1 New York Jets Bill Parcells will tackle the task of taking a third franchise to the Super Bowl, an unprecedented feat, but he'll have to do it with a revamped offensive line

August 29, 1999

As the Jets begin the '99 season, the most notable off-season
changing of the guard was the changing of the guards. When was
the last time a team started training camp as one of the
favorites to reach the Super Bowl yet had absolutely no clue who
would play either guard spot? In one of the more daring gambles
this off-season, coach Bill Parcells released last year's
starting left guard, Todd Burger, whom Parcells considered soft,
and bid farewell to right guard Matt O'Dwyer, a serviceable
player who left as a free agent. Without Burger's and O'Dwyer's
combined 10 years of pro experience, Parcells found himself
opening camp with five guard candidates who had played a
combined total of zero NFL games.

Has Parcells let his guard down? After all, the coach broke up a
line that he estimates had played together for 98% of the Jets'
plays last year and helped New York outscore every team in the
conference except the Super Bowl champion Broncos. Still,
Parcells was not satisfied with the size of the holes opened for
tailback Curtis Martin, who got tackled at or behind the line of
scrimmage 95 times.

So Parcells used three of his eight '99 draft choices on guards,
including his first two picks, in the second and third rounds,
and a sixth-rounder. Staring at three rookies and two glorified
scout-teamers, Parcells then hired one of his best former
guards, William Roberts, as an unpaid intern to tutor the young
linemen. Parcells believes he has found a Roberts clone in
rookie Randy Thomas out of Mississippi State, whose only
previous claim to fame was getting kicked out of an
all-you-can-eat buffet at a Holiday Inn near Starkville after
ingesting 18 pieces of chicken. A former high school basketball
player, the 6'4" 301-pounder is extremely mobile for his size,
which allows him to pull and block effectively in the open
field, skills particularly important in a Jets offense that
relies heavily on traps, sweeps and screen passes.

Parcells proved last season that he isn't afraid to play a
rookie lineman; he drafted tackle Jason Fabini in the fourth
round and started him in all 16 games. In fact, Parcells had
hoped his other '99 guard spot might also be filled by a rookie:
third-round pick David Loverne, a player so tough that he
refused to sit out last January's East-West Shrine game despite
a torn pectoral muscle. But Loverne is still too erratic and
high-strung to win Parcells's trust just yet. So on Aug. 9 the
coach met backup tackle Kerry Jenkins as he walked off the
practice field and said, "Know all of the guard plays when you
come out tomorrow." The 6'5", 305-pound Jenkins, whom the Jets
signed off Chicago's practice squad in '97 and who played
exclusively on special teams last season, had never played a
game at guard in his entire football career and had not
previously been mentioned as a candidate for the job. "It all
starts on the offensive line," Jenkins says. "So I believe that
Randy and I can't have any lulls if this team is going to reach
its goals."

There is no unit on the field in which chemistry and teamwork
are more critical than the offensive line, and how quickly the
Jets' new front gels could affect the team's play-calling. "Rome
wasn't built in a day," Roberts says. "I'm just trying to get
these guys to understand the sense of urgency."

Parcells has tried to support his rebuilt front wall by signing
free-agent tight end Eric Green, along with introducing the new
F-back formation that will often employ fullback Keith Byars or
Richie Anderson as another tight end in motion to help with run
blocking. (There is concern about the availability of left
tackle Jumbo Elliott, who will go to trial the day after the
season opener on a misdemeanor assault charge stemming from a
July 10 barroom altercation. If he's found guilty, Elliott could
face a league suspension.)

Other than the two new guards, the addition of Green, safety
Steve Atwater and the return of oft-injured linebacker Marvin
Jones, the Jets are essentially the same team that earned its
first division title since '69 and reached the AFC Championship
Game. They will again rely on the magic of Vinny Testaverde and
the big-play skills of Keyshawn Johnson and Wayne Chrebet, who
formed the NFL's best pass-catching duo with 158 receptions in
'98. There is a strong sense around the Jets' camp that this
could be the final season on the sideline for Parcells, who is
trying to accomplish the unprecedented feat of leading his third
franchise to a Super Bowl. Ever the motivator, this capricious
coach issued T-shirts to his coaches and players during training
camp with a simple message printed on the back: START OVER.

