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Star-Ledger: Jets focus on stopping Morton


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Jets focus on stopping Morton

http://www.nj.com/jets/ledger/index.ssf?/base/sports-0/1062567052205030.xml

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

BY DAVE HUTCHINSON

Star-Ledger Staff

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff taught Chad Morton much of what he knows. Last season, Westhoff helped turn Morton from just another marginal NFL player into a marquee name, as Morton returned a pair of kickoffs for touchdowns -- one in overtime -- in a season-opening victory over Buffalo. He finished second in the AFC with a 26-yard average.

Tomorrow night Morton, who'll also return punts, will use all of that knowledge against his mentor and his former teammates when the Jets take on the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field in the NFL's 2003 season opener.

The battle of the special teams is one of the many subplots in this game. Morton is one of four former Jets -- wide receiver Laveranues Coles, kicker John Hall and guard Randy Thomas are the others -- now wearing the Redskins' burgundy and gold.

"Chad Morton is a real challenge," Westhoff said. "I know him pretty well. I feel pretty good about the development of him. He wasn't exactly a household name. I have a lot of respect for what he did.

"Do I think we can stop him? Sure. But I feel that way about everybody. ... I'm sure as hell not going to hold anything back. I'm not going to save anything. I'm going to try everything I can think of."

That may mean kicking away from the dangerous Morton.

"You always want to play your ex-team and show what you can do against them," he said. "I'm not bitter. It was just a better opportunity for me here."

The Jets intended to keep Morton but were given bad advice by the league in their efforts to match the Redskins' five-year, $7.9 million offer sheet that included a $2.5 million signing bonus.

This off-season, Morton, a fourth-year pro, called Westhoff to offer his condolences over the death of Westhoff's father. He also thanked Westhoff for helping make him the player he is.

Morton, who has been replaced on kickoffs by former Dolphin Albert Johnson, wanted to leave the Jets to get an opportunity to play more in the regular offense, but that hasn't happened yet in Washington, where Trung Canidate is the starter. Redskins coach Steve Spurrier said he doesn't have a role for Morton on offense yet -- not a good sign.

Morton, as a return specialist, is plenty for the Jets to handle, however. And the job of the Jets' coverage teams will be made more difficult because kickoffs by new kicker Doug Brien have been reaching only the 10- to 12-yard lines.

"Of course, that (Morton trying to prove something) is going to happen," Jets special teams demon Jason Glenn said. "What we have to do is stay poised and not let him break any of those big runs like he did for us last year. ... Some of the guys on the team have talked to him and he's pretty fired up and ready to play. But so are we. We'll see what happens."

In addition to losing Morton and Hall, Westhoff also lost linebacker James Darling (Arizona) off his special teams unit. Punter Matt Turk (Seattle) was released. And with Morton, the Jets didn't just lose a kickoff returner, he was a standout on coverage teams, finishing with 21 tackles -- fourth on the team -- and one forced fumble.

In short, Westhoff has had to make major changes.

Cornerback Jamie Henderson is a top cover guy and rookie linebacker Victor Hobson will step into the roles held by Darling. Veteran Dan Stryzinski is the new punter.

"I feel pretty good about (the revamped special teams), but yet we're untested in some ways, and there are some big question marks that I have," Westhoff said.

One of the biggest is Johnson, who is coming off knee surgery in each of the past two seasons. He has looked spectacular at times and he has been slow to read his blocks and explode through the hole at other times. Last year, he was ranked second in the AFC in kickoff returns (27.5-yard average) before he suffered a season-ending knee injury in game four at Kansas City.

"There are some decisions I could've made better," Johnson said. "Every time I go out on the field, I go with my first instincts and what I see. Hopefully, it's the right (decision)."

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"Morton, who has been replaced on kickoffs by former Dolphin Albert Johnson, wanted to leave the Jets to get an opportunity to play more in the regular offense, but that hasn't happened yet in Washington, where Trung Canidate is the starter. Redskins coach Steve Spurrier said he doesn't have a role for Morton on offense yet -- not a good sign. "

It's so entertaining how these NY writers just make stuff up to support their arguments. First of all, the season hasn't even started yet, but it's apparently "not a good sign" that Morton hasn't had an opportunity on offense? Secondly, he has had several plays on offense in the preseason, so this guy obviously hasn't even watched the games and doesn't know what he's talking about. These writers are such a joke.

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