing it evolve and now moving into the team and the game phase, it's all really exciting."

Mangini produced a dress rehearsal of a game experience last weekend at the Meadowlands, but everyone knows tonight's situation will exceed that one.

"You can try to simulate the game as much as you can," Vilma said, "but it'll never be an actual game until you play."

Notes&quotes: A person familiar with the situation said second-year NT Sione Pouha had surgery on his right knee and could be lost for the season ... The Jets continue monitoring running backs around the league. The latest indications out of Denver are that Ron Dayne would be easier to pry from the Broncos than Tatum Bell.


Jets at Tampa Bay

7:30 p.m.

TV: Ch. 2

Radio: WEPN (1050)

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Friday, August 11, 2006


Star-Ledger Staff

TAMPA, Fla. -- Turns out there is a heated quarterback competition in the Jets training camp this summer, only it isn't for the starting job. Chad Pennington has that locked up.

It's for the backup role.

Patrick Ramsey and Brooks Bollinger are in a battle for the No. 2 spot, with the loser likely to be released or traded at the end of camp.

The pair are currently neck-and-neck, but that could change tonight when the Jets play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the preseason opener for both teams at Raymond James Stadium.

Coach Eric Mangini has been mum on his quarterback rotation -- Pennington said the quarterbacks are joking that it'll be a four-play rotation -- so it's anybody's guess who will play.

"You have a little anxiety in your stomach, and it (the suspense of who is going to start) keeps you on edge," said Pennington.

Chris Simms, who is having a terrific training camp, is expected to start for the Bucs but will play only a few series.

For Bollinger, this could be a showcase game. He has been perceived as the odd man out and was just that before Ramsey's underwhelming performance so far in training camp.

Fighting for a job is nothing new to Bollinger, however. Bollinger, who started nine games last season, has fought off the likes of Quincy Carter, Jay Fiedler (currently with the Bucs but unable to play tonight) and Vinny Testaverde since his arrival as a sixth-round pick out of Wisconsin in 2003.

This off-season, the Jets brought in Ramsey and drafted Kellen Clemens in the second round, guaranteeing the latter a spot on the roster.

"You just can't spend any time worrying about it or trying to figure out what anybody is thinking," said Bollinger of the Jets bringing in Ramsey and Clemens. "It's just a waste of time. I just go out there and do my job and let things fall into place.

"There's going to be competition. You have to earn your job. There's going to be people brought in and people shuffled around. You just learn to worry about what you can control."

Last season, Bollinger took a beating after taking over for the injured Pennington and Fiedler, and later for an injured and ineffective Testaverde. He was punished in his first career start against the Ravens but did get progressively better as the season wore on.

Playing behind a porous offensive line and with no running game, Bollinger completed 150 of 266 passes (56.3 percent) for 1,558 yards, seven touchdowns and six interceptions.

But the offense stalled all season, as the Jets averaged 15.0 points per game, which ranked 29th in the NFL. Bollinger was 2-7 as the starter.

"I think so," said Bollinger when asked if he proved he could be in the league. "That has nothing to do with this situation, but I think I went out and executed and did my job last year. Obviously it didn't always turn out to equal victories, which is disappointing. I felt more and more comfortable as the year went on."

This season Bollinger said he feels like a veteran who has seen it all.

"I think everything just slows down," he said. "From the line of scrimmage -- pre-snap and post-snap, making reads, feeling comfortable, anticipating throws. All those things slow down. Your mind works a little easier."

Bollinger said he's worried that he's overlooked and underappreciated for what he did last season under difficult circumstances. And he declined to answer questions about his future with the club.

"Last year was last year and this year is this year," said Bollinger. "Everybody has a story. I don't even want to talk about (playing elsewhere). I'm just trying to do my best here."


1. Who will shine the brightest among the quarterbacks. Chad Pennington has won the starting job, but the backup job is up for grabs between Patrick Ramsey and Brooks Bollinger. It could become interesting.

2. How well rookie LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson and rookie C Nick Mangold do in the starting lineup. Calling out the pre-snap blocking assignments is a big job for a rookie. You must recognize the defense and make the correct call.

3. How effective will Eric Mangini's new base 3-4 defense be. The defense has the ability to morph into any number of different fronts, and that could be its saving grace because the Jets don't have a big-time nose tackle.


Former nickel back Derrick Strait getting a lot of time at safety.


Look for rookie QB-turned-WR Brad Smith to throw a pass on a reverse.


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Friday, August 11, 2006



TAMPA, Fla. -- Welcome to New York, Eric Mangini.

The new head coach of the Jets in the past week has been called paranoid, controlling and evasive. He's been accused of belittling his players and conducting a charade of a quarterback competition.

And Mangini's Jets have yet to play a game.

That comes tonight against the Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium.

And for an opening preseason game, which many view as "meaningless," there will be a whole lot of microscopes out, examining each Mangini move and every Jets development.

"This is an exciting time for me," said Mangini, the 35-year-old field boss who was unfailingly pleasant as usual in talking with reporters this week. "It's an exciting time for the organization. It's an exciting time for the team to finally work against somebody besides Green or White. Everybody collectively is looking forward to that."

