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Jets News for Tues. 8/28/07


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COMEBACK STILL ALIVE FOR ANDRE

By DAN MARTIN

August 28, 2007 -- The Jets announced another round of cuts yesterday and Andre Wadsworth wasn't on it.

The former defensive end, who was the third overall pick in 1998, still has a long way to go to secure a roster spot as a linebacker, but the fact he is still around is success enough for him.

"To me, the battle has already been won," said Wadsworth, who has battled a seemingly overwhelming number of injuries since entering the league and made a memorable play in Saturday's win over the Giants, when he stripped backup QB Tim Hasselbeck and the Jets recovered. "To not miss one practice during training camp, that's amazing."

Wadsworth's disbelief in his own health is understandable.

After a standout career at Florida State, he was drafted by the Cardinals and had five sacks as a rookie - the only season he managed to play in all 16 games. A year later, he was limited to 11 games and then nine in 2000, the last time he played in the NFL.

In all, Wadsworth has undergone 15 surgeries before deciding to come back. He knows his future with the Jets remains uncertain, at best.

"I hope the team can be patient with me, but I know that's not the nature of the business," said Wadsworth, who dropped weight to make the switch to linebacker. "It's just taken a lot longer than I expected."

But he managed to open some eyes against the Giants when he ran down Hasselbeck. Among them was Chad Pennington, who knows a thing or two about returning from possible career-ending injuries.

"It shows you how driven he is and how much passion he has for the game," said Pennington, whose shoulder problems have kept him on the sideline more than he would have liked. "I thought my situation was bad, but I can't really comprehend it, to be able to come back and have the desire and the passion after what he's been through. We were all excited for him to make some plays and get back to what he's known for: Being in the backfield and terrorizing quarterbacks."

It was the kind of play Wadsworth - and plenty of others - thought he'd make a lot of when he came out of college.

"Instinct takes over on a play like that," Wadsworth said.

And despite having a locker filled with various remedies - "I've got to do everything, there's a lot of maintenance over here" - the 32-year-old knows that no matter what he does, he's not going to be the player scouts envisioned.

"It's tough to look at film when you're used to being a guy who could run a 4.5 40 [yard dash] and had a 40-inch vertical [leap]," Wadsworth said. "I'm not the same guy."

But he's learned to live with that.

"I want to ride this thing out as long as I can," Wadsworth said. "The doctors said I would never get this opportunity again."

With the Jets' fourth and final preseason game approaching - and the final roster cuts - it's unclear how much longer that opportunity will last.

"Now the clock is really ticking," said Wadsworth, adding that he would look elsewhere if the Jets do part ways with him. "I'm a fighter. In some ways, I enjoy adversity. But I won't beat a dead horse."

For one more game, though, he's still alive.

dan.martin@nypost.com

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ENTIRE O-LINE DESERVES BLAME

By DAN MARTIN

August 28, 2007 -- Despite nearly being trampled during the Jets' preseason game against the Giants on Saturday, Chad Pennington again stood up for Jacob Bender, the beleaguered left guard who is trying to replace Pete Kendall - and so did his coach, who placed blame throughout the offensive line.

"There were definitely things he could have done better, and he's not alone," Eric Mangini said of Bender. The Jets would appear to be in the market for an established player to fill the void, but none was on the practice field yesterday. "And there are a lot of different age groups across that line and issues that weren't unique to him."

Mangini pointed to D'Brickashaw Ferguson, who - like Bender - surrendered a sack.

"There are plays across the board, whether it was a rookie or whether it was an established vet, that each guy had that needed to be improved upon," Mangini said.

Or else Pennington might not survive.

"I don't have a concern [about Bender]," Pennington said. "I know what type of guys we have in that unit and our offense. I know what type player he is. I know how physical he is. You can't teach a guy to get off the football and this guy knows how to get off the football. He knows how to strike his opponent. We can fix those [other mistakes]. We've had a really good camp and just because the preseason games haven't gone as well as we would have liked, we don't need to push the panic button."

