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Jets' Coles remains questionable for Sunday



(Original Publication: September 22, 2006)

HEMPSTEAD — Laveranues Coles' idea of fun involves cutting across the middle, making the catch and getting popped by a defender.

"Being able to say, 'Look, I took your best and I got up and I'm going to come back and see if you can do it again,' '' the Jets' wide receiver said yesterday.

Whether Coles can do it Sunday at Buffalo is in doubt. He's still listed as questionable with a left calf injury and did not participate in practice for the second straight day.

The Jets (1-1), lacking an efficient rushing attack, have relied on their passing game, and Coles is leading the NFL with 253 receiving yards. Coles, adhering to team policy, would not discuss his injury other than to say he has "a very high threshold of pain.''

"One thing that's indisputable about Laveranues is his toughness,'' Jets coach Eric Mangini said. "Whether it's catching the in-cuts or dealing with injuries, that guy's got a rare toughness.''

Coles seemed surprised to hear the compliment.

"I never knew coach noticed much of anything around here,'' Coles said. "I just tried to be one of those guys he don't have to worry about, that he knows is going to show up and compete.''

If Coles cannot play, Jerricho Cotchery, who has 12 catches for 186 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown catch in Sunday's 24-17 loss to the New England Patriots, would slide into Coles' spot as the No. 1 receiver.

Veteran Justin McCareins, who started all 32 games in his first two seasons with the Jets, would be back as the No. 2 receiver with rookie Brad Smith and, possibly, veteran Tim Dwight, who has missed the first two games with a thigh injury, also contributing.

"I don't think there's very many guys right now in this offense who are feeling selfish; I'm certainly not,'' said McCareins, who has six catches for 85 yards. "It seems like there's enough balls to go around, as long as we're doing what we're supposed to be doing on offense and moving the ball.''

But Coles plays an integral part of creating space on the field, and Cotchery, in particular, has taken advantage. His spectacular touchdown against the Patriots did come against double coverage, with safety Eugene Wilson hitting him low and cornerback Chad Scott smacking him from behind.

Yet Cotchery doesn't believe he'll face constant double teams if Coles is unavailable.

"He's one of the top receivers in the league so he's going to get some attention,'' Cotchery said.

So far, it's gone exactly the way Coles hoped it would go last season after he was dealt back to the Jets for wide receiver Santana Moss following two seasons with the Washington Redskins.

Moss earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl. Jets quarterback Chad Pennington missed 13 games and Coles' 73 catches were his fewest since 2001.

"Deep down inside, you kind of know you're the same player,'' Coles said. "I kind of knew I still had the same respect on the football field, I just didn't get it publicly or in the media. It's just good I am having the stats now to show that.''

Notes: Running back Derrick Blaylock was excused from practice in order to be with his wife, Kristen, as they await the birth of their fourth child. He is not expected to miss Sunday's game. … Mangini singled out safety Kerry Rhodes for praise. "He's really starting to develop some positive leadership skills in the secondary,'' Mangini said of the second-year pro. "He asked me different things he can do to improve and he's taken those things and acted on them.'' Rhodes had a team-high 11 tackles plus a crucial strip-sack against the Patriots but downplayed Mangini's comment. "It's impressive to me but I can't listen to it,'' Rhodes said. "I'm worried about this game plan against Buffalo.''

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Rhodes on right path


Newsday Staff Writer

September 22, 2006

It isn't often that coach Eric Mangini hands out unsolicited praise to a player. So when he noted how pleased he has been with Kerry Rhodes' work at safety, it was certainly newsworthy. Especially to Rhodes, who seemed stunned by the compliments.

He shouldn't have been. From the beginning of training camp, Rhodes has been a solid player. After starting 16 games as a rookie last season, he has emerged this year as a heavy-hitting player with his tackling and thinking.

Rhodes also has developed into a solid blitzer. In Week 1 he made the Titans' Kerry Collins rush a fourth-and-goal pass that would have tied the score in the final minute. Last Sunday, Rhodes' sack of Tom Brady caused a fumble that led to a Jets' field goal and a near comeback.

"We needed the ball in that situation," Rhodes said. "I wasn't going for the sack, I was going for the ball the whole time."

