Jets’ Folk earning trust of once-skeptical coaches

Nick Folk was booming kicks through the uprights with such

consistency, Rex Ryan felt comfortable enough to issue a

declaration.

”I want to go on record to say I’m officially not worried about

our Pro Bowl kicker anymore,” the New York Jets coach said. ”I

think that Nick is back in form and that is always great to

see.”

You couldn’t blame Ryan for his concerns. Folk was wildly

inconsistent throughout offseason workouts, causing many to think

the Jets made a major mistake by letting consistent veteran Jay

Feely walk away as a free agent.

Both Ryan and special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff wondered

publicly about Folk, issuing a challenge to him to get better. And

quick.

”I struggled,” Folk said, ”and I’ll admit it.”

Folk was a Pro Bowl selection in his rookie year in 2007,

kicking the Dallas Cowboys into the playoffs. He set the team’s

rookie mark with 131 points, and seemed on his way to establishing

himself as one of the league’s top kickers.

He went 20 for 22 the following season, but his third year in

the league appeared, at times, as though it could be his last. Folk

went only 18 for 28 and missed at least one attempt in six straight

games – including a 24-yarder against New Orleans on Dec. 19.

Two days later, Folk was out of a job and wondering what his

future held. He insists he understands that it was a business

decision, and harbors no resentment toward the Cowboys.

”I mean, they were making a playoff run,” he said. ”So they

have to do what they have to do. I had a great run there. It is

what it is. I still have good friends on that team. I wish them

well.”

There was a good reason for Folk’s struggles. He hurried himself

back from having a torn labrum in his right hip repaired a few

months before the 2009 season. There was competition in camp after

the Cowboys drafted David Buehler, and Folk didn’t want to lose his

spot.

”I felt just really rushed to get back to training camp and to

kick,” Folk said. ”I felt like I had to push to go compete

against him when I come to find out that wasn’t the case at all. I

could’ve kind of taken it back in camp and got into a good rhythm

then.”

Instead, Folk got into a funk and kicked his way off the

team.

”You’re the hero,” Folk said, ”or you’re the goat.”

In February, the Jets made a tough decision by not re-signing

Feely, even though he was reliable and a strong presence in the

locker room. Feely is in Arizona now, and Folk realizes he has big

shoes to fill.

”He’s done well in his career wherever he’s been, really,”

Folk said. ”He did great up here, he kicked well in the old

stadium. So it will be a new challenge kicking in the new place.

Obviously, that coupled with my year last year, I mean … But,

I’ve been kicking well and just keep it going and keep a good

rhythm.”

Folk said his misses, the few he has had since camp started, are

due to small inconsistencies with his angles on his approach to the

ball.

Westhoff has worked closely with Folk since the Jets signed him,

tweaking technical issues and trying to clean those up. The Jets

had their grounds crew measure Folk’s steps, marked them off and

built a huge T-square-shaped contraption to help him kick the same

way every time.

”Now the league probably won’t let us carry it out on the field

and lay it down, but we actually have it to help him every now and

then check himself to make sure it’s always as consistent as

possible,” Westhoff said. ”But we’re trying anything. We’ll do

anything we can.”

Ryan said Folk reminds him a lot of Matt Stover, who was in

Baltimore when Ryan was there as an assistant. Stover would often

struggle in minicamp, missing several kicks, before making

adjustments on his way to becoming one of the most accurate kickers

in NFL history.

”I’m hoping that’s the way Nick is,” Ryan said. ”When you

look at him, it’s like, ‘No problem.’ Just lines up, he’s got that

little earring in and all that jazz, and boom, right down the

tubes.”

With all of New York’s Super Bowl talk, Folk wouldn’t mind going

back to Dallas in February and showing off his leg at Cowboys

Stadium for a shot at kicking the Jets to a championship.

”Oh, that’d be awesome,” Folk said with a big smile. ”I’ll go

back there anytime to play. That would be a great accomplishment

for this team and that’s the goal for the year. So hopefully, we’ll

get there.”