Jets’ Folk off to solid start after shaky spring

Nick Folk nearly booted himself back to the unemployment line

with each unpredictable kick.

Given a chance to revive his once-promising career, Folk was

wild when he first came to the New York Jets a few months ago. It

got so bad, he nearly hit the scoreboard several yards wide of the

goal posts on one attempt in practice.

”I was worried that day,” coach Rex Ryan said. ”I was

concerned most of the time.”

Not anymore.

Folk has put that all behind him, setting a career high with

five field goals, including a personal-best 53-yarder, in New

York’s 29-20 win over Minnesota on Monday night. He has made 12 of

14 attempts and leads the NFL with 49 points.

”I’m not going to say Nick Folk is doing a great job kicking

like a Pro Bowl kicker or anything like that because his contract

is up,” Ryan said with a big grin. ”So I’m not going to make that

comment.”

But that’s how the team feels, a complete turnaround from those

days in early spring when the Jets were heavily criticized for not

re-signing the reliable Jay Feely.

”When I first heard about it that we had signed him, it’s not

like I was jumping up and down,” special teams coordinator Mike

Westhoff said. ”But, when I watched him kick and watched him work

out, you could see that he was fine. His technique was very

good.”

Folk credits Westhoff, punter Steve Weatherford and long snapper

Tanner Purdum for helping him become more consistent.

”Kind of the middle of the way through OTAs, I had figured out

a rhythm with Tanner and Steve,” Folk said. ”With that rhythm

brought a lot more confidence and everything became a lot smoother.

I was pretty high as far as the numbers through the second half of

OTAs and minicamp. I also had a pretty good training camp.”

There were still questions, though, because of his shaky

history. Folk was a Pro Bowl selection in 2007, helping Dallas into

the playoffs with a team rookie-record 131 points. He missed two

kicks the following season and then it all went downhill.

Afraid of losing his spot last year to David Buehler, whom the

Cowboys had drafted, Folk hurried back from a surgically repaired

torn labrum in his right hip. He went 18 for 28 and missed at least

one attempt in six straight games before being cut in December.

”In that last year, one of the things we were aware of was that

he had that injury, and that drastically affected his technique,”

Westhoff said. ”You could just see that he wasn’t quite the same

guy.”

So, Westhoff tweaked some of Folk’s mechanics and had a huge

T-square-shaped contraption built to help Folk mark off his steps

the same way each time he lined up for a kick.

”He breaks that bad boy out and he hasn’t missed since,” Ryan

said. ”I think Westy is going to be selling those things across

the country.”

In a game Monday night when most were focused on Brett Favre,

Randy Moss, Mark Sanchez, Santonio Holmes and Darrelle Revis, Folk

was the unsung hero. He made a 22-yarder in a driving rain that

made it hard to see, let alone kick, to give the Jets a 12-0 lead

entering halftime. Folk accounted for all of New York’s scoring

until the fourth quarter.

”It got really wet really fast,” Folk said. ”I’m sure that

was really tough (for the offense) to deal with it because I know

it was tough to deal with on my end. I couldn’t imagine trying to

catch a ball that wet. They trust me to kick balls through the

uprights. and I just have to go out there and try to do that and

try to help the team win.”

Sounds simple enough, but a lot goes into becoming a reliable

kicker.

”I really think he’s always been there,” Purdum said. ”OTAs

and practice are for those times that you’re working things out and

get your leg swing to where you want it. I expect him to be that

way and do that. I have full confidence that he’s going to make

every kick.”

After making it to the AFC championship game last season, New

York was not allowed under NFL rules to sign an unrestricted free

agent until one of their own signed elsewhere. When kicker Jay

Feely signed with Arizona in April, the Jets used that opportunity

to bring in Jason Taylor.

”If we would have signed Jay, we wouldn’t have had Jason

Taylor,” Ryan said. ”The combination of Jason Taylor and Nick

Folk is pretty good. How does that look right now for us?”

Weatherford is just happy to see Folk – his neighbor and buddy,

whom his son calls ”Uncle Nick” – being successful after a shaky

start.

”I think the media and the fans weren’t overly welcoming to him

for that simple fact that Jay did so well,” Weatherford said. ”It

was a tough situation for him, but he has played great and I think

the fans have embraced him.”

Not that Folk is at all satisfied. Even after the performance he

had, Folk was still thinking about booting the opening kickoff out

of bounds.

”Yeah,” he said, ”I’ve got to put together some complete

games coming up here.”