By Jeff Capellini, CBSNewYork.com
NEW YORK (CBS 2) — He may not have Santonio Holmes’ flair for the dramatic or Braylon Edwards’ big play ability, but the intangibles Jerricho Cotchery brings to the Jets’ receiving corps are immeasurable.
In a lot of ways the sure-handed seventh-year pro out of North Carolina State has developed the same type of reputation as former teammate Wayne Chrebet, a player who will always be held in the highest regard by Jets fans.
Obviously Cotchery and Chrebet couldn’t be more different physically, with one looking the part and the other defying the odds to become a part, but when they played together they each possessed qualities that made the Jets’ offense relevant enough that it was in every game every weekend, even if their teams’ final records weren’t always what the fans expected.
Without Chrebet, who retired some years back after a slew of concussions finally took their toll, many assumed Cotchery would develop into a No. 1 receiver. And while he has many of the tools needed to be a top dog, the Jets have instead become a better football team with No. 89 taking on a variety of roles and doing all the little dirty things.
Just like Chrebet used to do.
Cotchery really has never been a home run threat. And credit should be given to the Jets’ hierarchy for taking notice. While it would have been easy for Cotchery to take that “I’m bigger than the game and just want the damn ball” attitude many NFL receivers often showcase, this guy is the furthest thing from a diva.
Cotchery has become an elder statesman, a pro’s pro who rarely will put up the eye-popping stats, but will always contribute meaningfully in a variety of other ways.
He’s coming into the highly anticipated 2010 season averaging 53 receptions a season, which could be viewed as pedestrian to all those who only care about fantasy statistics. But if you break down Cotchery’s numbers you will see one telling stat that explains why he may be an irreplacable part of the Jets’ passing offense.
Of his 317 career receptions, 208, or 66 percent, have resulted in a first down. On this offense, which fancies itself as ball-control first, big play second, what Cotchery does, and does exceptionally, can never be overlooked.
Simply put, he moves the chains. Cotchery is not blessed with sprinter’s speed, as his career 4.9 YAC (yards after catch) average indicates, but he knows how to run routes. He knows where he needs to be almost always. And his hands have really never been questioned.
Forget about the fact that Cotchery has the same number of career touchdowns — 16 — as teammate Edwards hauled in for Cleveland in 2007. For every highlight reel play Edwards makes this season, I guarantee you Cotchery will have played a big role in making that big play happen.
By helping keep the Jets offense on the field.
Don’t be surprised if you rarely see Cotchery on “Hard Knocks.” He’s just not that type of guy, meaning a flair for the camera and a sharp tongue aren’t necessarily things he seems to care about. He’s more of a spokesman behind the scenes, a mentor in a way, even if he’s not publicly recognized as such. He can be heard on WFAN all the time during the season, breaking down what the Jets need to do to win a particular game or standing up and taking the heat if he and his teammates fell short.
You need guys like this. You can’t win without them, regardless of the number of stars you have on the roster.
I think all Jets fans should pay particular attention to the first quarter of this upcoming season. With Holmes suspended the first four games, it will be interesting to see what offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer asks Cotchery to do, in addition to all that he already does. Perhaps we’ll see a little trip down memory lane, back to the days when Laveraneus Coles, now back for a third stint in green, tried to beat everyone deep and Cotchery made a living over the middle and beyond. That combination, like the days when Chrebet was around, was quite effective.
Mark Sanchez should room with Cotchery because if he’s looking for a true safety valve, Cotch is the guy.
The Jets offense has the potential to be a sight to see this season. There are just too many weapons at the skill positions. Sanchez will likely be vastly improved over last season. As I’ve written before, Edwards is on a mission to prove his worth. Holmes has already done it on the biggest stage and, to a man, may be the most talented offensive player the Jets have. The offensive line should be devastating. Running backs Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson figure to be a powerful combination in every facet of the ground attack. Dustin Keller, largely unsung in his own right, should take his next step toward becoming a Pro Bowl tight end.
And, of course, there’s Cotchery, a player who if you aren’t paying attention will very quietly stick it to you every down, every game.
(Jeff Capellini is a senior editorial editor for CBSNewYork.com. He also writes under the moniker “The Green Lantern” on the Jets, Yankees, Islanders and many other things Gotham sports. Please follow him on Twitter at @greenlanternjet)