*

The Jets got down to 75 players after yesterday's cuts. Among the eight players let go was veteran WR Tim Dwight, who has battled injuries throughout his tenure with the team. . . . Mangini said he was unsure how much the starters will play in Thursday's preseason finale in Philadelphia. Pennington said he didn't have a preference whether he played, despite the offense's struggles against the Giants.

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Jets notebook

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Chad likely a spectator

Although Chad Pennington has a 51.6 passer rating this preseason, don't expect to see him try to improve it when the Jets visit Philadelphia on Thursday.

Eagles' coach Andy Reid traditionally rests his regulars in this game, which is the preseason finale for both teams for the eighth straight year. The Jets often have rested their first-stringers, including in last year's game.

Pennington didn't play against Philadelphia last year, but did have a cameo in the 2005 game and led the Jets to a touchdown in his one possession. He's led them to 13 points in 24 preseason possessions in 2007, although one of those series was a one-play kneel-down at the end of the first half Saturday against the Giants.

"I don't know what to think," Pennington said Monday when asked if he felt the need to play Thursday. "I'm just excited to get out here and practice and work through all these things. Whatever happens on Thursday happens."

When asked if he would play his starters, coach Eric Mangini said, "We'll look at it a little bit later."

Dwight released

The Jets announced eight cuts Monday as they got down to the NFL-mandated 75 active players a day before it was required. Among those was 32-year-old wide receiver-punt returner Tim Dwight, who played the first 11 games last season before being sidelined by foot surgery. He had 16 receptions for 112 yards in 2006 and averaged 10.4 yards on 14 punt returns. Dwight spent the entire training camp on the physically-unable-to-perform list.

Briefs

Free safety Eric Smith (hamstring) and cornerbacks Andre Dyson (leg) and Justin Miller (hamstring) returned to practice. Defensive tackle Eric Hicks, who left Saturday's game with a leg injury, also practiced.

Mangini defended the play of rookie left guard Jacob Bender, who gave up a sack Saturday in his first start. "I thought like the rest of the group," Mangini said, "there were definitely things he could have done better, and he's not alone."

-- J.P. Pelzman

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Cut or not, Jet LB happy with comeback

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

By J.P. PELZMAN

STAFF WRITER

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- His NFL career could end later this week. Yet Andre Wadsworth is at peace with himself -- and his football mortality.

After all, he thought his career was over six years ago.

Since he last played in the NFL in 2000, Wadsworth has endured 11 knee surgeries before attempting a comeback with the Jets this summer. The defensive end-turned-linebacker survived the cutdown to 75 players Monday, which means he should get some extended playing time against Philadelphia in the preseason finale Thursday.

NFL teams must reduce their rosters to 53 by Saturday.

The last preseason game is a time to rest the starters and the key backups to guarantee that they will be healthy when the real season starts. There was a time when Wadsworth, the third overall draft pick in 1998, was one of those guys.

Now this successful businessman, 32, is fighting with rookie free agents and other youngsters just for a roster spot, but he doesn't mind. No matter what happens, Wadsworth already has proven something. At least to himself.

"To me, the battle is already won," said Wadsworth, who had a quarterback strip to end the Giants' final possession in the Jets' 20-12 victory Saturday night.

"To come back from the type of injuries that I've had," said Wadsworth, who co-owns six Florida car dealerships, "and the surgeries that I've had and to make it through camp and not miss one practice, that is huge to me. To me, the battle is won and I've learned a lot about myself."

As have Wadsworth's teammates, who have gotten a close-up look at his determination.

"I thought my situation was bad," said Chad Pennington, who had two rotator-cuff surgeries on his throwing shoulder within a span of eight months in 2005. "But to listen to his situation and what he's been through, I can't really comprehend it. It's just unfathomable.

"To be able to come back and have the desire and passion after what he's been through is remarkable."

Wadsworth credits his wife's support as being instrumental in his being able to stay positive.

