(RE-Post of AP article...Thanks Dennis/Jared!) Dennis Waszak Jr., Associated Press, July 30, 2008
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP)—Kerry Rhodes knew exactly what was coming.
The New York Jets safety watched the offense line up, then he yelled at his defensive teammates and called the play by slamming his fists together.
Rhodes was right, as he has often been in his young NFL career: no gain for the offense.
“He’s the best safety I’ve played with,” fellow safety Eric Smith said Wednesday at training camp. “His ability is unbelievable. The way he reads the quarterback and somehow knows where the ball’s going to be before it’s even thrown, it’s amazing watching him.”
It’s that type of intuition and playmaking ability that has made Rhodes a fan favorite and one of the league’s most disruptive forces at his position.
“I pride myself in being a complete player,” Rhodes said. “There are some safeties in this league that can only cover and some other safeties who can only tackle or play in the box. I want to be known as one of those all-around guys that can do it all.”
And he certainly is. He had 68 tackles, two sacks and five interceptions last season, and has the most sacks among NFL defensive backs in the past two seasons with seven. Most of all, he’s a huge game-planning headache for opposing offenses.
“He’s got a lot of ability, excellent ball skills, is a good blitzer and he’s got a lot of things on the physical side,” coach Eric Mangini said. “He’s becoming more and more of a pro each day. That’s really the highest compliment you can pay a player. Those are the guys who work to get the other guys on the team better while improving themselves.”
The Jets thought so highly of Rhodes they made him one of the richest safeties in the NFL in April, signing him to a five-year extension worth a reported $33.5 million, including $20 million guaranteed.
“As a player in this league, you always want to know where you’re going to be,” he said. “You want to have security and I got that this past offseason. You don’t want that looming over your head.”
Rhodes, a former college quarterback, walks with a swagger and carries himself with a supreme sense of confidence on the field.
“I’ve never lacked in that area,” he said with the smile that’s landed him on a few magazine covers. “If you lack in that area, you’re not going to be a good player. Having been a quarterback all my life, being vocal and talking has never been a problem with me. When guys look up to you and look back at you and you have to make the right call, it’s a good feeling. You shouldn’t want anything other than that.”
Despite three outstanding years to start his career, Rhodes has yet to make a Pro Bowl—although he was an alternate last season.
“I think the biggest thing with us is we didn’t have a winning year,” he said. “I had a good year and I was an alternate, so just imagine if we were winning. We have to win first, and then the awards and acclaim will come after.”
Rhodes’ rise to NFL prominence has been nothing short of impressive. After all, he didn’t become a full-time safety until after his second season at Louisville.
“I was learning on the job,” he said. “I got better as I got on and once I got here, the process got more advanced and I took it to another level, just actually being a safety: making tackles and getting dirty. I’m pretty much acclimated to it now. “
That’s for sure. Not bad for a 2005 fourth-round pick who thought he should have been selected a whole lot higher.
“It definitely makes it all pretty sweet,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes has dabbled in acting in past offseasons, but stayed away from that this year to concentrate more on football. His biggest focus has been improving on keeping his 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame lower to the ground when he’s out on the field.
“I’m a big guy, so coming in and out of breaks, sometimes in the past few seasons, I was a little high and maybe I could’ve made another play or two here and there,” he said. “It could’ve been nine picks. Just small things like that.”
Rhodes’ film-watching habits have also become the stuff of legend among his teammates. He routinely invites players over to his place to study game and practice film, trying to pick up any tips they can.
“I wasn’t in on it last year and I’m going to have to get in there this year,” Smith said with a laugh. “It’s real serious, from what I’ve heard. They get a lot done there. It’s not a joke-around session.”
The sign-up sheet might be a lot longer this season, especially with Rhodes’ improved seating situation.
“You know, since I’ve ‘graduated’ and got a nice, little raise and moved on up in the world, I’ve got a bigger place now,” he said with a chuckle. “So, I can have a few more people over and we can get a big DB group going on. It should be pretty good, man.”