RB worked on improving speed in offseason
Jets RB Curtis Martin believes the key to another successful season is learning to relax when he's in open space.
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Relax.
|Inside Jets camp|
How's QB Chad Pennington recovering from offseason surgery? Why are folks so high on rookie K Mike Nugent? Those are just a couple of the things Michael Smith touches on in his observations from Jets camp.
• Inside Jets camp
Running back, however, is a different story. As in, around here, it's never a dramatic story. The Jets need not worry about Martin. Every year, the only questions when it comes to him are, "How?" and "How long?"
"It just sounds like the right thing to say as you're getting older," Martin, 32, said after a recent practice, "but I just feel like I'm getting better. I get better mentally from year to year. I always find a little edge."
This year he came up with this: Martin's longest run last season was a 25-yard touchdown against Miami in the seventh game. Consistency, not speed, has been Martin's hallmark, evident by his solid if unspectacular 4.1-yard career average; last season was just the second time in his career that he has averaged as much as 4.5. Which brings us to the aforementioned performance anxiety issue.
Martin reviewed practice film and diagnosed the problem himself. And the contrast was clear: A deep thinker by nature, Martin has come to realize that, in game situations, he would have a little too much on his mind (securing the ball, for example) when he found himself with more room to run than he was accustomed, whereas in a relaxed workout setting he was more apt to outrun defenders for long gains.
"When I got into the open, I was usually so shocked, I'd tense up," he said. "It's just relaxing and allowing your legs to run freely. I just started putting more emphasis on focusing -- once I get in the open, the first thing that clicks in my mind now is 'relax.'"
He did anything but relax this offseason; the future Hall of Famer is not big on saving himself for game day.
"He could easily take practices off, but here's a guy that does both practices and goes all out every day, regardless if he's sore or what," said his understudy, Kansas City import Derrick Blaylock.
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Coles returns to the scene of his best seasons so far, as he reunites with QB Chad Pennington. Coles did not perform as expected last year in Washington, scoring just once. He was slowed by injuries and operated more as a possession-type receiver. Coles should re-emerge as a possible big-play threat this year especially if Pennington has no setbacks with his surgically-repaired shoulder.
Coles might not be consistent, but he can certainly deliver good yardage numbers and quality TD totals. Coles has a great on-field relationship with Pennington and should enjoy a rebound year in a new-look Jets passing game that won't hesitate to make the most of Coles' downfield potential.
Using bungee cords, Paul put Martin through resistance and assisted running. With a cord attached to his waist, Martin would perform drills, such as stepping through a set of cones, while being pulled from behind to lengthen his strides, or pulled forward to force him to move his feet quicker. Paul and Martin worked one day on straight-line speed, the next on cutting speed. Some days Martin worked out alone at Hofstra University well into the evening.
The result: Though Paul won't divulge Martin's time in the 40-yard dash, they agree Martin has improved his quickness and speed.
"I feel as though I'm just starting to learn how to run," Martin said.
Uh, come again?
"When I get in the open field," Martin said, "when I relax and run, I'm much faster. It seems as though I would have figured that out by now but I'm just now figuring that out. So I'm looking forward to breaking longer runs this year. I think this year I'll definitely have a few runs over 25 yards."
Heimerdinger was hired primarily to improve the passing game; if successful, Martin should see fewer eight-man fronts. But Heimerdinger also has tweaked the run blocking a bit, allowing the linemen greater freedom to make adjustments while giving Martin the welcomed opportunity to improvise more. "Instead of hitting a specific hole," Martin said, "what I love to do is just run wherever there is a hole. A lot of the runs are designed to allow me to be an artist."
One whose best work still may be forthcoming. Martin said he loves and enjoys the game now more than ever, evident by the enthusiasm with which he approaches studying. The career rushing record is not his goal. He'd like a championship. "If the Super Bowl were an individual goal it wouldn't matter too much to me, but being that's it's the ultimate team goal, and me being a leader, I would love to lead my team to a Super Bowl," he said.
His plan, he said, is to play another three seasons, at least.
"In my mind, I feel like I'm going to slow down when I'm ready to slow down," Martin said. "I'm sure everybody thinks that but I really believe it. I feel like I can get better. I always believe the longer you do something the better you should get at it."
As for the rest of us, we'll just sit back and enjoy.
Michael Smith is a senior writer for ESPN.com.