Rhodes covered Patriots TE Ben Watson most of the game, allowing him only one reception (Watson had two in other coverage schemes). He also made a leaping break-up on a pass to an open Watson in the end zone.

"When [Mangini] first came and talked to me, he told me I had the potential to be a good safety and the potential to be a good leader," Rhodes said. "You've got to do your job and do what you do first. If you do everything right, people will follow you."

Jet streams

The Jets could have headaches on special teams Sunday. The Bills have had the league's top unit the last two seasons, and Coy Wire was recently named AFC special teams player of the week ... Wade Smith has been practicing at guard and other positions on offense. If Pete Kendall (hamstring) can't play, Smith could replace him. LG Norm Katnik was benched in the second half last week ... WR Tim Dwight, CB David Barrett, Laveranues Coles and Kendall remain questionable and Chad Pennington (calf) is probable.

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Awaiting opportunity

McCareins, Houston eager to contribute and could get shots Sunday


Newsday Staff Writer

September 22, 2006

Cedric Houston and Justin McCareins have been on the outskirts of the Jets' offense this season. Houston, one of the running backs who was supposed to help fill the abyss left by injured Curtis Martin, was inactive the first two games. McCareins, a onetime starter whose season began on a down note when he flunked Eric Mangini's precamp fitness test, has been relegated to the second team behind wide receivers Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery.

It's been difficult for either player to find a crack and try to squeeze through it for some serious playing time. This week, however, both could be getting their chance.

With starting running back Derrick Blaylock away from the team yesterday to be with his wife, Kristen, when she gives birth to their fourth child, and Coles nursing an injury to his left calf that has limited him in practices this week, Houston and McCareins could wiggle their way into more significant roles Sunday against the Bills.

"It's a good opportunity for me to get out there and get some reps with the ones," Houston said of practicing with the first team. In previous weeks, he played behind Blaylock and Kevan Barlow in practices and worked mostly with the scout team to give the defense a sense of that week's opponent.

The only Jets running back to have a decent game since Martin was hurt late last season, Houston has been sidelined because Blaylock and Leon Washington have larger special-teams roles than he does. Houston ran for 227 yards in the final four games of 2005. He also had the best preseason performance of any Jets running back when he ran for 108 yards, albeit against the Eagles' scrubs.

"Anybody who's inactive, it definitely makes you hungry because you think you can get out there and help the team out," Houston said.

McCareins at least played in the first two games, making six catches for 85 yards. In the opening game, he was on the end of a short Chad Pennington TD pass that was nullified when the Titans called a timeout because they had 10 men on the field.

That's the type of year it's been for McCareins. While Cotchery has been establishing himself as a premier receiver thanks to his acrobatic catch and TD run Sunday and Coles has Jets fans remembering his breakout year of 2002 instead of his shaky 2005 return to the Jets, McCareins' best moment was on a play that did not count.

"Everybody out here wants to be the guy, wants the ball in their hands in certain situations," McCareins said of dealing with his diminished role. "But that's the way it goes. Life goes on. You make the most of the opportunities you get."

Mangini, who hinted earlier in the week that he might shuffle the tailbacks and give Houston some action, said Blaylock's absence would not affect that decision (though his 1.8 yards per carry might). Mangini also could go with the speedy Washington in the backfield.

As for the receivers, McCareins isn't the only option to replace Coles if Coles cannot play (he's still listed as questionable). Tim Dwight, who has been inactive since late in preseason with a quadriceps bruise, could see his first playing time. Rookie Brad Smith, a four-year quarterback at Missouri, could see time at running back or receiver.

Coles is likely to play. Mangini has routinely praised his "toughness," and Coles said yesterday that he likes being a player the coaches don't have to worry about giving his all. However, his role in the newly emphasized passing game could at the very least be diminished. Even that could create more chances for McCareins.

"I don't think there's very many guys right now in this offense who are feeling selfish," McCareins said. "I'm certainly not. Everyone wants to contribute, definitely, but it seems like there's enough balls to get around."

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Jets should run to Smith

By Vic Ziegel

Wit and wisdom, but mostly wisdom, from Jets coach Eric Mangini: "If the (offensive) line blocks good it'll be good for any running back."