"She's pushed me around in wheelchairs in airports," Wadsworth said of Subyn, who is almost eight months pregnant with the couple's third child. "She's endured just as much as I've endured."

But on one play Saturday, Wadsworth recaptured the form that led to 16 sacks as a senior at Florida State in 1997.

Backup quarterback Tim Hasselbeck scrambled to his right and Wadsworth pried the ball loose. Linebacker Anthony Schlegel recovered for the Jets.

"It was just a play," said Wadsworth, who was in for only two snaps Saturday. "The play was presented to me to go out there and football instincts took over. I went for the ball and made the strip."

His odds of sticking after this week still aren't good, but Thursday will provide him one more chance to make his case.

"It gives me another opportunity," Wadsworth said, "to go out there and show them whether I'm worthy enough to be on the team or not."

And if the Jets decide that he's not, he'll be OK with it, although if another team gave him a shot, Wadsworth would keep trying.

"It's the nature of the business," he said of possibly being cut. "It happens. It's not the end of the world."

E-mail: pelzman@northjersey.com

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Wads' comeback try worth it

BY RICH CIMINI

DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER

Tuesday, August 28th 2007, 4:00 AM

amd_andrewadsworth.jpg

Despite 13 knee surgeries and a six-year absence from the league, Andre Wadsworth made it through an entire preseason with the Jets, not missing a single training-camp practice.

Andre Wadsworth's days are numbered. Barring the unexpected, his inspirational comeback will end Thursday night in Philadelphia, where the Jets play their final preseason game. A day or two later, he will receive a phone call or a tap on the shoulder from the "Turk," who will deliver the news that shatters hundreds of players every year in the NFL at the final cut: Return your playbook.

Wadsworth won't be shattered.

"To me," he said yesterday at Hofstra, "the battle has already been won."

In Rocky Balboa-like fashion, Wadsworth has won by going the distance, overcoming long odds and a broken-down body. Eight months ago, he was a 298-pound, ex-jock-turned-businessman, living the good life. Now he's a 255-pound linebacker, patching a hole that exists in the souls of every man who let cold feet stop him from trying something adventurous or reliving part of his youth.

Not Wadsworth.

Despite 13 knee surgeries and a six-year absence from the league, the Cardinals' former first-round pick made it through an entire preseason with the Jets, not missing a single training-camp practice. That's hard for any player, let alone a 32-year-old whose knees belong in the orthopedic Hall of Fame.

"I thought my situation was bad, but to listen to his situation and what he's been through, I can't really comprehend it," said Chad Pennington, who won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award last season after returning from his second shoulder surgery. "It's just unfathomable."

Wadsworth dropped the weight, switched positions (he broke in as a defensive end) and conditioned his mind and body for one last hurrah, all in the name of closure. His forever moment came Saturday night against the Giants. He appeared in only two plays at the end of the fourth quarter, a sure sign of his impending fate, but he turned the last one into something out of 1998.

For a fleeting moment, Wadsworth was young and fast again, chasing Tim Hasselbeck out of the pocket, tackling him and forcing a fumble that was recovered by the Jets. His career was supposed to be filled with plays like that - he was the third pick in the '98 draft - but devastating knee injuries forced him to retire in 2000.

"I remember growing up - it's funny to say 'growing up' - but when he came out, that's what he was known for, terrorizing quarterbacks and being in the backfield all the time," Pennington said. "That was nice to see."

It was an emotional moment for Wadsworth and his family, particularly his wife, Subyn, who is nearly eight months pregnant with their third child. She's never been a big football fan, never the rah-rah type at games, but Wadsworth couldn't help but notice her excitement after his big play.

"She's done it all with me," he said. "All the surgeries ... the rehab ... the workouts ... maybe playing, not playing ... jogging, not jogging ... pushing me around in wheelchairs in airports ... all the sleepless nights because I had machines hooked up to my legs. She's endured as much as I've endured. I can see the excitement is there, just as much for her as it is for me. It wasn't always like that before when I was playing."

