"The Catch,” of course, was more than just a clutch play late in the game, a pass that the Jets had to complete in the Week 10 overtime win at Cleveland. For Jerricho Cotchery, it was the personification of a season of playing in pain.
The midseason grab made highlight reels and made Cotchery forever a legend in green; pulling up lame with a groin strain on a route over the middle, Cotchery still managed to get his hands up across his body to make a leaping grab on a Mark Sanchez pass to pick up a crucial first down. Having suffered the groin strain just moments before the highlight, Cotchery then limped off the field and didn’t participate in another play in New York’s 26-20 win at Browns Stadium.
The clutch catch in the midst of an agonizing injury didn’t just help the Jets improve to 7-2 on the season, it served as an inspiration for the rest of the season.
And while “gutsy” and “heroic” are forever linked to the way Cotchery gutted it out on that play, most fans were unaware that the Jets wide receiver played the entire season with a herniated disc that eventually required offseason surgery. Cotchery never talked about it to the media , “because, well, no one needed to know what I was playing through.”
But this offseason, Cotchery is working hard to make sure his little secret from a season past now becomes a thing of the past.
“I’m at three months right now. I’m strengthening my core right now and I started doing some running,” Cotchery told Metro. “I just had the surgery not too long ago. I’m pretty close to being ready to be back. Once I get my strength back to 100 percent and I’m pretty close to that right now.”
He’s a little over three months removed from the surgery, working out and rehabbing at TEST Sports Clubs in Martinsville, N.J. Cotchery is closing in on getting ready for the season, distraction-free as the NFL lockout rolls by. He’s one of several Jets players or former players who are taking advantage of the work stoppage to get into shape following injury, joined by recently released Kris Jenkins at the TEST facility. For Cotchery, the extra time off is paying dividends.
And while the labor impasses keeps Cotchery from communicating with team management, he said that the Jets training staff is in somewhat regular contact with the staff at TEST to gauge his recovery process.
“I had the injury the entire season and I played through it,” Cotchery said. “Even before the season started, I had it.”
If and when the NFL season starts this year, Cotchery is the only known and proven wide receiver on the Jets roster. Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes are both free agents and Brad Smith, who filled in at wide receiver for Cotchery the week after his groin pull in Cleveland, is also free to explore his options.
“Those guys did a great job producing. Braylon came in here and last year did well, he’s a good player. In a short time, Santonio came in and added a lot to the offense,” Cotchery said. “I haven’t spoken to either of those guys but I did speak to Brad about his future – just talking about it with him.”
Cotchery has been enjoying his quiet offseason, what he calls a time to “catch up mentally, physically.” But Jets head coach Rex Ryan has had anything but a quiet offseason as the second-year coach has been promoting his part inspirational, part autobiographic book "Play Like You Mean It." In the book, the outspoken Ryan takes point with several former Jets players, including tight end Chris Baker and linebacker Eric Barton. Both players are called out as locker room cancers whom Ryan wanted nothing to deal with when he took over the sidelines two years ago.
It was a point Cotchery didn’t want to touch with a 10-foot pole.
“As far as Baker being negative or Eric Barton being negative, you have to ask around,” Cotchery said. “But me, personally, I can remember in 2005 when I was a young pup with the team. I’d be the first one on the field, the last one off the field. I was really working, trying to pay my dues. Barton pulled me to the side and told me to keep working, to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Cotchery paused a moment with his arms crossed, just looking down at his sneakers.
“That meant a lot to me that he would do that. Say what you will about this player or that player, but I will always remember Eric Barton for that moment.”
The Jets wide receiver, known to be even-tempered on and off the field, also took exception when asked about former Jets head coach Eric Mangini. Fired after a disappointing 9-7 mark in January 2009, Mangini’s rough demeanor with the media made many enemies in the press box and he earned a reputation as unapproachable among the beat writers.
But despite his prickly, rarely smiling way in press conferences, Cotchery saw a different side to Mangini. Ryan made a point in his book that when he assumed the head coaching role from Mangini, he was placing a priority on creating an open-door policy for his team. In the book, Ryan creates the impression of a secretive regime under Mangini; not so says Cotchery.
“That was a misunderstanding about Mangini, he wasn’t a bad guy. Because he wasn’t as outspoken, people maybe perceived him a certain way,” Cotchery said. “I know he was available to me, I knew I could walk in when I had a question and needed to approach him. That was never a question with Mangini.”