He didn't mention his offensive line, or his running backs, but you probably had that figured out. Two weeks into the season, and because we know this is one coach who doesn't spend his nights working the comedy rooms, we can only conclude that the Jets' offensive line isn't blocking good. Or, to be kind, good enough.

On Sunday, when the Jets managed to make it close against New England - well, close to close - their running backs tied an NFL record. (But if you're looking for a compliment, turn to the baseball pages.) The Jets had 24 carries and averaged a feeble 2.1 yards. Pathetic, feeble, both work.

The disappointing day produced a record the ball-carriers probably don't talk about. It's for the number of rushing first downs in one game - shared with who knows how many teams (but mostly Tampa Bay): None, not one, zip, nada. For the season, the Jets have managed a total of four rushing first downs, and they're running nose-and-nose with Tampa Bay, a team that's collected three points.

When Curtis Martin went to the top of the Physically Unable to Perform list, it was no surprise that the Jets would have a problem picking up inches. So far, Derrick Blaylock and Kevan Barlow have split 50 carries and gained a total of 120 yards. When Martin was healthy, 120 yards in one game might not earn him a headline.

Blaylock didn't make it to practice yesterday and not because he was hurt. The NFL doesn't have an injury category - probable, doubtful - when players skip practice because their wives are about to give birth. "I don't know the specifics of it," Mangini said. "I just know the stork is circling. There's definitely been a sighting."

The coach didn't say Blaylock would be on the field for Sunday's game in Buffalo but he doesn't sound concerned about the time he'll be missing. "Derrick does such a good job of preparation, I feel very comfortable that he'll be back and up to speed in no time," Mangini said.

Blaylock came here from Kansas City before last season. The Jets probably were hoping they were getting the same player whose first start in the league, against New Orleans in 2004, was an afternoon to remember. (Afternoon, frankly, is just a guess. But it doesn't seem possible that the Chiefs and Saints ever worked in prime time.) He gained 186 yards on 33 carries that day. Hasn't come close to that number but maybe, just maybe, if the offensive line cooperates, he's capable of a few more bust-out games. Make his new son or daughter proud.

The Jets need to start running in the right direction because Chad Pennington can't keep averaging 35 throws a game. He looks strong, and sounds strong, as usual, but Buffalo hasn't been a lucky town for him. Two years ago, in the home of wings, he hurt his shoulder for the first time and missed the next three games. The film he's been studying this week is in the horror category - the Bills piling up seven sacks against Miami on Sunday.

So you have to wonder if the Jets' offensive line - two rookie starters and the hurting Pete Kendall - can bring that number down. They truth is, they better. And can it make runners out of the running backs, which sounds like a tougher assignment.

"You hate to see your quarterback get hit, and the running game not go," Kendall said yesterday. "But the other team has something to say about that."

There is one other Jet name worth thinking about. He's Brad Smith, who was drafted in the fourth round after a monumental four years at Missouri. He was the first player in Division I history to pass for more than 8,000 yards and rush for 4,000.

Why didn't some GM call out his name earlier? Simple. The scouting departments weren't brave enough. On the Jets' roster he's listed as a wide receiver/quarterback and there was some talk, in the spring, about trying him at running back. He did nice work in the preseason, most of it at quarterback, but he was a receiver and rusher in the first game against Tennessee. One sprint became an important first down in the Jets' winning drive late in the last quarter. Against New England, he was strictly a special teams player.

Buffalo? "I don't know what to expect," he says.

He began playing quarterback in the peewee leagues his second season. He was 8. "My first year," he said, "I was on the offensive line."

He might not want Mangini to hear that.

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McCareins ready, Justin case



Eric Mangini lauded Laveranues Coles yesterday for the "rare toughness" he shows while catching balls over the middle and for the way he deals with injuries. But the Jets' leading receiver admitted his normally high threshold for pain often is tested in the NFL, and this will be one of those weeks for him.

With Coles limited in practice for the second straight day and still listed as questionable for Sunday's game against Buffalo with a left calf injury, the Jets' depth at wide receiver figures to be challenged against a Bills defense that has excelled this season against the pass. Meanwhile, a thigh injury has slowed Tim Dwight.

