Publish date:

5 NEW YORK JETS

On Feb. 4 the Jets held a press conference to make a "major
announcement." They introduced their new coach, former Patriots
assistant Bill Belichick. Off to one side was new "consultant"
Bill Parcells, who proclaimed that he would "sit silently until
such time as I am able to be vocal." Yeah, sure.

Six days later commissioner Paul Tagliabue sent four Jets draft
choices to the Patriots, and New England voided the final year
of its contract with Parcells, clearing the way for him to
become the 11th coach in the 37-year history of one of pro
football's most inept franchises. And in this atmosphere of
duplicity and double-talk, Parcells began the task of sweeping
away the wreckage of a 1-15 season.

He was given total control, more than he had as coach of the
Giants' two Super Bowl championship teams, in 1987 and '91. He
could bring in his own people at every level of the football
operation. He would oversee personnel, which might not prove to
be the best idea since it never was his strong suit (see his
objection to the Patriots' drafting of wideout Terry Glenn). He
would get whatever he wanted. New practice fields, an indoor
training facility, a remodeled weight room. And why not? Owner
Leon Hess was only too happy to shell out $3 million to $3.5
million for the overhaul. In effect the club was saying, "We
don't know how to run a franchise. Please show us, Bill."

The press corps would be barred from regular-season practices.
Interviews with assistant coaches had to be cleared by Parcells.
No more interviewing players in the parking lot or by phone at
home. This, friends, was total control.

Then came Keyshawn Johnson's book, the one in which the first
pick in the '96 draft ripped the offensive coordinator (Ron
Erhardt) and the quarterback (Neil O'Donnell) and the team's
most prolific receiver, fellow wideout Wayne Chrebet. Johnson
called him former coach Rich Kotite's "mascot." How would
Parcells handle that?

People forget that Parcells has always been good at defusing
turmoil. While with the Giants, Parcells was warned by players
that linebacker Lawrence Taylor was having off-field problems.
"I'll handle it," Parcells said. You can't argue about the
production he got out of the future Hall of Famer.

Jets fans won't let Johnson off the hook. Every time he drops a
pass, like the three he missed in the Aug. 16 preseason game
against the Giants, they'll let him have it. Parcells knows that
Johnson--an imposing physical presence at 6'3", 210 pounds but a
player with a weird, let-it-fly attitude and a suspect pair of
hands--has to light up his offense.

The Jets will open it up with O'Donnell throwing to Johnson,
Chrebet and Jeff Graham. Tight end Kyle Brady is a
knock-'em-dead blocker who did a number on Cardinals
pass-rushing end Simeon Rice last year, but he doesn't figure in
the passing game. There is no big back; at 5'11" and 214 pounds,
fifth-year veteran Adrian Murrell is more of a darting type, and
last year he was one of the Jets' few bright spots, rushing for
1,249 yards and six touchdowns.

The defense has a terrific pass rusher on the right wing, Hugh
Douglas, but not much else up front. The linebackers have been
switched around to accommodate 33-year-old Pepper Johnson,
Parcells's old inside linebacker from his Giants days, who after
three years with the Browns and one with the Lions was rescued
from the scrap heap. Last year's man in the middle, Marvin
Jones, has shifted to the weak side, though playing in space was
never his strength. Mo Lewis, who at one time showed real talent
on the open side, now plays over the tight end. Puzzling stuff,
to be sure, but Belichick is a terrific defensive coach.

Parcells's mere presence has given the Jets the look of an
honest-to-goodness NFL franchise, and they'll certainly be
better than last year. But let's hold off before we put them in
the playoffs.

--P.Z.

