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Friday Out-Takes: When Swaggerlicious Works

Every Friday, John Cockrell will offer up his perspective on the latest NFL developments that catch his eye. His views are his own, not those of the Patriots.

When Swaggerlicious Works

Say what you will about those new, hyper-brash Jets in Jersey and, granted, it can be downright embarrassing when talented linebacker BART SCOTT throws his jack-ass hat in the ring, but: The attitude REX RYAN hopes to instill in every green nook and cranny of the Meadowlands seems to be paying off in at least one area - the corralling of wayward running backs.

In the past few weeks, a position that had begun to resemble a chair-flinging, skinheads-themed Geraldo episode, has calmed to a more manageable, "Bret Michaels' Rock of Love Tour Bus: Reunion Show" level, as the top two running backs on the NYJ depth-chart ended their respective hold-outs (for now). Naturally, Jet fans the world over breathed a collective sigh of relief, then - we pretty much guarantee - got off the futon, headed upstairs and asked, "Mom, will you wash my New York Sack Exchange pj's? I've got a mixer to get to."

Yes, THOMAS JONES - the late-blooming RB whose career got off to a not-so-hot start in the Arizona desert, blossomed in Chicago and came full flower during a Pro Bowl '08 season with the Jets - returned to Organized Team Activities last week after pulling a Big Papi-ish oh-fer in their off-season workout program. Then came pace-changer LEON WASHINGTON, himself a 2008 Pro Bowler, whose ability to score at any time and from any place - as runner, receiver or returner - has made him one of the NFL's most dynamic, versatile and dangerous utility backs.

Monday, following his three-week run as an OTA "Bartleby the Scrivener," Washington preferred to follow suit. So, like that, the club whose fans sometimes flash each other on the concourse secured two solid offensive weapons. There may be no clearer sign that the new philosophy is working than key playmakers skipping all this "leverage" nonsense in lieu of skipping practice.

This is a team likely to start a rookie at QB. And no matter how convinced those frantic optimists at (or wherever) are that "Hollywood" Sanchez is the second coming of Peyton ("but potentially twice as good - IMO!!!"), no matter the depth of their certainty that the ex-Trojan is "this year's Matty Ice!", the kid's going to need a strong, focused backfield. Without Jones and Washington out there - not just when the game-checks swell, but right now, for the baby-steps of OTAs and two-a-days - the bar for the #5 overall pick would've been far higher.

So...good news, Jet fans! I mean, sure, Woody's Johnsons are looking up at a New England franchise no longer handicapped by the words "Bernard," "Pollard" and "Steeler fans made t-shirts?!" And, okay, there's still the matter of those pesky, reigning AFC East champ Dolphins and their infuriatingly accurate QB - what's his name again? But, as ever, June is prime time for the hopeful, if ultimately, hilariously sad-sacked, Jet fan. Even the jaded members of the Fireman Ed Generation, those keepers of the "Same Old Jets" flame can take heart. The turnaround may not happen overnight, but the new vibe's working, and hey - at least Mangini's gone!

Mangini's Gone! (To Hartford?!)

In an apparent bid to raise eyebrows in the league office while simultaneously supplanting that Karate Kid Sensai guy as #1 weasel-flavored "Heavy," Cleveland head coach ERIC MANGINI recently piled the Browns' rookie class onto a bus for a ten-hour ride to Hartford, CT. Full disclosure: Out-Takes is partial to Hartford, as we spent four of the best years of our lives there, but even we didn't go back for our 15-year, because, well, it was held in Hartford.

Fuller disclosure: Over the last eight years, Mangini has run a football camp for underprivileged kids there, and while he is to be commended for that - truly - the commendations stop when geography comes into play. No one here claims to be a cartographer or even someone Mrs. Out-Takes wants in the "navigation seat" on trips to Target, but our best guesstimates tell us Cleveland is much farther from Hartford than, say, Foxboro and the Meadowlands are.

Ten-hour drives are for one thing and one thing only: making up time on cross-country trips. They shouldn't constitute any part of "voluntary" workouts. And they really * shouldn't constitute - as one source told *Cleveland Plain Dealer *columnist Mary Kay Cabot - "a sophisticated form of hazing." (Especially when the first leg of the ten-hour ride was skipped by Mangini and his staff. They *flew. Say, that oughta build team morale!)

It makes you wonder. What exactly is Mangini up to? Is this his unsmiling, dour take on the Swaggerlicious campaign of his replacement in New "York?" (Stern-alicious?) Is it, as many suspect, his tone-deaf take-two on the "Channeling Belichick" Tour? Or is it just his inner alpha-male attempting to show everyone in town "who's the boss?" If so, this HC is S out of L, because the answer to that one, as any Clevelander will tell you, is neither Eric Mangini nor Tony Danza. The answer to that Dwight Howard.