If Coles is unable to play, expect an increased role for forgotten man Justin McCareins, who lost his starting spot to Jerricho Cotchery over the summer.

"You'd have to talk to Laveranues to find out what's happening with him, but we're focusing on what we have to do at every position at the receiver spot just in case anything happens in the course of the game," McCareins said before practice yesterday at Hofstra.

"I don't think there's too many guys right now in this offense feeling selfish. I know I'm certainly not. Guys want to win games and be productive and everyone wants to contribute.

"I know I'm going to get chances, regardless. And I plan on making the most of them every week."

Coles has picked up where he left off as the go-to-receiver for Chad Pennington, leading the NFL with 253 yards on 14 catches through the Jets' 1-1 start. Cotchery has hauled in 12 receptions already - seven shy of last season's total - and scored two touchdowns, including a highlight reel 71-yard score in Week 2 that might have been the play of the season so far in the NFL.

McCareins, who caught 99 passes in his first two seasons with the Jets, has been a less-frequent target with six catches for 85 yards.

"(Not starting) is not that big of an adjustment. I'm usually in there by the second or third play anyway," McCareins said. "Whether it's labels, or a little bit of a pride thing, life goes on and you focus on what you have to do out there. ... Whatever you're trying to prove, you do on the field. But I don't focus on whether I'm starting or not. You have to make the most of your opportunities either way."

With Cotchery likely to draw more double-teams if Coles is out or ineffective, McCareins and rookie "slash" receiver Brad Smith, the former Missouri quarterback, will have to penetrate a Buffalo defense that limited Tom Brady and Daunte Culpepper to an average of 163 yards through the air (seventh in the NFL) the first two games.

Not helping matters, of course, is the Jets' running game, which has averaged only 71 yards through two weeks.

Coles participated in early noncontact drills during yesterday's practice before reporters were cleared from the field. He otherwise leaned on Mangini's policy not to discuss injuries when asked about his status.

"There's a lot of receivers here doing excellent things and I'm proud to be a part of it," Coles said. "There's no doubt, these guys are the best. I enjoy working with them and just being around them and seeing the work and effort they put into things, they are a great group. Without them, I wouldn't be able to do some of things I've been able to do."

This week, the others might have to see what they can do without Coles.

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JET STREAM: Laveranues Coles, who found some space

against the Patriots last week, hopes to do the same against

the Bills Sunday despite a left calf injury.

Photo: AP

September 22, 2006 -- Laveranues Coles was walking to his locker yesterday with his injured left calf wrapped tightly in an Ace bandage. Media members began pursuing the Jets wide receiver, hoping for a clue as to how the calf was healing and if he thought he could play Sunday against the Bills.

"We've been informed to stay away from those types of questions," Coles said. "I'm doing what I can to get back. If you have any questions about my leg, you can talk to the medical staff or ask the head coach."

Coles then added he wouldn't answer, "unless you guys want to pay [my fine] for me."

The Jets' star receiver, listed as questionable, appeared capable of playing yesterday, though he missed some of practice yesterday and Wednesday. In the first half hour of practice, which the media is permitted to watch, Coles seemed to be moving fine yesterday and was running patterns with the rest of the receivers.

The 28-year-old receiver has thrived in year two of his Jets comeback, with 253 yards on 14 catches through the Jets' first two games. Coles struggled after returning to New York last year after a trade with the Redskins, and as the Jets' season sunk, Coles slumped.

"I'm just sorry that I came back here and things didn't go well for me the first year," Coles said. "We all had a little growing pains last year. We had quite a few injuries. We just had things where it didn't work out the way I wanted it to work out."

Coles did not have one 100-yard receiving game last year; this year, he has already had two. Part of that can be attributed to a healthy Chad Pennington. The quarterback and Coles clicked in 2002 during Coles' first go-round with the Jets, but last year, when Pennington went down with a shoulder injury in Week 3, Coles suddenly lost one of the big reasons he wanted to come back to Long Island.

"When you have a great quarterback like Chad and he has a lot of trust in you, it makes it that much better for me as a player," Coles said. "I'm just excited that we have had opportunities to get on the field together and kind of rekindle that bond we had in the past."

Coles' ability has opened things up for some of the other Jets receivers. Both Jerricho Cotchery and Justin McCareins have come up with big catches this season.

