2006-11-24 / Sports

Jets' Rookie Mangold Commands Center Of Attention

By Brian Bohl

HEMPSTEAD, NY- Playing in sold-out stadiums on national television is nothing new for Nick Mangold. While Ohio State and Michigan played the biggest college football game of the year last Saturday, the Jets rookie center and former OSU star concentrated on the final six games of the year and possibilities of a wild-card playoff birth.

In college, only a few games required maximum concentration and effort to achieve victory. But the NFL contains no patsies or small schools just looking to get national exposure in exchange for getting destroyed on homecoming. For Mangold, every week feels like Buckeyes-Wolverines.

At 6-4, 300-pounds, Mangold possess the physical tools to be a great lineman. It was that size and a standout college career that prompted the Jets to take Mangold in the first round of this year's draft. That pick followed the selection of tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson with their fourth overall selection, helping to overhaul an injury depleted line.

While Mangold committed some rookie mistakes in the opening weeks, coach Eric Mangini said the 22-year-old is learning something new every week, even though his pupil credited the improvement to his linemates.

"Being in my position, I never feel like I know enough and I never feel comfortable where I'm at, which keeps me working," Mangold said. "Pete Kendall, Anthony Clement, Brandon Moore and Trey Teague have done a great job of making me feel comfortable out there, but it still feels kind of weird."

That weirdness should be comforting compared to what Mangini had him go through in training camp. With quarterback Chad Pennington working his way back from shoulder surgery and the Jets rotating in four quarterbacks throughout practice, Mangold struggled with a few snap exchanges, forcing him to run laps around the practice field as punishment.

"During the early camp there he had a couple fumbled snaps that he had to run some laps for, but we worked through the pain," Mangini said with a slight laugh. "He's been really outstanding since."

Pennington eventually showed enough to win back his starting job-demonstrating his newfound healthy by leading the Jets to a 5-5 start. They only trail the Patriots by two game in the AFC East race, with the line generally protecting their quarterback and his twice surgically-repaired shoulder.

"Nick's been good from the get-go, and D'Brickashaw has improved as the season's gone on," Kendall said. "They've been a great help."

Mangold has a tough task in not only adjusting to the professional game, but in replacing Pro Bowl center Kevin Mawae, who often made the calls at the line. While he may not have Mawae's experience, Mangini trusts Mangold enough to have him make some of those calls. The Jets already exceeded last year's win total, and Pennington said the entire offensive line is becoming better just by having more opportunities to work together.

"I think every week our offensive line is improved every week," Pennington said. "They just keep getting better and better, and things that they have made mistakes on in the past, they don't make mistakes on that same thing the next game. You attribute that to their work ethic and how hard they have paid attention to the details with getting the offense down and communicating and gelling."

Rookie running back Leon Washington already has two 100-yard rushing games, and Pennington threw for the first consecutive 300-yard passing games of his career in the opening two weeks of the season thanks to line's blocking prowess. As the center, Mangold generates the push up the middle, taking on opposing defensive tackles and any blitzing linebackers. He also has been a model of consistency, starting all 10ames.

"It's difficult for any rookie to come in and to play and to play well really at any position, because this is just such a different world and the speed is different," Mangini said. "The talent level is different. At center where you're handling the ball every single play, identifying fronts, working with fronts, not just on one side left or right, you're in the whole mix there.

"Then you have shotgun snaps and things like that. It's extremely difficult to do that. Nick has done a nice job with it early on we had a couple of minor setbacks, but he worked through those quickly."

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