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Spinning their wheels


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Sunday, August 13, 2006


Star-Ledger Staff

For years, Jets running back Curtis Martin has been taken for granted as he put together 1,000-yard season after 1,000-yard season. His humble nature and quiet dignity made it easy to not fully realize his greatness.

Martin, a future Hall of Famer, is the anti-Terrell Owens.

Now, with Martin's career in jeopardy, it's abundantly clear how valuable he is to the offense. That point was driven home even more during the Jets' 16-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Friday night at Raymond James Stadium.

Veteran Derrick Blaylock, given a $3.2 million signing bonus last off-season as Martin's heir apparent, had just 12 yards on six carries and added 14 yards on three catches. Backup Cedric Houston, a second-year pro who started four games last season for an injured Martin, rushed for only 17 yards on five carries. Finally, rookie Leon Washington had one carry for 1 yard.

Overall, the Jets ran for just 44 yards on 16 carries against a Bucs team that played its starters for just one series. In the first half, with all the starters along the offensive line going the distance except veteran guard Pete Kendall, the Jets rushed for just 41 yards on 13 carries.

Rookie left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold appeared to hold their own, but it didn't show in the running game.

Normally such a poor performance could be shrugged off because it was the first preseason game. But with Martin out indefinitely while rehabbing from off-season knee surgery, the Jets have a major problem they must address.

"I think the fact we didn't (run the ball) effectively means we need to go back and put more emphasis on that and that's something we'll do," coach Eric Mangini said.

In fairness to Blaylock and Houston, there wasn't much running room -- but the good running backs make their own room.

"It's not disappointing," said Blaylock, who some critics say earned his big contract from the Jets after running behind a Chiefs offensive line that included three Pro Bowlers. "That's what (the preseason) is for. It's basically practice. You go out and play and find the things you have to improve on. I'm not disappointed at all."

The Jets certainly are and they'll undoubtedly step up their efforts to acquire a running back. But with the club reluctant to part with one of their two second-round picks -- the likely price for a starting-caliber back -- the Jets will probably sign a "hold-the-fort guy," a second-tier back who helps get the team through the season.

Then, this off-season the Jets will either sign a big-time free agent or draft someone.

"I don't take it personal," Houston said of speculation the team will sign a running back to improve the current situation. "That's something I can't control. They have me here now. Blaylock, Leon and the rest of the guys, we're just trying to go out and work every day to get better."

Said Blaylock: "I didn't know they were talking about finding a running back. That's news to me. (But) it doesn't bother me. It's business. I don't take any of that stuff personal."

Cornerback-turned-safety Derrick Strait said the biggest adjustment he faced in his first start was slowing down to cover tight ends as opposed to speedy wide receivers.

"A tight end is a little slower and you have to take your time and read him," said Strait, who had four tackles and likes the physical aspect of the safety position. "It's still going to take some getting used to but I'm just trying to do whatever I can to help our team."

The Jets have two practices scheduled for today at Hofstra. ... WR Jerricho Cotchery said the next time he's thrown a fade pattern in the end zone he's going to jump up and attack the ball instead of waiting for it. He said that was the mistake he made against the Bucs. The ball -- perfectly thrown from rookie QB Kellen Clemens -- was stripped from Cotchery. Cotchery added that Clemens was extremely poised in the huddle.


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