"He definitely draws attention from defenses and secondaries because of his big-play abilities," McCareins said. "He's a big play receiver. He makes tough catches and he runs after the catch as good as anyone. He catches the deep ball. That's obviously a big weapon."

Coles heard the talk this winter that he had lost a step and was no longer the same receiver he was when he put up back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons in 2002-03.

"I never really had anything to prove but I like for people to see 'this guy hasn't lost anything, he's still here,' " Coles said.

"You don't want to be looked at as someone who's lost a step, or that the team has made a mistake."


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September 22, 2006 -- During Eric Mangini's opening comments to the media yesterday, the Jets coach commended one player without even being asked about him - second-year safety Kerry Rhodes.

"I think he's really starting to develop some positive leadership skills in the secondary," Mangini said. "His preparation during the week, the maturity. In our conversation, when he asks me about different things that he could do to improve at his position, he's taking those things and he's acted on them."

Rhodes led the Jets with 11 tackles against the Patriots last week, and had a big sack of Tom Brady early in the fourth quarter that forced a fumble. The Jets recovered and went on to kick a field goal, cutting the Pats' lead to 24-17.

The 24-year-old Rhodes had 108 tackles and one interception as a rookie under Herman Edwards last year. He quickly impressed Mangini this summer with the way he worked in training camp.

"What I've noticed most is him trying to improve himself by talking to the older players or really figuring out areas of weakness and the things that you can work on outside of the building, outside of the regular-scheduled practice time," Mangini said. "That proactive behavior is great."

Mangini met Rhodes while he was an assistant in New England. He interviewed Rhodes when the safety entered the draft out of Louisville.

Rhodes said Mangini encouraged him when the two reunited after Mangini took over the Jets.

"When he first came, he spoke with me and told me that I have the potential to be a good safety and have the potential to be a good leader," Rhodes said.


RB Derrick Blaylock missed yesterday's practice because his wife Kristen went into labor with the couple's fourth child. . . . Mangini showed his team a motivational video featuring former 49ers receiver Jerry Rice, dealing with Rice's famous work ethic.

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Bills' McGahee load of a problem for Vilma, Jets

Friday, September 22, 2006


Star-Ledger Staff

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- In the past three meetings between the teams, Bills running back Willis McGahee has owned the Jets, and therefore has owned his former college teammate and good friend at Miami, linebacker Jonathan Vilma.

McGahee, who battled back from a career-threatening knee injury suffered against Ohio State in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of those games against the Jets, including a career-high 143-yard performance in the Bills' 27-17 victory in Buffalo last season.

The Bills (1-1), who play host to the Jets (1-1) on Sunday, are 2-1 in those games.

Asked if McGahee has reminded him that he holds the upper hand in their rivalry, Vilma smiled and said, "Yeah, just a little bit."

McGahee said the competitiveness between he and Vilma dates back to their days at Miami, when they competed in practice to make each other better.

"It's always a battle with that guy," McGahee said. "It's something we had at Miami."

McGahee, 6-foot, 228 pounds, is the engine that drives the Bills' offense, having put together back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons the past two years. He has the speed to turn the corner and the power and toughness to run inside. He has rushed for 388 yards and two touchdowns on 88 carries (4.4-yard average) against the Jets.

It will be interesting to see if Jets coach Eric Mangini, who has installed a new 3-4 scheme, can come up with a game plan to stop McGahee.

"McGahee is one of the elite backs in the league," Jets defensive end Shaun Ellis said. "He's quick. He has good vision. He always stays alive and he falls forward. He's a great outside runner and he can run between the tackles. He has the total package."

McGahee, a fourth-year pro, has rushed for 161 yards on 45 carries this season (3.6-yard average). More importantly, he has controlled games after the Bills jumped to early leads and kept the pressure off third-year quarterback J.P. Losman.

Losman, who struggled last season, has simply had to manage games instead of win them. The Bills lost to the Patriots, 19-17, on a fourth-quarter sack and safety of Losman on a blitz and defeated the Dolphins, 16-6, last week in Miami. Losman has no turnovers while completing 26 of 41 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown.