Players and fans are looking forward to seeing who's in the Jets' starting lineup against the Bucs and specifically who will get the start at quarterback. But as Bill Parcells used to say when pressed, "You'll just have to come to the game to find out."

Mangini's quarterback plan was not publicly revealed even Thursday, before the team flew out of LaGuardia Airport for Tampa. (The team flight was not delayed despite increased security following the arrests of 25 suspected terrorists in Great Britain on Thursday morning.)

"I want to look at the final numbers and I want to talk to Brian [schottenheimer, offensive coordinator] and put together the best plan we can in order to evaluate these guys," Mangini said.

Despite the coach's black-hole approach to team information, it would be a shock if Chad Pennington did not get the starting nod against the Bucs.

Pennington, looking better than many thought he would after his two-shoulder-surgery calendar year of 2005, has looked the sharpest in the four-way QB battle that includes Patrick Ramsey, Brooks Bollinger and rookie Kellen Clemens.

And Mangini has twice broken from his camp rotation to start Pennington in intrasquad scrimmages, last Thursday night and Sunday afternoon.

There are plenty of other hot spots for Jets fans to monitor. In the wake of Curtis Martin's ongoing absence because of his right-knee rehab, Derrick Blaylock is expected to start at tailback, followed by Cedric Houston and rookie Leon Washington.

Another point of interest is how all the QBs and RBs fare behind the rebuilt offensive line featuring Gang Green's two first-round draft picks, left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold.

Defensively, Mangini maintains that the 3-4 alignment is just one of many the unit will employ under new coordinator Bob Sutton. But that's been the base alignment used most in training camp.

The Jets' linebacking corps will be in the spotlight as Jonathan Vilma tries to build on last year's team MVP award and first Pro Bowl berth, this time as an inside LB. Victor Hobson, Bryan Thomas, Trevor Johnson and newcomer Matt Chatham rotate at outside linebacker. Also, end Kimo von Oelhoffen and cornerback Andre Dyson, both Super Bowl XL starters, make their Jets debuts.

For anyone interested in Mangini's depth chart at any position, you'll just have to chart tonight's game. The Jets are one of six NFL teams that have yet to post a depth chart on their Web site. And they are one of three teams, either online or in their pregame notes, to list position depth alphabetically.

The other two teams to follow this approach: Parcells' Cowboys and the Bucs of Jon Gruden, who once was a thirtysomething head coach himself.

But as Vilma said, the curiosity inside the Jets about starting lineups won't peak until the week of the Sept. 10 regular-season opener at Tennessee.

"We're eager to see how good we can be," Vilma said. "That's the biggest thing right now. We know we have talent, we know we can play. It's just a matter of getting out there and playing to the best of our abilities."

E-mail: lange@northjersey.com

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Bob Phillips had a flashback as he stood on the sideline at Hofstra and watched his former player participating in a 2-minute drill with the Jets. Suddenly, Nick Hartigan was a 135-pound freshman again, a two-way player whose biggest goal was to play in college.

"I was overcome by so much pride," said Phillips, a varsity assistant for both the football and basketball teams when Hartigan was a two-sport star at Woodson (Va.) High School. "To see him line up with Chad Pennington, Laveranues Coles, Jonathan Vilma. I'm in education, so to see anybody's dream come true, you take a lot of pride. It was really a proud moment for me and him. He's the one that did a lot of the work."

Hartigan, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound tailback, tonight will get his first chance to prove himself in a game situation as the Jets, needing to solidify their running-back corps with Curtis Martin on the physically-unable-to-perform list, open their preseason at Tampa Bay.

"There's a bunch of running backs ahead of me," said Hartigan, who chatted with his old coach, now a principal in the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District, for 25 minutes after Wednesday night's practice. "But everyone says the starting guys only get a few reps in the first game and then they move on to the other guys. It's a big opportunity to show what I can do and hopefully make some impact."

There are many stories like Hartigan's each year at NFL training camps — an undrafted free agent hoping against long odds to forge a pro career. But there are not many like Hartigan.

He set Ivy League records with 52 rushing touchdowns, 54 touchdowns overall and 324 points while accumulating a 3.9 grade-point average at Brown. Only two B's his freshman year spotted his record as he graduated with a dual major in political science and history.

"I think, going to Wesleyan, I appreciate the guys that went to Brown," Jets coach Eric Mangini said. "I appreciate the things Nick did at Brown. He's done a tremendous job here, competing at this level every day. He hasn't backed down from anything. I'm impressed with his versatility."

Hartigan's already been accepted to Harvard Law School and ultimately wants a career in public service, possibly as a politician. His senior thesis, on the relationship between Catholics and evangelical Christians, earned readers outside Brown's campus.

"I got an e-mail after it got publicized from the Diocese in Providence and I had to speak to the Catholic priest at Brown," Hartigan said. "It wasn't any feather-ruffling, it wasn't an opinion as it was research. But I got e-mails by the end of the year asking to read copies of it, so that was neat to have some people notice things other than the five professors who had to read it."