COLOR PHOTO: LOUIS CAPOZZOLA If Parcells opts for ground travel, he can turn to Murrell, who proved last season that despite his short stature he can put up big numbers. [Adrian Murrell in game agianst Philadelphia Eagles]

BY THE NUMBERS

1996 Yards per Game (NFL rank)
1996 Record: 1-15 (fifth in AFC East)

OFFENSE 98.9 (23) 226.6 (10) 325.5 (11)
DEFENSE 137.5 (29) 210.3 (19) 347.8 (27)

A Rapid Takeoff

Thirty-one wide receivers were selected in the 1995 NFL draft,
but Wayne Chrebet was not among them. The undrafted free agent,
however, set a record for most passes caught in a player's first
two seasons. (New England's Terry Glenn needs only 61 catches
this year to break Chrebet's record, and Keyshawn Johnson needs
88 to pass his teammate.)

Most Catches in First Two Years
Year 1 Year 2 Total

Wayne Chrebet, Jets, 1995-96 66 84 150
Gary Clark, Redskins, 1985-86 72 74 146
Sterling Sharpe, Packers, 1988-89 55 90 145
Keith Jackson, Eagles, 1988-89 81 63 144
Isaac Bruce, Rams, 1994-95 21 119 140

Performance of Alltime Reception Leaders
Year 1 Year 2 Total Career
Jerry Rice, 1985-present 49 86 135 1,050
Art Monk, 1980-95 58 56 114 940
Steve Largent, 1976-89 54 33 87 819
Henry Ellard, 1983-present 16 34 50 775
Andre Reed, 1985-present 48 53 101 766

SCHEDULE SKINNY

The Sept. 14 game at New England will be the emotional focus of
the early season. But if the Jets come in at 0-2 after losing at
Seattle and then to Buffalo at home, the big slide could follow.
The Raiders come in next, and they've always been tough on New
York, having won the last five meetings between the teams,
including a 34-13 win last season. A 1-3 start is likely, but
2-2 would be encouraging, especially if one of those wins comes
against Parcells's former team.

STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE

NFL rank: 13 (tie)
Opponents' 1996 winning percentage: .504
Games against playoff teams: 7

The Lineup With 1996 Statistics

Coach: Bill Parcells

Offensive Backs

QB Neil O'Donnell 188 att. 110 comp. 58.5% 1,147 yds.
4 TDs 7 int. 67.8 rtg.
RB Adrian Murrell 301 att. 1,249 yds. 4.1 avg. 17 rec.
81 yds. 4.8 avg. 7 TDs
FB Lorenzo Neal[*] 21 att. 58 yds. 2.8 avg. 31 rec.
194 yds. 6.3 avg. 2 TDs

Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen

WR Keyshawn Johnson 63 rec. 844 yds. 8 TDs
WR Jeff Graham 50 rec. 788 yds. 6 TDs
WR Wayne Chrebet 84 rec. 909 yds. 3 TDs
TE Kyle Brady 15 rec. 144 yds. 1 TD
PK John Hall (R)[*] 44/45 PATs 14/21 FGs 86 pts.
KR Dedric Ward (R)[*] 2 ret. 27.0 avg. 0 TDs
PR Dedric Ward (R)[*] 15 ret. 11.1 avg. 2 TDs
LT Jumbo Elliott 6'7" 308 lbs. 14 games 14 starts
LG Lonnie Palelei[*] 6'3" 315 lbs. 0 games 0 starts
C Roger Duffy 6'3" 305 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Matt O'Dwyer 6'5" 294 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT David Williams 6'5" 300 lbs. 14 games 14 starts

Defense

LE Rick Lyle[*] 6 tackles 1 sack
LT Ronnie Dixon[*] 8 tackles 0 sacks
RT Ernie Logan[*] 1 tackle 0 sacks
RE Hugh Douglas 36 tackles 8 sacks
OLB Marvin Jones 103 tackles 1 sack
MLB Pepper Johnson[*] 70 tackles 0 sacks
OLB Mo Lewis 43 tackles 1/2 sack
CB Aaron Glenn 44 tackles 4 int.
SS Victor Green 165 tackles 2 int.
FS Marcus Coleman 31 tackles 1 int.
CB Otis Smith[*] 31 tackles 2 int.
P Todd Kurz (R) 64 punts 41.0 avg.

[*]New acquisition
Rookie statistics for final college year