FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Jeremy Kerley is used to having to prove himself.
In college. As an NFL rookie. And, now, as a veteran wide receiver trying to keep his role on the New York Jets.
“I never really feel comfortable,” Kerley said. “I don’t think anybody in my position can really feel comfortable being a slot receiver, a fifth-round pick.”
Kerley is humble and not flashy, but has been consistent and reliable during his first four NFL seasons. He has 166 catches for 2,073 yards and seven touchdowns since coming out of TCU. Kerley also led the Jets in receptions in 2012 and 2013, establishing himself as a sure-handed target with a knack for producing in the clutch on third-down conversions and serving as a punt returner.
But here he is in camp this summer, trying to win the job as the Jets’ No. 3 receiver. But he insists he isn’t worried about any of it.
“I definitely feel like I’ve proven myself, but you constantly have to prove yourself over and over again,” Kerley said. “With a new coaching staff, they’ve got guys who they like, guys who they want to see, guys that they’ve got high on their radar. It’s just proving yourself again.”
On paper, the 26-year-old Kerley would appear to be one of the sure things on the Jets’ offense. The depth chart at wide receiver reads: five-time Pro Bowler Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Kerley — and everyone else.
But Kerley has been working a lot with the backups while coach Todd Bowles and offensive coordinator Chan Gailey give some other players such as second-year receiver Quincy Enunwa, a sixth-rounder last year, some looks with the starters.
“That’s a personnel grouping,” Bowles said. “Quincy Enunwa is a bigger guy, so you can quasi have another wideout and a blocker at the same time and do some things. We’re just looking at it as a different role. It has nothing to do with Kerley.”
It’s true that they’re different types of receivers — Kerley is 5-foot-9 and 188 pounds, while Enunwa is 6-2 and a solid 225 — but the lack of snaps with the starters has some speculating whether Kerley’s role could be diminished.
“All I can do is go out there every time and improve my game, whether it’s with the starters, the third team, the fourth team,” he said.
Bowles raised some eyebrows Sunday when he was asked if Kerley is, in fact, the Jets’ top slot receiver.
“They’re competing for it,” the coach said. “Right now, he is, but everybody is competing for it. We’ll see when a couple of games happen what happens.”
Bowles has preached competition for all positions all offseason and in camp, and nothing is guaranteed. It’s still a bit curious that Kerley is often on the sideline when the starting offense is at work.
“I guess I see what it is now,” Kerley said.
After all, the team signed him to a four-year, $14 million contract extension last season. But, as Kerley pointed out, that was under a different regime. Rex Ryan was the coach then, and John Idzik the general manager instead of Mike Maccagnan.
“It’s different, everything’s different,” Kerley said. “So, the coaches need a chance to get to know me, know what I do and hopefully get a chance to see what I bring to the table and just move from there.”
Kerley was a rookie in 2011, when the Jets went into training camp with Jerricho Cotchery as a starting receiver before releasing him. Cotchery was replaced by Derrick Mason, who had a quick and stormy five-game stint with the Jets before being traded to Houston.
Kerley’s emergence in his first season made both Cotchery and Mason expendable. So, nothing really surprises him anymore when it comes to job security.
“This is a league where anything can happen,” Kerley said. “Like I said, I signed a contract last year, but I’ve seen crazier stuff happen. At the same time, being the person I am, I don’t worry about stuff like that. Whatever happens, happens. … I’m just doing me.”
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