2006-09-29 / Sports

Coles Toughness Sparks Jets Surprise Start To Season

By Brian Bohl

HEMPSTEAD, NY- When a player has a track record of toughness like Laveranues Coles, it takes more than an injury to his left calf to keep him out of the lineup. He carries an active streak set of 83 straight NFL games played, not missing a contest since 2001. For his career, he has participated in 96 out of a total 99 games, with all three absences coming his rookie year in 2000.

So when Coles' named appeared on the injury report in the days leading up to the Buffalo game, it raised a few eyebrows. The veteran receiver only did wind sprints and did not take part in 11-on-11 drills that Thursday, meaning there was still a chance the league leader in receiving yards might not be able to go in a game the Jets ended up winning 28-20 over the Bills in Ralph Wilson Stadium. Standing by his locker before practice that Friday, Coles was in good spirits, and said he was willing to do anything coach Eric Mangini wanted to get ready to play.

"I feel all right man, I feel the same every day: always smiling," Coles said when asked about his injury. "I feel ok; I'm doing whatever I can to get back. I'll leave it at that."

If he was not able to play, chances are the Jets would not be 2-1 and tied for first place in the AFC East with the Patriots. Coles not only played, he was once again the primary option for quarterback Chad Pennington. The 5-11, 193-pound wide out caught 10 passes for 78 yards. No other player caught more than three.

Should the Jets were to be without their best receiver for any length of time, it will be place even more pressure on a struggling running game that ranks second-to-last in rushing yards per carry. While the team's media policy is to not discuss specifics of injuries, Coles did everything but explicitly say he would play before going out there and maintaining the pace that has allowed him to be one of the best receivers in the NFL. His 331 receiving yards trails only Marvin Harrison for the league lead. With those types of numbers, it was not a surprise when he confirmed he would make the trip to Orchard Park, and joked around with locker mate Stacy Tutt while they changed into their gear for practice.

"Y'all just worried about whether I'm going to make this game. That's the big question, isn't it," asked Coles when reporters encircled him in the locker room. "I got my bags packed. It looks pretty good for me. To be honest, I don't know where all this drama came in at. Did I miss something?"

When informed that he had been listed as questionable throughout the week, which by league rules means a player has a 50 percent change of actually appearing in the game, the 28-year-old Jacksonville native said fans and media members could have looked at his status in a different perspective.

"Y'all draw your own conclusions. If Laveranues 50-50 chance of playing, what do you guys think," asked Coles. "I'm making the trip, I'll be there."

Mangini sounded optimistic that his receiving corps will be at full strength for the foreseeable future, praising the durability of the player that is in his second stint with the Jets after being reacquired from the Redskins in 2005.

"I think that Laveranues is a role model for toughness," Mangini said. "Not a lot bothers him. Whether it's getting a big hit or getting banged up or any of that stuff, he just gets pops up and goes. He's outstanding that way."

He's been outstanding in his performance as well. He is on pace to break his career high in receiving yards, touchdowns, and catches. His current average of 13.8 yards-per-catch would be his best mark since 2003.

"I definitely think Laveranues has done a great job of leading by example," Pennington said. "He comes to work every day, works very hard on the practice field, doesn't take reps off. Any time they need him to get in there and take another rep, he takes another rep. He's a true professional. That's why he's been successful so far. That's why I expect him to be successful."

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