In his locker, Wadsworth keeps a fish-oil supplement, a little something to "keep this Chevy rolling." He knows his run here could be ending soon, but he's hoping for at least 20 snaps against the Eagles, one last chance to state his case to the coaches. After that, he waits to learn his fate, just like the no-name free agents. He won't quit if he's released, but he also acknowledged, "I won't beat a dead horse."

Wadsworth owns six luxury-car dealerships, so he has plenty to fall back on. Asked about the prospect of being cut, he said, "It's not the end of the world. If you were going to Death Row, it would be a different thing."

At least he won't be faced with a lifetime of wondering, what if?

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Chad gives 'O' passing grade

BY RICH CIMINI

DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER

Tuesday, August 28th 2007, 4:00 AM

Chad Pennington is in denial. Either that, or he's a bigger optimist than anyone imagined. Despite two straight woeful performances, he refused to say the Jets' offense is in crisis.

"To be honest with you, we've had a really good camp," he said yesterday. "Just because the preseason games haven't gone as well as we would've liked, I don't think we need to push the panic button. We've had a really successful camp."

The Pennington-led offense has produced only seven points in 14 possessions over three games. He probably won't play in the preseason finale Thursday night in Philadelphia, leaving only six practices to get things fixed before the opener against the Patriots.

Pennington claimed he's not concerned by the uncertainty at left guard, where rookie Jacob Bender struggled in his first start. The Jets are exploring the guard market, but it will be difficult to integrate a veteran into the system by the opener. Eric Mangini, after breaking down Bender's performance against the Giants, refused to blame him for the shoddy pass-protection.

"I thought, like the rest of the group, there were definitely thing he could've done better - and he's not alone," Mangini said. "There are a lot of different age groups across that line, and the issues weren't unique to him."

DWIGHT CUT: The Jets trimmed the roster to 75, releasing eight players. The biggest name was veteran WR/PR Tim Dwight, who never got on the practice field because of a foot injury that lingered from last season. It's believed that he received an injury settlement.

Dwight, 32, was the Jets' leading punt returner last season. Evidently, they feel confident in rookies Darrelle Revis and Chansi Stuckey, the leading candidates to replace him.

A year ago, Dwight signed a four-year, $4.2 million contract that included a $750,000 signing bonus. Interestingly, he received his pink slip on the same day Michael Vick pleaded guilty to federal dogfighting charges. Dwight and Vick were linked in 2000, when the Falcons traded Dwight to the Chargers in a package for the first pick in the draft, which Atlanta used to take Vick.

HEALTHY OUTLOOK: The secondary is getting healthy. CB Justin Miller (hamstring) and S Eric Smith (leg), both of whom were injured early in training camp, returned to practice. Both probably will play the finale. CB Andre Dyson, who sat out last week's game with a lingering leg injury, also returned. But Dyson still isn't healthy; he's rehabbing the injury in a swimming pool.

KEEPING UP WITH JONES: RB Thomas Jones, sidelined since Aug. 12 with a strained calf, is moving much better. He still isn't practicing, but his rehab program has intensified and he's expected to play in the opener against the Patriots.

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Jets LB Harris is working on reading the offense

BY TOM ROCK

tom.rock@newsday.com

August 28, 2007

David Harris said one of the things he needs to improve on is recognizing what offenses are trying to do. He wants to be able to get a pre-snap read of personnel, analyze the formations, recall tendencies and measure a response - all in the space of a few precious seconds before the ball is snapped.

In other words, he wants instinct to take over.

That's what happened Saturday night against the Giants, on one play at least. With the Giants facing third-and-10 inside the red zone, Harris, an inside linebacker, sniffed out a screen pass to Reuben Droughns. At the same time Droughns caught the ball, he also caught a hurtin' full of Harris to the tune of minus-5 yards. The play helped hold the Giants to a field goal rather than a touchdown.

"The coaches did a real good job of getting us aware of that," Harris said. "We were in man coverage. He was my man. I saw the screen setting up and just made the play."

