Jets' Rhodes again an important part of defense
Kerry Rhodes was frustrated and uncertain of what his future held with the New York Jets.
The star safety had lost his starting job seven weeks ago, his commitment was being questioned and he was criticized for a lack of big plays and not being physical enough.
``It was tough,'' Rhodes said Thursday. ``For me, I've been a guy who's been an All-Pro type of player here. I've been a player who has made plays here. The uncertainty of not knowing my role, I don't think anybody wants that. I think everybody wants to know what their role is and what they're looked upon to do for their individual team.''
A refocused Rhodes is back in the starting lineup, putting some tension with defensive coordinator Mike Pettine behind him and again being an important part of the game plan. He'll be partially responsible for blanketing Chargers tight end Antonio Gates in New York's AFC divisional playoff game at San Diego on Sunday.
``It's going to be a matchup that everyone's going to want to see,'' Rhodes said, ``and I think you're going to get your money's worth.''
Rhodes is confident again, having come a long way since Nov. 29, when he was on the sideline for New York's opening defensive snap against Carolina. It was the first time in his NFL career that he didn't start.
``I think it made me realize that no player is immune to scrutiny,'' Rhodes said. ``It just put me in a situation where I had to humble myself and come back and re-evaluate the situation.''
He returned to the starting lineup at Tampa Bay on Dec. 13 following a heart-to-heart meeting with defensive backs coach Dennis Thurman - one of the conditions set by coach Rex Ryan.
``Kerry could always make plays,'' cornerback Darrelle Revis said. ``You just have to make sure you're focusing in on your job and technique. I'm not saying he wasn't taking things seriously. You just can't get complacent ever.''
When Ryan took over as coach, he labeled Rhodes as the Jets' version of Baltimore's Ed Reed. The high praise was the result of the 12 interceptions, nine sacks and five forced fumbles Rhodes had in his first four seasons.
The problem was that he didn't live up to Ryan's hype, producing no turnovers through the first 10 games. The coaches began to have doubts about the desire of Rhodes, who has aspirations of having an acting career after football.
``Guys are going to do what they do off the field, but we just want to make sure it doesn't affect his job,'' Pettine said. ``That's one of my jobs as a defensive coordinator is to make sure the guys have bought in and are doing what it takes to be successful as a group.''
So, Pettine pulled Rhodes from the base defensive package.
``From Day 1, I don't think me and Pettine really saw eye to eye,'' Rhodes said. ``That was nothing that he did or I did, but it's something when you have guys come in and they have their favorites and we were new to each other. We didn't know each other. I never really felt that vibe with him, and I just think now that we talked about it like men, we see eye to eye and it's been a lot smoother.''
It was initially believed most of the tension was between Rhodes and Ryan, who also said he was unhappy with his player's production.
``It's never been a problem with Rex at all,'' Rhodes said. ``It was more me and Pettine.''
A fan favorite during his first four seasons, Rhodes also was taking heat from the same people who used to root for him.
``It wasn't all the fans, but you see some fans turn on you quickly,'' he said. ``Just to see where I put in four great years here and then I go through a little slump through one year and all of the sudden, people forget what you've done here.''
Pettine acknowledged that there were some uncomfortable moments with Rhodes, but he also believes the situation helped him.
``It was maybe a little bit of wakeup call,'' Pettine said. ``From what we've seen, I think he realized what had happened and didn't want it to happen again. He's elevated his level of play.''
Sunday's game is a big chance for Rhodes to show that the struggles are in the past against Gates, a 6-foot-4, 260-pound pass-catching machine.
``Against linebackers, he's too fast and against little corners, he's too big,'' Rhodes said. ``A lot of safeties can't cover one-on-one anyway, so he's got a unique blend of power and speed as a big guy, with good hands as well.''
Rhodes has drawn the matchup against some other big-time tight ends, such as Tampa Bay's Kellen Winslow and Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez, and helped shut them down.
``That just makes me pick my game up because I know I don't want to get embarrassed,'' Rhodes said. ``From that standpoint, I want to go out there and exert my will on them.''
Sounds like the confidence and commitment definitely are back.