FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Jamaal Westerman isn't about to get complacent, not with his undrafted-free-agent status and impending roster cuts on the horizon.
The rookie from Rutgers, who's converting from his natural position as a defensive end to a hybrid linebacker who can play inside and outside, has been a standout since the Jets signed him May 1. He's had a great training camp, and Rex Ryan has been raving about his skills and ability to learn quickly.
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Westerman essentially is guaranteed a spot on the 53-man roster that will be submitted to the league office by 4 p.m. Saturday, but you aren't about to hear him gloating. The 6-3, 255-pounder isn't ready to exhale yet.
"You are never comfortable because nothing is guaranteed here," he said yesterday. "Your next day is not guaranteed. You want to go out there and keep producing, keep getting better. You are never really comfortable until you are done and you say, 'Oh, I played 10 years in the league.' You are never really comfortable because there's always somebody out there looking to fight for your job and fight for your spot. I'm still fighting for a spot on this team."
With the starters expected to play only one series against the Eagles in Thursday's preseason finale at the Meadowlands, Westerman should have plenty of time to get his shine on. Not that he hasn't already proven himself in his coach's eyes. Said Ryan, "He's played himself on this football team."
Westerman has three tackles and a sack through the first three preseason games, but Ryan's excitement about what he's seeing out of him goes beyond the numbers. Despite lining up at nothing but defensive end in his four seasons in nearby Piscataway, where he played the final four games of his senior year with a torn left biceps and missed the Scarlet Knights' bowl game, he's making a smooth transition to linebacker.
The plan is to use him at inside as well as outside linebacker, and his grasp of the defense is almost unheard of for a rookie in his situation.
"He was impressive even on that last play when that guy had that big pass on us," Ryan said, referring to David Carr's 18-yard pass to Hakeem Nicks on fourth-and-24 from the Giants' 24-yard line. "He literally heard the call and he's trying to get our corner to play off and all that, like hey, he's playing - technical term - a quarter-flat technique. He knew that our corner had to be off, which says something because he's a rookie and he used to play with his hand in the dirt.
"That's what's impressive to me. So not only did he know his position, he also knew what the corner was supposed to do, and that's when you know a young man is getting it."
Westerman's linebacker education continues on a daily basis, and he leans on fellow linebackers Bart Scott, David Harris, Bryan Thomas and Calvin Pace for their veteran knowledge. He's learning how to read defenses and gauge what the offensive linemen are going to do when they come off the ball - two things that he didn't have to worry about as a defensive end.
Something else he won't have to worry about: cleaning out his locker later this week.
"Aw, man, a dream come true," Westerman said. "I know the season hasn't started yet. But just to put on the Jets' uniform and get the chance to go out here and compete with other guys who are playing in the NFL or trying to make it in the NFL has been a dream come true."
Notes & quotes: DE Mike DeVito suffered a left hamstring injury against the Giants and was held out of practice yesterday. He said he'll be ready to play in the season opener . . . Rookie RB Shonn Greene (ribs) returned to practice and hasn't been ruled out for Thursday.