Jets Rookies,Veterans Prepare For Final Pre-Season Game
HEMPSTEAD, NY- Preseason results can be misleading in gauging a player's improvement or prospects for success when the outcome influences the standings. After getting his first taste of NFLstarting experience, rookie Jacob Bender is grateful that he'll receive at least one more game experience to improve before the New York Jets open the regular season against New England Sept. 9.
Bender, a sixth-round draft pick out of Nicholls State, endured a challenging welcome to the professional ranks. In his team's preseason victory over the Giants last week, the offensive guard failed to stop defensive end Justin Tuck blowing past him on an outside move, resulting in a sack on Chad Pennington that cost the Jets 12 yards.
As Tuck celebrated his tackle, Bender already surrendered more sacks than he did his entire senior season playing for a Division I-AA school. But the 6-6, 315-pound guard didn't dismiss the play as a rookie mistake, since he is in contention to be a starter after Pete Kendall's trade to Washington was completed last week.
"I've been working hard on my pass blocking as well as everything else," Bender said. "I'm taking corrections from coach, working hard and keeping at it."
Bender played tackle in college, starting 31 of 42 games for a team that primarily utilized the running game. Kendall, the team's most tenured offensive lineman, was shipped off after nearly four months of public complaining about his contract status.
In addition to learning a new playbook at a higher level, Bender also is working at a new position. He, along with left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, will be entrusted with protecting Pennington's blindside.
"At guard, things happen quicker. You have to take shorter movements whereas with tackle you have a little more time for things to develop," said Bender, who added the competition level he faced at Nicholls State won't negatively influence his maturation.
"It doesn't matter what competition you played against," he added. "You are in the NFLso somebody thought you were good enough to make it here. I'm going to work my hardest and show everyone what I have."
Kendall's trade moved Bender up the depth chart. General manager Mike Tannenbaum said Washington's offer of fifth or fourth round draft pick (conditional on Kendall's play) allowed him to make the move, especially with Bender and veteran Adrien Clarke ready to receive the bulk of the snaps.
"There are a lot of things that we like about him - his work ethic and physicality at the line of scrimmage. There are a lot of attributes that we like about him," said Tannenbaum about Bender.
Clarke owns just four starts in his professional career, all coming with Philadelphia in 2005. He caused a false-start during the 20-12 Jets victory at Giants Stadium last week, meaning no one claims the inside track for the left guard spot.
Eric Mangini will likely not name a starter until after the Jets' final preseason game on Thursday against Philadelphia. Even after that contest at Lincoln Financial Field, the Jets' coach may hold off on publicly choosing a No. 1 guard until his team takes the field at the Meadowlands against the Patriots the following Sunday. Until that time, Bender may need to prove he is improving in order to secure the position.
"I thought, like the rest of the group, there were definitely things he could have done better," Mangini said when asked about Bender. "He's not alone. There are a lot of different age groups across that line and issues weren't unique to him."
Pennington finished 5-11 for 89 yards and a touchdown. Leon Washington's catch-and-run on the game's first play from scrimmage accounted for 79 of those yards and the touchdown. The starting quarterback, who did not throw a pass against the Falcons and struggled against the Vikings, is starting to hear questions about a possible controversy since backup Kellen Clemens continues to improve.
Mangini said Pennington is the unquestioned starter for now; the reigning "Comeback Player of the Year" award recipient said he is comfortable that Kendall's departure will not hinder the Jets' chances of making it to the postseason for the second consecutive season. He also gave Bender a vote of confidence.
"I don't have a concern because I know what type of guys we have in that unit and within our offense," Pennington said. "I know what type of player he is. I know how physical he is and I know that he has the eagerness to learn and get better. 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."