John Conner is known for his crunching blocks that earned him the nickname “The Terminator.” But Conner’s first time in pads nearly saw the termination of his fledgling career.
Conner remembers his first football practice in pads when he was just six. He was tentative and unsure to the point that, after practice, he wanted to quit the sport. A pep talk from his dad made him try again and his next practice “was a little better.”
Safe to say the Jets are glad he stuck with it.
“I just like to be physical and just play hard,” said the Jets’ rookie fullback, who Rex Ryan calls ‘concrete.’ “There’s nothing more to it than that.”
The fifth-round pick wasn’t sure he’d make the team out of camp, but his bruising play now warrants regular duty in the backfield. Take for example the fourth quarter in Monday night’s win over Minnesota when Conner delivered a crushing block on E.J. Henderson to pave the way for Shonn Greene’s 23-yard touchdown run.
“That was all John Conner, that block right there,” Greene said. “I had the choice to cut it back inside or to take it outside. When something like John’s block opens it up, you take it outside.”
Conner was originally supposed to take out the defensive end, but the hole opened up faster than the play called for and Conner had to improvise.
“I worked up to the second level and that ended up being their inside linebacker,” Conner said. “From there, it was just me leveraging and getting a block in.”
Greene’s read on the play coupled with Conner neutralizing Henderson allowed the Jets to score their only offensive touchdown of the night. It wasn’t the first time against Minnesota that the Jets had called that same exact play with some success as the Jets ran the same read-run twice prior in the first half. On one of those calls, a LaDainian Tomlinson gain got called back for holding by starting fullback Tony Richardson.
With Conner, however, the hole was opened and the touchdown quickly followed.
“You see that and you think that ‘it might happen, it might be a touchdown’,” Greene said. “It was a perfect play by him to get that block.”
Despite being a rookie, the soft-spoken Conner has made a mark on the team, contributing on both the offensive side of the ball and on special teams. He credits Tony Richardson, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, with having helped him grow and develop. Richardson has blocked for a 1,000 yard rusher in seven of his last eight seasons, and Conner said that Richardson has helped his progression to the point where he can be called upon to step in and perform, like he did on Monday night.
“Since OTA’s this summer, I feel like I’ve really grown and gotten more comfortable,” Conner said. “I credit Tony Richardson with that. He’s really helped me and taken me aside, especially during those first few weeks.”
For his part, Richardson brushes aside the compliments from the rookie.
“It’s not me doing anything special,” Richardson said. “But when the coaches say something to us and John maybe doesn’t understand, I just try to re-package it and explain it another way to him, that’s all, just to help his understanding.
Richardson said he was beaming on the sidelines when Conner had that crunching hit on Henderson in Monday night’s game.
It might be a sign of things to come. Conner was the first fullback taken in the NFL Draft in a position where many starters in the league go undrafted. His progression this year will only help the Jets both now and for the future. Second year running back Shonn Greene, for example, is excited to think that Conner might be paving holes for him for the future.
“He has a great future ahead of him,” Greene said. “I sure like thinking about him blocking for me for maybe the next 10 years.”