By Tim Sullivan
They both grew up in the football-frenzied town of Pittsburgh. They both decided to stay home, and attend the University of Pittsburgh. They both orchestrated tremendous college careers which, in turn, led to
NFL careers. And now, thanks to a trade last week, they’re both on the Jets.
But make no mistake. That’s where the similarities end between Curtis Martin and Kevan Barlow.
Either way, Jets General Manager Mike Tannenbaum and Coach Eric Mangini threw caution to the wind by agreeing to ship a fourth-round pick to San Francisco for the combustible Barlow, who will attempt to take the place of Martin, a likely Hall of Famer whose career is in jeopardy with a right knee injury.
But Martin — a five-time Pro Bowler who has 10 1,000-yard seasons — is so much more than statistics to the Jets. He is a team leader, a fan favorite, a media darling, and maybe more important than anything, he’s not a troublemaker.
“I’m a great guy,” Barlow promised the New York media this week. “A character guy.”
And then, of course, he went out and bashed 49ers coach Mike Nolan, comparing him to Adolf Hitler.
Now — as is the routine in the NFL when players cross the line with quotes — an apology soon followed.
“If I could take it back, I would,” he said. “I’m a passionate player, I’m an emotional guy when it comes to on the field and off the field. Sometimes it gets the best of us. I put it behind me, and I’m glad to be a Jet.”
Eventually, his teammates may be glad, as well. Especially if Barlow breaks out early for the rebuilding Jets, who have a hill to climb in order to surpass their WagerWeb.com season total of six wins.
In the interim, though, Tannenbaum and Mangini saw just a glimpse of Barlow’s baggage. And there’s a lot of it.
Where to begin. Well, there’s the seemingly never-ending feud with his former blocking back, Fred Beasley. Then, there were the disagreements with his first coach, Steve Mariucci, and then his second coach, Dennis Erickson.
Through it all, the Jets (+$1000 to win the AFC East; +$4500 to win the AFC; and +$9000 to win the Super Bowl on WagerWeb.com) are saying the right things about this former third rounder who has just one 1,000-yard season in his five NFL years. Of course, with Martin, 33, on the Physically Unable to Perform List, they didn’t have much of a choice but to acquire Barlow, 27.
“With everybody we bring in, we do a lot of research on background,” Mangini said. “We talk to other people that worked with them, whether they be coaches, players, front office. When we brought Bryan Cox here, there was a lot of talk about the problems he had had. I can tell you he was one of best guys I ever worked with.”
Who knows, with a young, hungry offensive line in front of him, perhaps Barlow can put up Martinesque numbers for the Jets, who have a last-place schedule in front of them.
Then again, he could lose his job to relative unknowns Derrick Blaylock, Cedric Houston or Leon Washington.
“I bleed green and white now,” Barlow said. “And I’m happy I’m here.”
Nolan is too.
ROD LIKES MIKE: Broncos Coach Mike Shanahan, of course, will have the final say when it comes to determining his No. 1 running back. Shanahan, after all, has given that label to Terrell Davis, Clinton Portis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson and Reuben Droughns in the past, so he has a tad of experience in that area.
But just in case he needs a little guidance, he can turn to veteran wide receiver Rod Smith. The three-time Pro Bowler has a soft spot in his heart for Mike Bell, an undrafted free agent out of the University of Arizona.
“I’m partial to the undrafted guys,” said Smith, an undrafted free agent out of Missouri Southern in 1995. “But he’s running hard. And with the offensive line we have here, he’s capable of having success.”
Shanahan agrees. After all, he has temporarily placed Bell at the top of the depth chart in front of veterans Tatum Bell and Ron Dayne.
“He plays pretty consistently,” Shanahan said.
THE HEFTY LEFTY: You can excuse Jared Lorenzen if he’s sick of being viewed as a circus act. Sure, when you’re a bruising 6-foot-4, 285-pound, left-handed quarterback, it kind of comes with the territory.
But when you’re trying to make an NFL roster, enough is enough.
“I’m used to it,” said the former Kentucky Wildcat who is trying to become the Giants’ No. 2 QB behind Eli Manning. “But I just want to be able to do whatever I’ve got to do to be known as just the quarterback, instead of the big quarterback.”
He’s on his way. Lorenzen, who threw for 10,354 yards and 78 touchdowns in college, has played in all three preseason games, and on Friday, against the Jets, he replaced Manning.