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Jets' Martin keeps confidence after surgery

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (June 19, 2006) -- Curtis Martin stands off to the side as the offense runs yet another drill on a warm morning.

When it is time for the veteran running back to take a handoff, he bursts through the hole and makes a few moves to squirt free. But those moments are rare during the Jets' three-day minicamp as Martin takes it slow in his return from a right knee injury.

Martin had arthroscopic surgery in December to clean out his knee, ending his season after 12 games and 735 yards -- the first time in his career he failed to reach the 1,000-yard mark. It was a tough blow for the venerable Martin, who prides himself on playing through pain to be a leader for his team.

Though it has been nearly six months since the surgery, Martin is limited in camp. But he has no doubts he will be as productive as ever in 2006, his 12th season in the league.

"I never doubt that. I've never doubted that, and as long as I play I never will," Martin said. "I can't even imagine myself doubting that. That's not even in my personality."

But the signs are there. Martin is 33 and coming off an injury, a bad combination for the 2004 NFL rushing champ. New coach Eric Mangini has made it clear every starting job on the team is open. Martin refused to say whether he will be at full speed when training camp starts in July. If he isn't, that also could hinder him because he likes to get in plenty of work heading into the regular season.

Even so, the Jets appear to be content sticking with Martin, who ranks No. 4 all-time in rushing with 14,101 yards. He reworked his contract in the offseason to create more salary-cap room. And the Jets didn't use a high draft pick on a running back, taking Leon Washington in the fourth round out of Florida State.

Derrick Blaylock could challenge for the starting job, but he also has been hampered during minicamp with a leg injury. He broke his foot last season and played in just seven games while Cedric Houston got the majority of the carries when Martin went out.

For his part, Martin said his focus is the same.

"I feel you don't have to change what's not broken," he said. "The approach I've had is going all out every day and giving my best every time I come out on the field, whether it's practice or a game. That's what's been working for me so I'm not going to change it."

Coach Eric Mangini also has noticed the way Martin has worked to come back.

"We always talk about, 'Are you the same guy every day?' I was with Curtis when he first got here. Curtis is the same guy every day," Mangini said. "His approach, it's unique. You can't ask for a better mentor for younger players than him."

Martin went into 2005 with high hopes after leading the league in rushing with 1,697 yards the previous season. He initially got hurt in Week 2 but kept playing, possibly doing more damage. When he went out, he broke a streak of 119 consecutive regular-season starts and ended his string of 10 straight 1,000-yard seasons to start a career, a record he shares with Barry Sanders.

Unlike past offseasons, Martin stayed in New York and was at the Jets' facility. There was no running of the Santa Monica beach steps to get into better shape. Instead, he was forced to take it easy for once.

"It's the most rest I've had," Martin said. "My legs feel springy again, just as far as my body, I feel sort of rejuvenated."

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