Jets' LaRon Landry at his best when punishing opponents
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The sounds come from deep inside him -- strange, menacing noises that apparently cannot be controlled.
The mumbling, the growls, the screams.
It's LaRon Landry's way of delivering a simple message: He's coming for you.
Depending on the day and the practice drill, the sounds emanating from the Jets safety range from muffled and incoherent to loud yells every time he explodes out of a break. After almost two months on the practice field, his teammates have given up trying to make sense of his snarling or to decipher the intended target of his venom.
"He just makes weird noises and talks to himself. Maybe he's talking to someone else. I can't tell," linebacker Garrett McIntyre said, describing the unenviable moments when he's the guy assigned to block Landry during walk-throughs. "I feel bad for the guys who have to do it for real in practice."
For Landry, there is no off switch. No way to mitigate the monster within.
It's that killer instinct that made the Jets take a chance this past March, signing the former defensive stud -- who finished the past two seasons on the Redskins' injured reserve list -- to a one-year, $3.5-million deal. Last week against the Bills, Landry gave the Jets just a taste of what he can do. But Sunday he'll need to be even more of a playmaker. With the NFL's best cornerback, Darrelle Revis, sidelined with a concussion, the Jets will walk into Pittsburgh at half strength.
Landry, a former LSU standout and sixth overall draft pick in 2007, has no connection to the Jets' heartbreaking 24-19 loss to the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game after the 2010 season. But he doesn't need one.
Sunday's game in the Steel City is just another opportunity for Landry to do what he does best: hit people.
Problem childParents would complain about Rhonda Landry's youngest son -- the rambunctious boy who would fly to the ball like a hawk at every chance. He was a menace, they said. But LaRon's mother paid them no mind.
"He would run and hunt every kid down, no matter what position he was playing," Rhonda, who still lives in Landry's hometown of Ama, La., said in a phone interview Friday evening. "But it wasn't that he was trying to do anything wrong. He was just that aggressive."
He also was annoying.
Landry admitted testing the boundaries of his own strength and the patience of others just for the sport of it. "I was a bad ----, he said. "I was the one who always tested the limits of the person.''
He was adventurous and reckless as a pre-teen, often allowing his curiosity to supersede his regard for his own well-being -- such as the time he jumped from the back of a moving truck driven by his father, Frank, because he wanted to show he could fly.
He was an impact player both as a quarterback and defensive back for Hahnville High School in St. Charles Parish. But it was as the end man in kickoff coverage that Landry often was at his scariest. While he charged downfield, his teammates on the sideline issued the same warning each week to the kick returner.
"They would say, 'You see No. 12? He's going to kill you,' " Hahnville coach Lou Valdin said with a laugh when reached by phone this past week. "And that's what happened. He'd catch the ball and LaRon would just drop the hammer on him."
But his teammates weren't immune from his wrath. Landry also put Hahnville's top recruit in the hospital on one of his first hits as a safety. Landry just looked at Valdin and said: "Well, tell him don't throw it over the middle."
Off the field, Landry -- now the father of a soon-to-be 8-year-old daughter named Trinity -- is completely different. He's the good kid from a great family, the fun-loving jokester among people he knows best.
But on the football field, Valdin said, "He's just a nasty man."
Making presence feltFred Jackson is Landry's latest victim. The oft-injured Landry was empathetic when told the Bills running back will be out a month because of a knee injury he had caused. But Landry did not apologize.
"Once I step between the lines," he said, "it's war."
In just one regular-season game -- in which he registered seven tackles, forced a fumble and knocked Buffalo's best running back out of the game -- Landry showed a sneak peek of what he can do when healthy.
Landry makes people take notice, just like Dick "Night Train" Lane in the 1950s and '60s, Ryan said. He added, "I always want to draft as many guys or have as many guys on the team that you wouldn't want your kid playing against."
Because of Landry's size, speed and toughness, defensive backs coach Dennis Thurman said he and Ryan have been able to "resurrect some things" from their Baltimore coaching days. "We've never had a guy like this," the position coach said.
Mama's boyFresh off his Friday lift session, Landry saunters through the double doors separating the Jets' locker room from the indoor fieldhouse. Within minutes, he's talking about his hometown and raising up his sweaty shirt to show off the stomach art that pays homage to his roots in the West Bank of New Orleans. The name "AMA" is etched in big caps, over bullet-holed bricks. The word "Teflon" is inked underneath, signifying all of the people "taking shots at me. But I'm bulletproof," he said.
It's one of several sketches that color Landry's upper body, back and hip, along with the images of Frank and Rhonda on each pectoral.
Rhonda, as everyone knows, is the one person who can keep him in line. Landry's voice softens and his lips curl into a boyish grin as he says: "I've been a mama's boy since childhood."
During the next 10 minutes, he talks about his other loves: his daughter, a "Daddy's girl" who shares Landry's intensity, and his white-faced, brown capuchin monkey -- an impulse purchase made online after watching the movie "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective."
But when the topic of conversation returns to football, the smile disappears.
"Was it Mark Young?" he asks, struggling to remember the name of the Hahnville recruit he sent to the hospital years ago. "It could have been him. But it could have been somebody else, though.
"I hurt a lot of people."