In a game in which the Jets' first-round pick made his preseason debut with a stellar performance at cornerback, and their sixth-round pick looked overwhelmed at left guard, the quiet, sturdy second-round pick had a quiet, sturdy game. Harris rotated in with the first team on defense and made five solo tackles, more than any other Jets linebacker.

"I like what David is doing," coach Eric Mangini said. "He does a nice job of going up and taking on the guards. He's got a good physical presence against those guys, but yet he's fluid in space, which I like."

In other words, of all the inside linebackers the Jets have, Harris may be the best naturally suited to play in the 3-4 scheme. While the team will have to rely on stunts and movement to get Jonathan Vilma more directly involved in the defense - he had a second straight zero-tackle game Saturday - they think Harris may be able to thrive in the base format.

"You look for that with the inside linebacker's spot, to be able to have the ability to go hit the guy with some pop and some power, lock him out," Mangini said.

Harris, who was thought to be more of a straight-ahead linebacker, has also showed an ability to maneuver in the open field. It's a skill that comes in handy when he's running under punts on special teams, a position he said he'd never played in his life.

"I feel real comfortable [in space]," Harris said. "That's part of being a linebacker."

Notes & quotes: The Jets released eight players: DE Darrell Adams, WR Tim Dwight, DT Zarnell Fitch, RB Tony Hollings, DB Rayshaun Kizer, WR Dante Ridgeway, OL Nick Smith and WR Juan Wong. Adams, a Bay Shore native, was a practice-squadder for the Jets late last year. Dwight was on the physically unable to perform list all preseason ... CBs Justin Miller (hamstring) and Andre Dyson (leg) participated in practice. Having rookie CB Darrelle Revis stand out in his debut Saturday probably aided the healing process. S Eric Smith (leg) also returned to practice ... RB Thomas Jones (calf) did not dress for practice but is still expected to be ready for the regular season.

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Wadsworth sitting on bubble with Jets

By ANDREW GROSS

THE JOURNAL NEWS

(Original publication: August 28, 2007)

HEMPSTEAD - Since reporting to the Jets for training camp, comeback candidate Andre Wadsworth has kept in contract with four people - his pregnant wife, his business partner, his physical therapist and his pastor.

"I've literally dropped off the map for a lot of people," said the 32-year-old Wadsworth, a former No. 3 overall draft pick who left the NFL in 2000 due to knee injuries and has since undergone 13 surgeries.

Never mind playing, Wadsworth once worried about being able to jog or even walk again. A strip-sack, such as the one he had at the end of Saturday's 20-12 preseason win over the Giants, was certainly out of the question.

Yet the converted defensive end was in the Jets' locker room yesterday, his long-shot attempt at making the team still alive after the Jets released eight players, including veteran wide receiver Tim Dwight, to get to the NFL limit of 75 for this week.

"I wanted to ride this thing out as much as I can because I look at this as I'll never get this opportunity again," said Wadsworth, who was originally drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the 1998 draft. "And I thought I'd never get this opportunity. The doctors said I'd never play again, and years go by and I'm still not running, still not jogging."

So even if the 6-foot-4, 272-pound Wadsworth is cut next week, as expected, when the Jets have to reduce their roster to 53, he will not be distraught.

He'll go back to his wife, Subyn, his two daughters, Sophia and Sarah, his expected third child and the six luxury car dealerships he owns in Florida.

"To me, the battle already has been won," Wadsworth said. "To come back from so many injuries, to come to camp and not miss one practice, that's huge to me."

Wadsworth said he's hoping to be on the field for about 20 plays in the Jets' preseason finale at Philadelphia Thursday night. He was on the field for two plays against the Giants.

On his second play, he grabbed Giants' quarterback Tim Hasselbeck as he scrambled to his right, forcing a fumble that linebacker Anthony Schlegel recovered on the Giants' 34-yard line with 2:05 left in the game.