"He's playing more mature than he has in the past," Jets linebacker Eric Barton said of Losman. "He's not making big mistakes. He's doing a great job. He's making all the throws he needs to make and his ballhandling is better than it was in the past."

Even so, Losman hasn't had to play catch-up and that's the situation the Jets are hoping to put him in by getting off to a quick start. The Jets haven't scored in the first quarter this season. They scored just 23 points in the first quarter all of last season.

"You need to stop the run and make a team one-dimensional," Barton said. "That's what winning defenses do. They make you play left-handed."

Thus far, the Jets' new defense has played to mixed reviews.

"I haven't had to make any adjustments, necessarily," said Vilma, who had seven tackles last week against the Patriots. "You just have to play within the scheme. You're not going to see me dashing out there going to make the play. We have to play assignment football."

On Sunday in Buffalo, the assignment is to stop Willis McGahee in his tracks.

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Looks like Barlow will carry the load

Friday, September 22, 2006


Star-Ledger Staff

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- RB Kevan Barlow worked with the first team yesterday -- Derrick Blaylock was excused from practice to be with his wife for the birth of the couple's fourth child -- and he'll get the bulk of the carries, if not the start, against the Bills on Sunday.

Blaylock, who is expected back at practice today, will likely be used mainly in third-down situations, as he was last Sunday.

Cedric Houston, the hard-charging second-year pro, appears to be the odd man out again, although the Jets' running game continues to struggle and his ability to break tackles would help. Houston has been inactive for the first two games.

"I'm not angry," Houston said. "I just go out and keep working hard and control the stuff I can control and don't worry about the stuff I can't control."

Coach Eric Mangini has praised Houston's attitude and work ethic.

As expected, WR Laveranues Coles (calf) will play Sunday. He ran freely during the early portion of practice that was open to the media.

"The one thing that is indisputable about Laveranues is his toughness," Mangini said. "That guy, whether it's catching the in-cuts or dealing with injuries, that guy's got rare toughness. I think he'll make progress here as the week goes on."

Coles, who was reacquired prior to last season and had a subpar year in 2005, is second in AFC in receptions with 14 for 253 yards and a TD.

"I like people to see that 'this guy hasn't lost anything,'" Coles said.

LG Pete Kendall (hamstring) was limited once again and is unlikely to play Sunday. Norm Katnik worked with the first team and is expected to get his second consecutive start.

Former Dolphin Wade Smith, who was signed last week, worked with the second team at left guard yesterday. If Katnik struggles early, Smith may get the call. G/T Adrian Jones is also in the mix.

Ex-Bills C/T Trey Teague (ankle), who returned to practice last week after being out since June, was limited again and isn't expected to play CB David Barrett (hip) will play.

S Kerry Rhodes (15 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and one INT) was praised by Mangini without prompting yesterday during his news conference. Mangini said Rhodes covers a lot of ground in coverage, is good in man-to-man situations and is tough enough to play in the box.

P Ben Graham praised his Bills counterpart, Brian Moorman, who placed five punts inside the 20-yard line, three inside the 10-yard line, last week against the Dolphins.

"He's awesome," Graham said. "He's probably the best punter in the league. And he's kicking up there in Buffalo where you get all that weather."

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Finding new Rhodes to success


Friday, September 22, 2006



HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- The Kerry Rhodes Self-Improvement Plan is proceeding apace.

Jets coach Eric Mangini, without prompting, praised the second-year strong safety's emerging leadership skills Thursday.

"Kerry's really embracing the idea of being a core communicator," Mangini said. "There's his preparation during the week, his maturity."

"Coach told me I had the potential to be a good leader," Rhodes said, "so I've tried to put it out there on the field and see what I can do. It's working so far."

It wouldn't be working as well if Rhodes were all sizzle and no steak, but he's coming off the best game of his 18-start Jets career in the Sunday loss to New England.

He had a team-leading 11 tackles, one off his career high. He also made a leaping breakup of a Tom Brady pass ticketed for tight end Ben Watson, who had gotten behind him and was waiting for an easy six in the end zone.

He was on the dangerous Watson the whole game and, despite a sore ankle from Tennessee that still has him limping slightly, he gave up only two first-down receptions.

