It was Jeremy Kerley's quickness that caught Marty Mornhinweg's eye first.
Or, perhaps it was his hands.
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Before Mornhinweg arrived in Florham Park this offseason, the Jets' new offensive coordinator already had a plan for the 5-9 slot receiver based on his film study of the offense. But after weeks of watching Kerley take the practice field, Mornhinweg's plan has evolved..
"He's a natural player," the coordinator told Newsday, while taking a break from studying practice film in his office last week. "Excellent instincts. Good feel of the game. Certainly, quick and strong for his size. And he is quite versatile. He's really a good, all-around football player."
But it isn't just Kerley's physical gifts that have caught Mornhinweg's attention. It's also the receiver's approach to the game. "I've learned an awful lot about him," Mornhinweg said. "And I think highly of the player -- and the man."
Kerley - now a father of two, following the birth of his daughter in January - has grown accustomed to being overlooked because of his size. But when Santonio Holmes, Dustin Keller and Stephen Hill were sidelined by injuries in 2012, Kerley emerged as one of the few trusted targets for quarterback Mark Sanchez. And now with Holmes (Lisfranc), Hill (knee) and Clyde Gates (hamstring) slowed by injury this offseason, Kerley has been a consistent contributor in Mornhinweg's West Coast scheme.
"I know that he goes about his business a certain way -- like a pro," said the coordinator. "And so, he's always well-prepared and he puts hard work in on the field. So I certainly haven't had to put the hammer down on him quite yet. He's a pro. It's how he responds on the field. Just simple things like running from drill to drill, finishing. These types of things, real pros do all of that at a quick, fast and high level consistently."
After finishing with 56 catches for 827 yards in 2012, Kerley is very clear about his expectations for 2013: "A thousand receiving yards. Sixty caught balls. And to be a better team player," he said.
The offense -- which ranked 30th under Tony Sparano in 2012 -- is the biggest issue heading into this week's mandatory minicamp. The Jets, who have yet to choose between Sanchez and rookie Geno Smith as the starting quarterback, still are getting acclimated to Mornhinweg's play-calling without two of their biggest targets -- Holmes and Hill -- consistently on the field. But despite the roster and coaching turnover since their 6-10 finish last season, Kerley said he and the rest of the offense remain confident.
"We have high expectations for ourselves. So we don't want to settle," said the slot receiver. "I feel like, mentally, that's our expectation. We are serious about this. No more little mistakes. We have the weapons. And we have everyone here for a reason."
But injuries have forced him to shoulder much of the load.
"We've put an awful lot on him here in these OTAs -- for several reasons," said Mornhinweg, who also highlighted Kerley's "gut instincts" and "great feel of the game."
"Number one, because he is so versatile and number two, because a host of our receivers have been unavailable. So he's played virtually every position and done a host of other things for us."
At one point, Mornhinweg even wondered if Kerley would wilt under the weight of so much responsibility. "I remember grabbing him last week, and I said: 'Are we using you too much? Cause we've put a lot on your plate there.' And it was, 'Absolutely no, [Coach].'
"So, nothing's too big for him."