Hartigan rushed for a school-record 1,727 yards as a senior, and he finished his career third on the all-time Ivy list with 4,492 yards, which was also good for 20th on the all-time NCAA list.

But for the second straight year, only one Ivy League player was drafted, Cornell offensive lineman Kevin Boothe, who was picked up in the seventh round by the Oakland Raiders, and the Jets showed the most interest in bringing Hartigan to camp.

"I just wanted to be in a camp, no matter where it was," Hartigan said. "I expected to be scrapping for an opportunity."

That speaks to the work ethic Hartigan has always shown, even as an eighth-grader.

The 37-year-old Phillips, who grew up in Manville, N.J., and moved back to New Jersey shortly after Hartigan graduated from high school, recalled some teacher vs. student basketball games when Hartigan, a Fairfax, Va., native, played with a bunch of specially selected eighth-graders. At the time, Hartigan made no secret he wanted to go to a local Catholic school, Gonzaga, which had a prestigious athletic program.

Phillips talked him into going to Woodson, where he coached him on the freshman football team.

"In the spring, to be honest, it was myself, Nick and his little brother (Andy) in the weight room," Phillips said. "He was lifting and working out and running and drinking his protein shake to add weight. Weight, that was his toughest thing. By the time he graduated, he was 190, most of it being muscle."

Hartigan's parents, Jack and Betsy, even turned their basement into a weight room for their sons.

So while tonight may be Hartigan's big opportunity, the family is really looking forward to next week, Hartigan's homecoming as the Jets face the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field.

"He's so modest, but this is really good for him," Phillips said. "A lot of big schools passed on him in Virginia. For him to have a college career and have a shot at the NFL tells a lot about Nick's desire. He definitely wants to make the Jets, they gave him a chance and he's a loyal kid. But if he doesn't make the Jets, he'd like to get enough reps to showcase what he can do."

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WHO: Jets (0-0) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0).

WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 p.m. today/Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay, Fla.

TV/RADIO: CBS-Ch. 2/1050 ESPN-AM, 770 WABC-AM.


The four-quarterback rotation of Chad Pennington, Patrick Ramsey, Kellen Clemens and Brooks Bollinger is balky and needs to be pared down. S Erik Coleman, a starter last season, will miss the game.


Quarterback coach Paul Hackett, the Jets' former offensive coordinator, is looking for a backup to Chris Simms with rookie Bruce Gradkowski, Tim Rattay, Jay Fielder and Luke McCown vying for the spot. Ex-Giant S Will Allen is recovering from thumb surgery and WR Michael Clayton is battling turf toe.

-- Andrew Gross, Gannett News Service

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LAKE BUENA VISTA - Jerald Sowell has traded a Lincoln Continental for a Cadillac.

Make that running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams.

Sowell, 32, is entering his first season as a fullback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He spent the previous nine years with the New York Jets.

During eight of those seasons, Sowell often served as lead blocker for Curtis Martin, a running back who, like a Lincoln Continental, was known as much for his durability as his dependability and class.

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers host the New York Jets at 7:30 tonight at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Sowell will face his former team for the first time.

"Of course it will be different, because I've been in the same uniform for nine years," Sowell said. "I'll make this adjustment. I'm with Tampa now. That's part of the game.

"It'll be good to see the guys, but they're the opposing team now. When the whistle blows, it's business as usual."

For Sowell, business as usual means blocking, and sometimes catching balls out of the backfield.

With Sowell leading the way, Martin compiled 10,302 rushing yards, from 1998 through last season. No other NFL back had as many yards during that span.

Sowell also has produced some offense on his own. He averaged 40 catches for 311 yards and 1.3 touchdowns over the past three seasons. He had just four rushing attempts for 22 yards and one score during that same time frame.

Bucs coach Jon Gruden projected Sowell to have a similar role with the Bucs.

"Alstott's a good one," Gruden said of Bucs starting fullback Mike Alstott. "But Mike Alstott plays tailback at times in our offense."

That means Sowell could play a vital role.

"What Jerald Sowell's done in the NFL has been first-rate," Gruden said. "He was the lead blocker for Curtis Martin. He's a good football player, and he has been a very good special-teams player. That's what we're expecting out of him."

The 6-foot, 237-pound Sowell never has made the Pro Bowl, although there were whispers he might last season.

"That's the nature of the position," Sowell said of not getting much credit. "I've known that my whole career. You've got to do the dirty work. It's just like the offensive line. I'm like an o-lineman.

"But as long as the coaching staff knows, as long as my running back knows, as long as my teammates know, that's all I can ask."

Sowell compared second-year running back Williams favorably to Martin, now beginning his 12th NFL season.

"You know what? I think they are very similar," Sowell said. "Work ethic and attitude and mindset, they're both very similar. The main thing is the attitude. The attitude of a back makes a big difference."

Sowell said he had high hopes for Williams -- and his own season.

"He's a great back," Sowell said. "He's potentially one of the best backs in the league.

"I just hope I can give us a chance to win. I just want to go out and do my best."

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