But the centerpiece of his day was the first strip sack of his career, on that seven-man blitz against Brady early in the fourth quarter.

"When I got free, that's all I was thinking: 'Go for the ball,' " said Rhodes, who barreled in from the blind side and punched the pigskin loose for Bryan Thomas to recover just as Brady was ****ing his arm to throw. "We needed the ball in that situation. I wasn't going for the sack. I was going for the ball the whole time."

By getting the ball, he also got the sack, the second of his career.

And that's another dimension of the improvement plan. By an unofficial count, in Donnie Henderson's defense last season, he blitzed 32 times, twice a game, and got his first pro sack, of Denver's Jake Plummer.

This season, coordinator Bob Sutton has sent Rhodes six times, three each game.

"Yeah, he's put me down to make more plays at the line of scrimmage," Rhodes said. "I've been able to take advantage of it and make a couple."

What will look really good late Sunday afternoon in western New York is if the third plank of the plan kicks in and Rhodes, besides his coverage and blitzing, makes a significant contribution in slowing down Buffalo featured back Willis McGahee.

"I'm trying, I'm trying," he laughed, about bulking up and becoming a better tackler after a knock on him coming out of Louisville was that he wasn't an eighth-man-in-the-box type of safety. "That was a big thing, too. I wanted to be more physical, make the running backs feel it a little more this year. I think I'm coming along pretty good."

So does Mangini, who first met Rhodes at New England during last year's pre-draft interview period.

"You could see how intelligent he was -- that was the initial meeting I had with him," Mangini said. "And he's a very rangy guy, but in being rangy, he's also able to play down in the box, play man-to-man coverage.

"What I've noticed most is him trying to improve himself, by talking to the older players, really figuring out his areas of weakness and things he can work on outside of the building, outside of the regular practice time. That proactive behavior is great."

As for the plan, Rhodes modestly said, "It looks good right now."

E-mail: lange@northjersey.com

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Jets notebook

Friday, September 22, 2006

Tough Lav

In the latest episode of "Lav and the Coach," Eric Mangini praised his tough-guy wide receiver, Laveranues Coles.

"Whether it's catching in-cuts or dealing with injuries," Mangini said, "that guy's got rare toughness."

Coles was happy to hear the praise but couldn't resist another tweak of the boss.

"I never knew Coach noticed much of anything around here," he said. "It's good that he's paying attention. I just try to be one of those guys he doesn't have to worry about, that he knows is going to show up and compete, that I'm going to give him everything I have."

Coles again was limited at practice with a sore left calf from the New England game. Neither player nor coach would comment on whether he'll play at Buffalo on Sunday.

Since 2001, Coles has started 85 straight games.

Baby and backs

Derrick Blaylock was excused as his wife, Kristen, was about to give birth to their fourth child.

"I don't know the specifics, but the stork is circling," Mangini said, indicating the tailback, who started the first two games, should play at Buffalo. The coach also said Blaylock's paternity leave will have no bearing on Cedric Houston, deactivated for the first two games.

That's not necessarily bad news. There is a sense Houston will be active for the Bills and available to help the Jets' ailing ground game -- their 2.4 yards per carry is 31st in the NFL.


Norm Katnik was still at left guard with the first offense early in practice, but Mangini said Katnik, Adrian Jones and Wade Smith all worked at multiple positions, among them LG. ... Thursday's injury report was identical to Wednesday's. Four players -- Coles, WR Tim Dwight, G Pete Kendall and CB David Barrett -- are questionable and C-T Trey Teague is doubtful. All five practiced but each missed a portion of team drills.

-- Randy Lange

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Jets blog

Friday, September 22, 2006

Mike's kind of game

September 22, 2006

Special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff won't be available for reporters until the Jets' November bye week, so we won't hear him pumping up Sunday's showdown with the Bills' excellent specialists.

But Brad Kassell, who came over from Tennessee and is now one of Westhoff's top contributors, provided an update Thursday.

"Mike's an intense dude. He's a little different," Kassell said. "He's not a big compliment guy. That's not how he motivates. He tries to gas you up, and that's how I like it."

"He gets fired up for practice and he'll definitely be fired up for this game. We're going to go out there and give it our best shot."

-- Randy Lange

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