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May 22, 2006
May 22, 2006

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May 22, 2006

SI Players: Life On and Off The Field
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  • His increasingly poor production--especially the agonizing march to overtake Babe Ruth--has stirred talk that this could be the last hurrah for Barry Bonds in San Francisco

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The NFL

Be Like Bill
From the Belichick stylings of their new coach to the front office's drafttactics, the Jets are looking like New England South

This is an article from the May 22, 2006 issue Original Layout

If you had been atthe Jets' practice field during minicamp last Saturday and seen the coach inthe gray sweatshirt roaming from drill to drill, micromanaging as he went, youwould have thought you were watching Bill Belichick. The first time he was onthe field with his new team, Eric Mangini, 35, had the look and coaching styleof his mentor, Belichick, of the three-time Super Bowl-- champion Patriots.Midway through the morning workout Mangini joined the defensive backs andtaught Eric Smith, a 2006 third-round pick out of Michigan State, how to chop arunning back's stiff-arm. Smith ran to wrap up a straight-arming ballcarrier,and Mangini barked, "Break it, break it, break it! Don't let him get onyou!"

Listening toMangini's postpractice remarks to the media, you would have sworn you werehearing Belichick. The subject was running back Curtis Martin's rehab fromoff-season knee surgery. Belichick, famously, says less than nothing aboutinjuries. So how did Mangini, who had coached under Belichick since the twowere with the Jets in 1997 and was the Pats' defensive coordinator in 2005,respond to a question about Martin? "Curtis is rehabbing," he said."He's part of the medical program. We have a program in place for him. Assoon as he's ready, we'll let you know."

Trying to draw outMangini one-on-one with softball questions in his office afterward, you wouldhave known you were dealing with a Belichick disciple. You're running the 3--4this year but will be able to flex into the 4--3, right? "All I can say is,we'll do what gives us the best chance to win," Mangini responded.

"Eric'sinstalling new plays," owner Woody Johnson said on Saturday. "He's alsoinstalling a new culture."

But it's not onlyMangini who's following the New England game plan. First-year Jets generalmanager Mike Tannenbaum, a longtime Jets staffer, learned plenty about theimportance of evaluating a draft prospect's character from his friend andcounterpart Scott Pioli, the Patriots' vice president of player personnel. Forinstance, one of Pioli's questions to his scouting staff is, How important isfootball to this player? That was one of six measures Tannenbaum and Manginiused to evaluate the personalities of this year's prospects. The Pats staffalso puts a premium on player intelligence; for example, no starter on theiroffensive line scored lower than 26 on the 50-question Wonderlic test. TheJets' draft class, according to the New York Daily News, averaged a 28 on theWonderlic, the highest of any team. And during its recent run of success, NewEngland has relied on strong leadership from linebacker Tedy Bruschi andquarterback Tom Brady. Last month the Jets drafted a linebacker, AnthonySchlegel, who was a captain at two Division I programs--Air Force in 2002 andOhio State in 2005--and a quarterback-receiver, Brad Smith, who was athree-year captain at Missouri.

It's important toremember that Belichick was a disappointment in his first head-coaching job,with the Browns. And Mangini has a monstrous rebuilding job on his hands. Onlythree teams scored fewer points than the 2005 Jets, and just nine allowed more.Martin is coming off major knee surgery at 33. Quarterback Chad Pennington isrehabbing from his second shoulder surgery in 15 months. Before he jumped tothe Chiefs in January, former coach Herm Edwards said he thought the Jetsneeded seven new starters on offense alone. Drafting tackle D'BrickashawFerguson and center Nick Mangold in the first round was a start, but NewEngland and Miami are well ahead of the Jets in the AFC East.

Still, astruggling team like New York could do worse than model itself after afranchise whose methods have proved so successful. "What I learned in NewEngland about teamwork, discipline, how an organization should be run, how ateam should be coached, I wouldn't trade for anything in the world,"Mangini said. "What I learned is that even when you're on top, as we were,it wasn't good enough. You always had to work to stay ahead of thecurve."

NEW DAY INPHILLY
It's Year 1 A.T. (After Terrell)

Six months aftersurgery to repair a hernia that was more serious than originally reported,Donovan McNabb looks perfectly fit. As if to prove it, he dunked a basketballin a recent charity game. Last weekend at the Eagles' first minicamp he threwaccurately and moved out of the pocket with no pain, running to his left andtossing across his body like the Pro Bowl quarterback of old. "I'm 85, 90percent," McNabb, 29, said last Friday, fresh from a weightlifting sessionat the Eagles' training complex. "No question in my mind I'll be fine fortraining camp."

But will he andhis teammates have such a smooth recovery from the fractures left by theTerrell Owens controversy? Can they overcome the strife sown by Owens in hisattacks on McNabb, which led to the team's suspending the receiver for fourgames, deactivating him for the remainder of the season and then releasing him?During informal off-season workouts McNabb addressed that issue, tellingplayers, particularly the younger ones shocked by how the Eagles fell apartlast year, that this year would be different. "Not just Donovan, but[veterans] Jeremiah Trotter and Brian Dawkins," second-year tackle ToddHerremans said. "The message is, Last year was not the Philadelphia Eagles.A year like last year will not be tolerated again."

McNabb usuallyspends most of the off-season at his home in Arizona. This year he's been inPhiladelphia, rehabbing after surgery on a torn abdominal muscle and four torngroin tendons. "It's taken a lot longer to rehab than a normal sportshernia," he said. He has also used the time in town to talk to players insmall groups, reasserting the leadership undercut by Owens last year.

"I'm going tobe the same guy as I was last year," McNabb said. "It's not like I sitaround and think, I've got to show my teammates a different side of me. That'ssilly. One of my messages is, You're not here to make friends. You're here tomake plays and win games. What can I do to help us win games?"

Last weekend inPhilly all the right people were saying all the right things. Questions aboutOwens drew sullen no comments, and the chemistry was being put right. But gamesaren't played in May. McNabb's hold on this team will be determined when theEagles have their first two-game losing streak in a much-improved NFC East thisfall.

Dispatches

The Dolphins andthe Texans have their eyes on Michael Bennett (right), the former Vikingsrunning back who signed as a free agent with the Saints in March. Bennett, 27,became expendable after New Orleans drafted Reggie Bush.... Jacksonvillepro-personnel boss Charles Bailey is the leading candidate to fill the Vikings'vacant G.M. job, and Denver assistant G.M. Rick Smith tops the list for theTexans' G.M. opening. But the dominant football men in those organizations willbe the new head coaches, Brad Childress in Minnesota and Gary Kubiak inHouston.... Joey Harrington didn't go quietly after being traded from the Lionsto the Dolphins. He told the Detroit Free Press that former coach SteveMariucci "made it O.K. to be mediocre." Harrington also said he soughthelp from a sports psychologist, who taught him "how to stay sane in aninsane world."

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PHOTOJOHN IACONO (JETS)POINTTHE WAY - Mangini was coaching position by position during New York'sminicamp.PHOTOMICHAEL C. HEBERTPHOTODAVID BERGMAN (MCNABB)LEADINGMAN McNabb's rehab job includes healing the Eagles' wounded teampsyche.