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Be Like Bill
If you had been at the Jets' practice field during minicamp last Saturday and seen the coach in the gray sweatshirt roaming from drill to drill, micromanaging as he went, you would have thought you were watching Bill Belichick. The first time he was on the field with his new team, Eric Mangini, 35, had the look and coaching style of his mentor, Belichick, of the three-time Super Bowl-- champion Patriots. Midway through the morning workout Mangini joined the defensive backs and taught Eric Smith, a 2006 third-round pick out of Michigan State, how to chop a running back's stiff-arm. Smith ran to wrap up a straight-arming ballcarrier, and Mangini barked, "Break it, break it, break it! Don't let him get on you!"
Listening to Mangini's postpractice remarks to the media, you would have sworn you were hearing Belichick. The subject was running back Curtis Martin's rehab from off-season knee surgery. Belichick, famously, says less than nothing about injuries. So how did Mangini, who had coached under Belichick since the two were with the Jets in 1997 and was the Pats' defensive coordinator in 2005, respond to a question about Martin? "Curtis is rehabbing," he said. "He's part of the medical program. We have a program in place for him. As soon as he's ready, we'll let you know."
Trying to draw out Mangini one-on-one with softball questions in his office afterward, you would have known you were dealing with a Belichick disciple. You're running the 3--4 this year but will be able to flex into the 4--3, right? "All I can say is, we'll do what gives us the best chance to win," Mangini responded.
"Eric's installing new plays," owner Woody Johnson said on Saturday. "He's also installing a new culture."
But it's not only Mangini who's following the New England game plan. First-year Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum, a longtime Jets staffer, learned plenty about the importance of evaluating a draft prospect's character from his friend and counterpart Scott Pioli, the Patriots' vice president of player personnel. For instance, one of Pioli's questions to his scouting staff is, How important is football to this player? That was one of six measures Tannenbaum and Mangini used to evaluate the personalities of this year's prospects. The Pats staff also puts a premium on player intelligence; for example, no starter on their offensive line scored lower than 26 on the 50-question Wonderlic test. The Jets' draft class, according to the New York Daily News, averaged a 28 on the Wonderlic, the highest of any team. And during its recent run of success, New England has relied on strong leadership from linebacker Tedy Bruschi and quarterback Tom Brady. Last month the Jets drafted a linebacker, Anthony Schlegel, who was a captain at two Division I programs--Air Force in 2002 and Ohio State in 2005--and a quarterback-receiver, Brad Smith, who was a three-year captain at Missouri.
It's important to remember that Belichick was a disappointment in his first head-coaching job, with the Browns. And Mangini has a monstrous rebuilding job on his hands. Only three teams scored fewer points than the 2005 Jets, and just nine allowed more. Martin is coming off major knee surgery at 33. Quarterback Chad Pennington is rehabbing from his second shoulder surgery in 15 months. Before he jumped to the Chiefs in January, former coach Herm Edwards said he thought the Jets needed seven new starters on offense alone. Drafting tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold in the first round was a start, but New England and Miami are well ahead of the Jets in the AFC East.
Still, a struggling team like New York could do worse than model itself after a franchise whose methods have proved so successful. "What I learned in New England about teamwork, discipline, how an organization should be run, how a team should be coached, I wouldn't trade for anything in the world," Mangini said. "What I learned is that even when you're on top, as we were, it wasn't good enough. You always had to work to stay ahead of the curve."
NEW DAY IN
Six months after surgery to repair a hernia that was more serious than originally reported, Donovan McNabb looks perfectly fit. As if to prove it, he dunked a basketball in a recent charity game. Last weekend at the Eagles' first minicamp he threw accurately and moved out of the pocket with no pain, running to his left and tossing across his body like the Pro Bowl quarterback of old. "I'm 85, 90 percent," McNabb, 29, said last Friday, fresh from a weightlifting session at the Eagles' training complex. "No question in my mind I'll be fine for training camp."