"It shows what type of person he is, how driven he is and how much passion he has for the game," said Jets quarterback Chad Pennington, who was named last season's NFL comeback player of the year after injuring his rotator cuff in consecutive years. "I thought my situation was bad, but to listen to his situation and what he's been through, I can't really comprehend it. It's just unfathomable. I can't speak for everyone, but I'm pretty sure, especially the guys out there with him were excited."

Actually, Wadsworth said some of his bubble-mates were a little disappointed in his forcing a fumble because they knew they wouldn't get back on the field.

Still, that brief time was the most impressive Wadsworth has looked in his comeback. He said he's always come on strong as the preseason progresses, be it in high school, college or the pros.

And coach Eric Mangini said the fringe players still have a chance of convincing the coaching staff they belong.

"You go through and you look at the roster and see how it's composed and do some projections in terms of how many linebackers are you going to keep, how many defensive linemen, and who you think, realistically at that point, could be on the roster," Mangini said. "I've seen that so many times where a guy early in camp comes out, lights it on fire, then trails off. Or somebody who may have had a slow start really comes on."

Note: In addition to Dwight, who was on the physically-unable-to-perform list, the Jets released wide receivers Juan Wong and Dante Ridgeway, defensive linemen Darrell Adams and Zarnell Fitch, cornerback Rayshaun Kizer, offensive lineman Nick Smith and running back Tony Hollings.

Reach Andrew Gross at apgross@lohud.com and read his Jets' blog at www.jets.lohudblogs.com.

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Jones takes strides in rehabbing leg

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

BY DAVE HUTCHINSON

Star-Ledger Staff

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Jets running back Thomas Jones has stepped up his rehab of the strained right calf he suffered in practice on Aug. 12, when he came to a jump-stop in front of linebacker Brad Kassell during a blitz-pickup drill and crumbled to the turf in pain. He had been expected to miss two to three weeks.

The club received even more good news on the injury front as cornerback Justin Miller, who has been out since Aug. 5 with a right hamstring injury, safety Eric Smith (hamstring) and cornerback Andre Dyson (leg) all returned to practice.

After spending nearly two weeks mostly riding the stationary bike, Jones did a series of drills on the side with assistant strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi in which he put his full weight on his right leg. He did several agility drills, balanced himself on one leg, high-stepped down the field and jogged lightly while the media was allowed to watch the first 30 minutes of practice.

Jones, who missed just one game the past two seasons while rushing for more than 2,500 yards, won't play in Thursday's preseason finale at Philadelphia, but he'll almost certainly be ready for the opener vs. the Patriots.

Smith had been out since Aug. 6. Dyson, who was hobbled by a nagging right-leg injury throughout camp, missed two practices last week and the Giants game.

QB Chad Pennington, who has led the Jets to just one TD and two field goals in 14 series this preseason, insisted again that he's not worried about the offense. Coach Eric Mangini said he's undecided on whether the starters will play vs. the Eagles. He said he'll likely decide on a "case-by-case" basis.

"To be honest with you, we've had a really good camp," he said. "Just because the preseason games haven't gone as well as we would have liked, I don't think we need to push the panic button."

As the Jets keep an eye out for a veteran left guard, rookie Jacob Bender is as confident as ever after watching the film of his performance vs. the Giants. He allowed a sack and a pressure but didn't totally bottom out.

"I have to work on my technique," he said. "I know I can do it. It's just the fact of doing it every rep."

The Jets yesterday announced the release of eight players to get down to the mandatory 75-player limit by today, including veteran WR Tim Dwight, who had been on the physically unable to perform list with a foot injury. Also waived were DE Darrell Adams, NT Zarnell Fitch, RB Tony Hollings, WR Dante Ridgeway, G Nick Smith, CB Rayshaun Kizer and WR Juan Wong.

CB Manny Collins, a Rutgers product and Plainfield native, has caught the coaches' eye and is a strong candidate for the practice squad because the Jets have a surplus of cornerbacks.

LB Andre Wadsworth, who is trying to make a comeback after a six-year layoff, survived the first cut but will likely be released when teams cut down to 53 on Sept. 1. He has had a quiet camp but did have a strip/sack late in the Giants game.

