Moss fills void left by Coles' departure

Updated: November 7, 2003, 1:53 AM ET

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- New York Jets receiver Santana Moss saw an opening when Laveranues Coles left in the offseason.

So Moss took it and ran.

Moss leads the team with 38 receptions for 580 yards and seven touchdowns, emerging to fill the role Coles had last season. Moss is coming off one of his best games, when he had 10 catches for 121 yards and three touchdowns Sunday against the New York Giants.

"We all said there's 70 balls that will be up for grabs," fellow receiver Wayne Chrebet said. "And Santana decided that he wants every one of them."

Until now, the speedy 2001 first-round pick has primarily been known as a punt returner. It has taken three years for the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Moss to show how valuable he is as a receiver. After injuries curtailed his rookie season, Moss entered last season stuck behind Coles, who was outstanding.

Coles led the Jets with 89 catches for 1,264 yards and five touchdowns. But he left for the Washington Redskins as a free agent after the Jets would not match an offer sheet to keep him.

Moss participated in an offseason strength program at Miami, where he worked out for two hours every morning. He came into training camp stronger and bulkier. But with Chrebet and Curtis Conway as the starters, Moss did not have many opportunities.

So veteran running back Curtis Martin decided to have a chat with Moss.

"I said, 'What Laveranues did last year, you have to do this year," Martin recalled. "He looked me in the eye and said, 'All right.' And he's been performing."

Following an 0-4 start in which the offense stagnated and the loss of Coles was glaring, coach Herman Edwards decided Moss would replace Conway.

Good move. Moss has a touchdown reception in each of the four games he has started and has become more productive than Coles recently. His seven touchdown receptions puts him two behind league leaders Torry Holt and Randy Moss.

"I'm aware of guys looking at me knowing what I have," Moss said. "But I'm one of those patient guys. If you go out there trying to break your neck to be something that you aren't, that's when you mess up and do things that you're not supposed to do."

Moss already has career-high numbers through just eight games, bettering the 30 catches for 433 yards and four touchdown receptions of last season.

As for Coles, he started the season with three 100-yard games, but has not reached that mark since Sept. 21. He has two touchdown receptions this year -- five fewer than Moss -- and is averaging 14.3 yards a catch, less than Moss' 15.3.

"(Moss) needs to be the guy that makes the big plays for us," Edwards said. "I think he feels that. We talked about that. He wants the ball, and we'll find a way to get him the ball."

Last year on special teams, Moss had two punt returns for touchdowns and averaged 16.5 yards. Though his numbers have dipped slightly, he still is a threat every time he touches the ball.

Moss is aware of his success this season, especially after struggling in his first two years.

"It's not my fault I couldn't have fun when I first got here," Moss said. "You have to look at that and let it build you and not let that put you down in the pits. That's what I did.

"I took what happened to me, thought about it when I had a chance to and knew I didn't like that feeling. I wanted to see better and greater things for myself."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index

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