Blooper Reel

~ Not to look a gift-horse in the mouth, but what's the point of PETER KING getting an exclusive - the first big, post-surgery, pre-season interview with TOM BRADY - rolling it out with a sneak-peek in his "Monday Morning Quarterback" column, pimping it all over TV and radio, and *putting it on the cover *of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, only to offer up just a scant, two-page article?

It was a perfectly good read, nuggets, tidbits, blah blah blah. But judging from the 100 media credentials issued for Brady's first workout at Gillette, judging from The Worldwide Leader's wall-to-wall coverage, judging from the article itself, we're pretty sure this Brady thing is kind of big news. We weren't looking for a Sports Guy-ish 8000 word tome, but how about, ya know, 4 pages? Heck, how about 3? We know, we know - sometimes less is more. But sometimes, Mr. King, less is less. Anything left on the cutting room floor?

~ It would be easy to mock OCHOCINCO for supplementing his off-season workouts with high-intensity BOXING sessions at a Hollywood gym, to blow it off as just "his latest publicity stunt." But Out-Takes isn't so sure such skepticism is warranted. Señor Cinco may be a royal pain in the you-know-what, but you-know-who is undoubtedly a proud and determined athlete, and boxing provides a helluva work out, trust us. (We asked someone.)

For every silly, theatrical end zone celebration, every fake Hall of Fame jacket donned, there's a sense that Keyshawn's cousin is just trying to entertain and desperate to win. And, hey, if it doesn't work out and he remains a loose-lipped sinking ship, at least he'll have trained himself up enough to land one of those halftime right hooks and give us something *really * fun to write about.

~ This week the NEW ORLEANS SAINTS announced that they've run their streak of selling out every home game to four straight years. Ever since Hurricane Katrina blew a hole in their dome, this community has stepped up, despite still being stepped on, Federal response- and relief-wise. Their resilience and passion is inspiring. (Now if they can just get REGGIE BUSH untracked.)

And finally...

Goodbye, Mr. Chips-on-his-shoulder

On Wednesday, the hard-hitting, fiery and always vocal safety RODNEY HARRISON announced his retirement from football after 15 remarkable years of leaving everything he had, and a lot of whatever the other guy had, on the field. Harrison's retirement is a loss for the Patriots, for their fans, for the NFL, and for the sporting world's flourishing chip-on-your-shoulder industry. He also leaves the league office (and its war chest of fines - some warranted, some not-so), as well as fans from Coast to Coast, with a treasure trove of memories:

A SAN DIEGO ROOKIE getting burned by the "second-to-one" 49er combo of YOUNG to RICE, just shy of two minutes into Super Bowl XXIX.

Knocking the living "@!*#80" out of New England vet TROY BROWN in his very first training-camp practice as a Patriot - his initial rough-and-tumble step toward a leadership role that would earn him two Super Bowl rings in six seasons with New England.

A forearm-shiver sack to the chest of an unsuspecting YOUNG QB named VINCE, in a pre-season game that meant nothing, except that for #37 no game ever meant nothing.

A snow-swept, blind-side safety-blitz that put both FIEDLER and football on the red zone ground, to clinch a late December game with the Dolphins in 2003.

Breaking his arm late in Super Bowl XXXVII, then staying out for one more play, only to break it a little bit more.

Leaping amid Indy receivers and New England flurries, to snare an end-zone INT just before the half of the 2003 AFC Championship. (And the emotional but businesslike exchange at game's end with a celebratory, focused BILL BELICHICK: "We've got one more now." "Yes, sir.")

The wily deke of a rookie QB in another championship contest - his payback for Young-to-Rice? - intercepting a BEN ROETHLISBERGER pass and taking it 87 yards to the house for a back-breaking touchdown minutes prior to halftime of the AFC Championship Game in 2004.

And every slight, perceived or misperceived (Out-Takes has a special place in its heart for the misperceived ones) that invariably led to Rodney's ritual post-game locker room rant: "They didn't believe we could do it!"

Best of luck at NBC, #37. Considering your Mr. Nice Guy routine in past television appearances, and your previous part-time work on NBC and NFLN, you won't need it, not even a little. (But FYI, the execs there don't believe you can do it. None of 'em. They're really dissing you.)

John Cockrell is a screenwriter, whose other work has run the gamut from "Sesame Street Parents Magazine" to Playboy TV's "The Weekend Flash." (He figures everything else is pretty much in-between.)"

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