"To me, the battle is already won," he said. "To come back from the type of injuries that I have had and the surgeries and to make it through camp and not miss one practice, that is huge to me. I have learned a lot about myself."

Wadsworth, selected third overall in 1998, had 13 surgeries during his career. He last played in 2000. Should he get cut, he can still look forward to the birth of his third child. His wife is eight months pregnant.

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Jets expecting some big things from little Leon

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

BY DAVE HUTCHINSON

Star-Ledger Staff

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Nose tackle Dewayne Robertson sometimes finds himself stretching his neck from the sidelines, trying to get a glimpse of his teammate's latest jaw-dropping move. Quarterback Chad Pennington calls the pint-sized speedster one of the toughest guys on the team. Center Nick Mangold said blocking for him is pure fun and he marvels at his ability to cut in an instant.

Linebacker Eric Barton added that the second-year pro is one of those players you have to account for on every play. Wide receiver Laveranues Coles described him as one of the most dangerous weapons in the NFL.

The subject of those testimonials is Jets running back Leon Washington, a 5-8, 202-pound dynamo who has his own fan club among his teammates and seems poised to burst onto the NFL landscape in a big way this season, especially if his performance this preseason is any indication.

Washington, a steal of a fourth-round pick in 2006 out of Florida State, returned a kickoff 86 yards and had a 25-yard run in the preseason opener against the Falcons. He then rushed for 52 yards on just 11 carries against a stingy Vikings' run defense that ranked first in the NFL last season. And last week he scored on a 79-yard catch-and-run play, hauling in the ball around midfield and putting an ankle-breaking move on Giants cornerback R.W. McQuarters and safety James Butler at the 35-yard line, darting between the pair and sprinting to the end zone.

This season, Washington will share time with veteran Thomas Jones, giving the Jets an explosive duo. Jones has missed the past two preseason games with a strained right calf but will be ready for the opener against the Patriots on Sept. 9 at Giants Stadium. Washington had a team-high 650 yards rushing (fourth-highest all time among Jets rookies) and four touchdowns last season.

"There's a lot of potential all over the league," Washington said yesterday. "It's really about production."

Last season, his 64-yard gain on a screen pass against Miami set up the winning field goal in a critical Week 16 victory. He had two 100-yard rushing games, including a 129-yard, two-TD performance in a win over the Lions. He averaged a respectable 4.3 yards per carry and caught 25 passes for 270 yards. He also returned punts and kickoffs.

Some might argue the diminutive Washington isn't equipped to handle the rigors of a full-time back, but Pennington disagrees.

"People overlook Leon's toughness," Pennington said. "They think because he's little that he's more of a scatback or a guy you want to get out in space. But this guy is one of the toughness guys we have on the team. He stands in there and blocks linebackers and defenders that are twice his size. He's not scared to stick his face in there and the same goes with him running the ball. It's pretty amazing, his mentality."

Against the Giants, Pennington's pass to Washington on the first play of the game was the lone highlight for an offense stuck in an ugly malaise. After that play, the Jets' first-team offense had six straight three-and-outs, not counting one play just before halftime.

"Leon can score from anywhere on the field, running back, wide receiver," Coles said.

"You put him on special teams and he's going to make something happen. He's just an explosive player. He has done nothing but grab the attention and respect of everybody around here. He's proven himself to be one of the elite and most dangerous weapons in the NFL."

Washington truly feels he's more than a change-of-pace back good for five to 10 carries a game, but he'll do whatever is asked of him -- catching passes or running the ball. He says the coaches know best.

"Of course, the game slows down a little after you have a year's experience," he said. "But the best part I've improved on is the mental part, preparing myself coming into a game, knowing what teams are going to try to do against my type of plays. It's a thing of anticipating, being prepared for it when it happens."

Said Robertson: "I'm just glad Leon is on our team."

Dave Hutchinson may be reached at dhutchinson@starledger.com

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