> It's Year 2in Manginiland, and on the surface all that stands in the way of improvementover last year's wild-card season is a ridiculously difficult AFC playoff race.The Jets drafted two perfect players for their defense--Darrelle Revis, a toughcover corner, and David Harris, a linebacker physical enough to play inside andathletic enough to play outside in Eric Mangini's malleable 3-4 scheme. Toaddress their rushing problem, the Jets dealt for Bears running back ThomasJones (2,545 yards over the last two seasons), who promptly hurt his calfmuscle in training camp and may be hobbled entering the season. WideoutsJerricho Cotchery and Laveranues Coles have developed into quality weapons withbig-game experience for quarterback Chad Pennington. "Last year was a goodyear for our confidence," says strong safety Kerry Rhodes, who emerged as abig-time player when Mangini gave him more freedom to roam and make plays."I know we're better this year."
> How hard isit to read this team? Consider these crazy 2006 numbers.
•The Jets lost to8-8 Jacksonville by 41 and beat 8-8 Green Bay by 28.
•They twice ledIndianapolis by four in the fourth quarter of a 31-28 loss and never ledCleveland in the second half of a 20-13 loss.
•They beatBuffalo by eight on the road and lost to Buffalo by 18 at home.
•Oakland'squarterbacks averaged more yards per completion than New York's. The Jetsdidn't have a back among the league's top 32 rushers. Only eight teams in theleague were worse at stopping the run.
•They were 25thin offense, 20th in defense, 18th in points scored.
Stats lie? Theytold a whopper in 2006. The Jets won 10 games and made the playoffs.
A team will beinconsistent when it lacks a serious rushing game, when a weak-wingedquarterback has two deep threats and no major intermediate weapons, when a 4-3tackle (Dewayne Robertson) is played at the nose and when two rookies start onthe offensive line. Amazingly, Mangini and his smart staff piloted the Jets towins in five of their last six to make the playoffs. The coach deserved hisspringtime cameo on The Sopranos, when restaurateur Artie Bucco puffed out hischest and proudly told Tony that "Mangenius" was in the house.
There's noguarantee he'll be doing any cameos this season. To go 10-6 or better will takemore of Mangini's ample imagination with some of his fringe players. "TheNFL is like the stock market," he said in mid-August after a scorchingpractice. "Past [performance] doesn't guarantee future success. Thatapplies to our team. We're not letting last year's wins affect our expectationsthis year. History means nothing in football."
Mangini importedmuch from his nine years working under Bill Belichick, and he's hammering homethe wisdom gleaned. "I showed the team the  Lennox Lewis-Hasim Rahmanfight, when Rahman was a 20-1 underdog and Lewis just walked off the set ofOceans¬†11 and weighed 253 and hadn't taken the fight very seriously, andRahman knocked him out," Mangini says. "The announcer said, 'There's nosuch thing as a lucky punch.' I witnessed how¬†you go from 5-11 one year tothree Super Bowls in the next four years. It wasn't luck. It was diligent,consistent hard work."
Another lessonis, Don't be tied to one way of doing things. Last year the Jets draftedMissouri quarterback Brad Smith in the fourth round, worked him mostly at widereceiver during training camp and used him during the season on 17% of theiroffensive plays and at four different positions--receiver (147 plays), runningback (22), quarterback (12) and tight end (three). This year he's mastered theplaybook at wideout and quarterback, and the Jets can employ him to runanything from either position in the regular offense. Got a last-round pick inyour fantasy league? Choose Smith. He might throw a touchdown pass and catchone--in the same week. "He creates major containment problems for thedefense," Mangini says. "I've always been intrigued by things like theoption offense. Maybe you have a running back or receiver who used to playquarterback. Why not use him at that spot if he can do the job and make ittough on a defense?"
Like Belichick,who once had Doug Flutie drop-kick an extra point, Mangini isn't afraid to tryanything. Which means that even if this Jets season isn't as successful as lastyear's, it'll be fun to watch.--Peter King
WITH 2006 STATISTICS
COACH ERIC MANGINI (10-6 in NFL), second season with Jets
HT 6' 8"
HT 6' 3"
HT 6' 4"
HT 6' 5"
HT 6' 6"
SACKS 8 1/2
SACKS 2 1/2
CB 39 2
(R) Rookie (college statistics)
> 2006 RECORD10-6 NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 20/17/25 DEFENSE 24/14/2
9 NEW ENGLAND
16 at Baltimore
30 at Buffalo
7 at N.Y. Giants
21 at Cincinnati
22 at Dallas (T)
2 at Miami
16 at New England
23 at Tennessee
30 KANSAS CITY
NFL rank T5
Opponents' 2006 winning percentage .516
Games against playoff teams 7
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THE KING 500
> STRONG SAFETY
Under Eric Mangini the '05 Louisville fourth-rounder was as versatile as anysafety in the game, with five sacks, four interceptions, three forced fumblesand 13 passes defensed. He's impressed Peyton Manning and Tom Brady with hisability to disguise--cheating toward the line, then at the snap blitzing orcovering. "My job," he says, "is to play chess with thequarterback." In '06 he was Bobby Fischer.
AN OPPOSING TEAM'S SCOUT SIZES UP THE JETS
> Chad Pennington's as smart as any quarterbackexcept Peyton Manning, but he's got the worst deep arm in the league. . . .Looks like they have their quarterback of the future in Kellen Clemens. Thedifference between him this preseason and last is startling. Great presence foran inexperienced kid, good arm, makes the right decisions. Last summer helooked lost. . . . Nick Mangold is a better center--more polished andstronger--than D'Brickashaw Ferguson is a left tackle. Ferguson got beat toomuch around the edge last year. I hope he worked on his quickness in theoff-season, and his ability to hide holding. . . . If Darrelle Revis isn't aPro Bowl corner within three years, I resign. He's a legit 4.4 40 guy who hitspeople. What else do you want from a corner?
army of one Smith, a college QB, can attack a defense from practically any position.