No matter if a player has an established track record; consistent performance is still a fragile proposition. Injuries are inevitable, and the degree of difficulty entailed with professional football dictates varying successes. Expectations numb our appreciation for just how supremely difficult these positions are. And no better confirming evidence exists than the rookie season. Even if a player’s talents are limitless, elevated expectations, truncated playing time, and a brutal learning curve can conspire to nullify any potential impact.

It’s a rare phenomenon for a prodigy to assert himself immediately, and permanently. For three members of the Jets’ rookie class of 2010, the familiar pitfalls have presented themselves. It’s a gifted group, high on upside, but in need of experience. They deserve the franchise’s patience, and will receive precious developmental time.

But when a freshman has not obviously emerged just past the halfway point, the draft is bound to be viewed as a disappointment, at least when viewed through an extremely short-term prism. Ideally, the picks will learn and grow while contributing to a winning effort. Unfortunately for the Jets, this scenario has not burst into fruition, except in the case of John Conner, who resides behind Tony Richardson on the depth chart.

Before the season started, the most important rookie appeared to be Vladimir Ducasse, a hulking left guard plucked from UMass in the second round. Ducasse was slated to compete with Matt Slauson, both bidding to replace departed run stopping mensch Alan Faneca. Faneca, a possibly Canton bound team leader, would not be easily replaceable, for reasons both obvious and intangible. Though he had become a liability corralling the opposing pass rush, his departure was not greeted with unanimous support within the locker room. In fact, the reaction was quite the opposite.

It appeared this monstrous task would be left to Ducasse. If he could adjust to a new, blinding game speed, and become a force knocking the opposition off scrimmage, Faneca would not be so sorely missed. It was a bold decision by the Jets, but definitely rational.

 Unfortunately for Ducasse, he just hasn’t logged much significant playing time, perhaps proving more of a project than the Jets anticipated. Regardless, his future outlook remains bright, playing under a Head Coach committed to strong offensive line play, and Bill Callahan, one of the best positional assistants in the League. Ducasse, for one, remains optimistic.  “It’s pretty much what I expected,” said the rookie of his pro indoctrination. “Every day we keep going out, keep working hard and getting better, at different things. So that’s about it.” But Ducasse did admit that this venture has been at least slightly removed from the realms of college, though he couldn’t put his finger on a concrete reason. “A little bit. I don’t know how to put it. But a little bit. In college it was like… the mutual thing is that you put it work. What you did in practice is what you’re going to show on game day, so that’s why you don’t want to messing up in practice.” With Slauson now entrenched in a starting role, Ducasse can only control his own improvement. “I’m still learning. I’m doing what I got to do. I keep on getting better. That’s all I can do right now.”

Though Ducasse was expected to be a major cog, fellow rookie Kyle Wilson was also worthy of attention this past summer in training camp. The Boise State product had been highly touted by draft experts, and the Jets were lauded in many quarters for their selection. Wilson excelled under heavy pressure back in August, shouldering the burden of Darrelle Revis’ absence, thrust immediately into a prominent position. Wilson impressed the coaching staff, not only with his superb agility in close proximities, but also with maturity belying his age. While questions have hovered around Ducasse through the preseason, Wilson was seen, nearly universally, as a sure bet to contribute mightily. Revis returned, sending his younger contemporary downward on the depth chart. It seemed to be the best possible sequence of events. Wilson, however, would struggle when the games counted, penalty prone and apparently overwhelmed. He saw his playing time decrease at the hands of Drew Coleman, who rebounded from afterthought status to secure more playing time. Wilson turned into ghost as the weeks accumulated, before flashing his considerable skills in limited duty against the Browns. Despite his initial struggles, Wilson may be poised to deliver down the stretch, reinforcing a currently, curiously disappointing secondary.  “Not really,” responded Wilson, when asked whether he was surprised by his individual performance. “You always expect adversity. I just try to stay positive, and keep learning. Try not to make the same mistake twice.” Wilson maintained that the pro game’s speed had not been his undoing. “Nah, probably just the mental part,” said the corner. “Knowing how people will attack you, and just anticipate that.” Wilson pointed toward consistency as the key. “That’s the big thing. I think that’s what a lot of people focus and that was one thing I was trying to be, which was consistent in my technique.  And that will lead to making plays.” Rookies face a challenging road, without the added pressure of their orientation negatively affecting a team with high expectations. The Jets are seeking a championship, plain and simple. This demand for excellence can make a rookie’s transition even more perilous. “Probably,” conceded Wilson. “You know, it’s just how it goes. I’m not sure how other places work, but definitely our standards are high here.  That’s how we like it. You can’t do anything but just adjust to it… and just get with it.”

Will Wilson start making an impact?

Fullback John Conner emerged as the star on HBO’s training camp program “Hard Knocks.” Dubbed “The Terminator,” although his namesake led the human resistance, the rugged fullback earned raves from Rex Ryan for his brutal blocks. Conner hits like a sledgehammer, garnering downhill momentum before viciously colliding with his assigned target. For a moment before the season began, it appeared that he had assumed the starting fullback role, as Tony Richardson was released. The Jets, though, decided to retain Richardson’s services, allowing Conner a whole valuable season to learn. It was the correct move, one that will have Conner prepared to wreak utter havoc in 2011. For now, the best member of this draft class is Conner.  “As a rookie it’s easy to be in a situation, where you’re kind of worried about what you have to do, kind of put pressure on yourself, but I’m just trying to relax and take every rep like it’s my last, stay in my playbook and be mentally ready in case they call my number,” said Conner.  “I’m learning a lot this year; especially from guys like T-Rich and LT… it’s been a fun experience. I haven’t played as much offense as special teams; my role’s been mostly special teams, so I’m taking on that, too.” Conner has no issue with this temporary arrangement. “I like it. I played a lot of special teams in college, even though I was a starter. It’s been fun, I’m just trying to help the team any way I can.”

Conner is. Not every rookie does.

Dispatches from Rex:

Rex Ryan met with a gathered media assemblage for his Friday news conference.

Injury Report: “These guys are going to be out for the game. Dwight Lowery, Marquice Cole and Jerricho {Cotchery} Those three did not practice today. Jerricho is looking pretty good, so is Marquice. Hopefully they’ll be ready to go next week, but they will not play this game. Guys that were limited, but all these guys are going to be listed as probable, so there’s like twenty of them… guys that were limited in practice {are} David Harris, that will be a new guy. He had a calf. Other new guys {were} Brad Smith. He kind of had a lower back deal, so he was limited. Then everybody else that I mention will be in practice full, nut they’re going to be probable. Nick Mangold, shoulder, Josh Mauga, hamstring, Calvin Pace, foot, Darrelle Revis, hamstring, Mark Sanchez, calf {and} Damien Woody, ankle. All those guys are probable.”

Dwight Lowery’s concussion: “Those things you really don’t know. We’ll see how he is. I think he’s better now than he was. Again our doctors and our trainers don’t feel like he’s ready to go yet. I saw him doing {well} dribbling a football today, so he’s back to being himself. We’re clearly not going to put any guy out there that still has symptoms.”

The Military visiting practice: “It was great. It’s funny because they get a lot of joy out of it and they’re like, “Holy cow! It’s so and so.” We’re looking at you like you look at these guys.”

Cotchery: “If we were playing the Super Bowl, he’d be playing, but we have more game to play this year and we have to make sure we’re doing the right things by him and for ourselves as well.”
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