Former Jets wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson forever became linked with “Just Give Me the Damn Ball,” the title of his 1997 autobiography detailing the rookie’s adjustment to the NFL. Fourteen years later, Jets rookie wide receiver Jeremy Kerley puts it differently than Johnson did, but the message is the same.
And if preseason is any indicator, when Kerley is given the ball, he can be a dangerous and versatile weapon for the Jets.
Kerley, the team’s fifth-round pick this past April, comes from a Texas Christian program that liked to use his playmaking speed and ability in their pass-heavy offense. Now with the Jets, Kerley is going to get the ball in a variety of different ways.
“To me, it’s about being on the field, being that guy who can do a lot of different things — at wide receiver being an option, on special teams with the return game and in the Wildcat. I welcome that,” Kerley told Metro. “I just want to get the ball, be involved, make a difference. It doesn’t matter what they say or what the coaches want me to do, I will do it.”
Kerley admits to having some pretty big shoes to fill.
Last year, the Jets counted on Brad Smith to be their jack-of-all-trades player. Smith returned kickoffs and was among the best in the league at it. He ran the Wildcat with the precision of someone who played quarterback at Missouri. He also filled in at wide receiver when called upon. On top of that, Smith was a fan favorite and a quiet presence in the locker room. His departure to Buffalo this offseason in free agency left a void on the Jets’ roster.
A void Kerley knows he’s expected to fill.
“I know the coaches have talked with me about doing a lot of the things Brad Smith did when he was here, and he was a great player, a really great athlete,” Kerley said. “I have a similar skill set to Brad, but I played wide receiver in college and quarterback in high school, so the receiving part won’t be as big of a transition for me.”
Kerley hasn’t watched any film of Smith and said he’s focusing on just learning the Jets’ playbook.
While Kerley’s talents have been noticeable in practice, especially on special teams, it seems almost as if the Jets are keeping him under wraps until the regular season. Most of his touches have been as a wide receiver and the use of him out of the Wildcat — mainly in preseason game No. 3 against the Giants — was rather tame.
While Smith was a playmaker and immensely versatile, he was still a raw product as a wide receiver. Smith started just four games since Rex Ryan took over the team in 2009 and had a total of 11 catches during that stretch.
Kerley had six catches for 55 yards in his four preseason games, perhaps showing that he will be more of a target in the passing game than Smith ever was. And with the Jets carrying just four receivers on their 53-man roster, Kerley will get a chance to get himself that ball, Keyshawn style.
“To me, being in the wide receiver rotation is a sign that I’ve done things well, yes, but I’m not going to limit myself to just that,” Kerley said. “Whatever I can do to get on the field, make an impact, that’s what it’s about. Not any set role, just making plays as best I can.”
Follow Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer for Jets news all season long.