Jets' CB Strickland picks his spots to hit

Running back Steve Slaton #20 of the Houston Running back Steve Slaton #20 of the Houston Texans fumbles the ball as he is hit by cornerback Donald Strickland #27 of the New York Jets. (September 13, 2009) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Donald Strickland was down on himself and needed to reassess things. His career path had become cluttered with dead ends, mostly because he simply wasn't able to stay on the field consistently.

Strickland wasn't far removed from being one of the Colts' starting cornerbacks in the 2004 AFC Championship Game, no small feat since he was a rookie and wasn't even active for the season's first five games. The 2003 third-round pick started the first four games of his second season and had just begun making a name for himself when he injured his shoulder and needed season-ending surgery.

Strickland's mental psyche was about to get tested. The Colts were growing frustrated with the 5-10, 185-pounder's inability to stay healthy and they cut ties with him early on in the 2005 season.

"I had a couple of injuries and then I started noticing the business side, got cut, which was very hard for me," Strickland, 28, said. "It was the first time in my career that I wasn't able to perform up to their standards and I had to re-evaluate myself."

Strickland played sparingly with the Eagles in 2005 and was waived after the 2006 season opener. Opportunity finally returned to his front door two months after his Eagles release, when the 49ers gave him a shot at fulfilling a lifelong dream of playing for his hometown team. He started the final three games of 2006 and has remained healthy for the most part over the next two seasons, emerging as a solid nickel corner while playing in 27 of the 49ers' 32 games.

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"I grew up a block away from the stadium," Strickland said, "so it sort of reignited that flame inside of me, and I just started to let loose and just play the way I was always capable of playing."

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With Tarell Brown and Shawntae Spencer doing their thing in San Francisco, though, Strickland was expendable this past offseason. Rex Ryan actually was looking at bringing in Corey Ivy, whom he had coached for three seasons in Baltimore.

However, general manager Mike Tannenbaum and assistant general manager Scott Cohen convinced the Jets' first-year coach to take a look at Strickland. After seeing his bone-jarring highlight reel, Ryan was sold and the Jets signed him to a three-year deal.

"We could tell he was tough," Ryan said. "When I saw him knock Brandon Jacobs back in the open field one-on-one, I said, 'He's plenty tough enough.' You just don't see that and he certainly hasn't disappointed. He's got good coverage skills, man coverage skills and he's a good blitzer. He was an ideal guy for us."

So far, Strickland's signing looks like pure genius. He has nine tackles and one forced fumble, which came on that game-changing, crushing hit on Texans running back Steve Slaton. He nearly decleated Patriots wideout Julian Edelman on a screen pass Sunday, reading the play brilliantly and plowing him back for a 4-yard loss.

"I've never seen nothing like that," cornerback Darrelle Revis said, "a DB tackling a screen and just blow it up for a loss."

That's just the nature of Strickland's style of play. He's fearless when it comes to making the teeth-rattling hits. That's part of the reason he's been on injured reserve three times and battled so many nagging injuries - the latest a right ankle that bears watching this week.

"I came in the league trying to hit everything moving and the law of physics just really don't add up," Strickland said. "So as you grow and learn more and become more aware, you start picking your battles and getting the player down rather than taking the big shot. And I think that's contributed to me being able to stay on the field a lot more."

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