--Tim Crothers

COLOR PHOTO: VINCENT LAFORET/ALLSPORT Key ingredient Johnson, who led the Jets in catches, is one part of the offense that Parcells won't have to worry about.
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN

SCHEDULE

Sept. 12 NEW ENGLAND
19 at Buffalo
26 WASHINGTON
Oct. 3 at Denver
11 JACKSONVILLE (Mon.)
17 INDIANAPOLIS
24 at Oakland
31 Open date
Nov. 7 ARIZONA
15 at New England (Mon.)
21 BUFFALO
28 at Indianapolis
Dec. 5 at N.Y. Giants
12 MIAMI
19 at Dallas
27 at Miami (Mon.)
Jan. 2 SEATTLE

FAST FACTS

1998 Record 12-4 (1st in AFC East)
NFL rank (rush/pass/total): offense 13/4/4; defense 14/9/7

1999 Schedule strength NFL rank: 2 (tie) Opponents' 1998 winning
percentage: .539 Games against playoff teams: 10

SUDDEN IMPACT

Few quarterbacks in NFL history have been as effective in their
first year with a team as Vinny Testaverde was with the Jets
last season. Testaverde had a 12-1 record in 13 starts, the best
record for a starting quarterback in his first year with a team
in the past 26 years (minimum: eight starts) and the fourth-best
since the NFL-AFL common draft was instituted, in 1967.

Season Quarterback Team How acquired W-L Pct.

1972 Earl Morrall Dolphins Waivers from Colts 9-0 1.000
1968 Earl Morrall Colts Trade from Giants 13-1 .929
1967 Daryle Lamonica Raiders Trade from Bills 13-1 .929
1998 Vinny Testaverde Jets Waivers from Ravens 12-1 .923

PLAYER TO WATCH

The most important reception of the Jets' 1998 season, the
game-winning touchdown catch in a 17-10 win at Buffalo on Dec.
19 that secured the AFC East title, was not caught by Keyshawn
Johnson or Wayne Chrebet but by the easily overlooked Dedric
Ward. Toiling in the considerable shadows of Johnson and
Chrebet, Ward broke through with 25 catches for a team-high
19.1-yard average. The 5'9" 184-pounder, who runs a 4.4 in the
40 and holds the school record in the 200 at Northern Iowa,
provides the Jets with a critical deep threat. The third-year
man describes himself as "greedy" and says that his ultimate
goal is to become a starter, an attitude that coach Bill
Parcells has fostered in Ward, one of his pet projects. After
watching Ward run routes for the first time this summer,
Parcells handed out one of his rare compliments: "The DBs
couldn't cover him," he said. "That little s.o.b. is something.
He got me fired up."

PROJECTED LINEUP WITH 1998 STATISTICS

Coach: Bill Parcells
Third season with Jets (130-92-1 in NFL)

Offensive Backs PVR*

QB Vinny Testaverde 29
421 att. 259 comp. 61.5% 3,256 yds. 29 TDs 7 int. 101.6 rtg.

RB Curtis Martin 15
369 att. 1,287 yds. 3.5 avg. 43 rec. 365 yds. 8.5 avg. 9 TDs

RB Leon Johnson 219
41 att. 185 yds. 4.5 avg. 13 rec. 222 yds. 17.1 avg. 4 TDs

FB Richie Anderson 331
1 att. 2 yds. 2.0 avg. 3 rec. 12 yds. 4.0 avg. 0 TDs

Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
[PVR]
WR Keyshawn Johnson 22 83 rec. 1,131 yds. 10 TDs
WR Wayne Chrebet 62 75 rec. 1,083 yds. 8 TDs
WR Dedric Ward 155 25 rec. 477 yds. 4 TDs
TE Eric Green[1] 247 34 rec. 422 yds. 1 TD
K John Hall 158 45/46 XPs 25/35 FGs 120 pts.
PR Leon Johnson 219 29 ret. 7.0 avg. 0 TDs
KR Aaron Glenn 338 24 ret. 24.4 avg. 0 TDs
LT Jumbo Elliott 6'7" 305 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Kerry Jenkins 6'5" 305 lbs. 16 games 0 starts
C Kevin Mawae 6'4" 305 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Randy Thomas(R)[1] 6'4" 301 lbs. 12 games 12 starts
RT Jason Fabini 6'7" 312 lbs. 16 games 16 starts

Defense

LE Rick Lyle 41 tackles 1 1/2 sacks
NT Jason Ferguson 63 tackles 4 sacks
RE Anthony Pleasant 46 tackles 6 sacks
OLB Mo Lewis 81 tackles 7 sacks
ILB Marvin Jones 127 tackles 3 sacks
ILB Bryan Cox 70 tackles 6 sacks
OLB Roman Phifer[1] 71 tackles 6 1/2 sacks
CB Aaron Glenn 48 tackles 6 int.
SS Victor Green 93 tackles 4 int.
FS Steve Atwater[1] 55 tackles 1 int.
CB Ray Mickens 34 tackles 3 int.
P Tom Tupa[1] 74 punts 44.5 avg.

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 122)
[2]1997 statistics

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)