David Nelson was just about to head from his home in Dallas to the Ballpark at Arlington Monday night to watch his beloved Texas Rangers face Tampa Bay in a playoff for the final AL wild-card berth when his agent called. The agent asked if Nelson had any plans to watch the Monday Night Football Game.
When Nelson explained his plans, his agent said, “You should probably watch the football game because you’ll be playing next Monday night.”
On Tuesday morning, Nelson was on a flight to New York to join the Jets, who will be in Atlanta on Monday night. “We had a good feeling the situation might work out with the Jets,” Nelson said. “I was going to go [to the Rangers game] anyway because I’m a huge baseball fan. I got to celebrate with my brother and enjoy one last night in Dallas.”
Jets coach Rex Ryan made it clear he’s hoping to throw Nelson into the mix at wide receiver right away because starting wideouts Santonio Holmes (hamstring) and Stephen Hill (concussion) both likely will miss the game. That leaves only Jeremy Kerley and Clyde Gates as potential starters ahead of rookie Ryan Spadola.
Nelson caught 94 passes in three seasons with Buffalo, including 61 in 2011. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener against the Jets in 2012 and was cut by Cleveland in training camp this year. But Jets coach Rex Ryan remembered the 6-5 receiver as a very capable player.
In fact, Ryan said he expects Nelson to play Monday, and a starting job might not be out of the question. “That would be crazy wouldn’t it?” Nelson said. “I’ve got to take it one hour at a time. I’ve got to learn plays, learn the players’ names, learn the coaches’ names and learn where my locker is. Right now, it’s all going really fast. I’ve got to calm down and worry about what I can control. I just know when I step on the field, I’m going to be ready to go.”
The knee injury hasn’t been a problem, Nelson said, and he was pleased with his first practice performance. He’s never been in a West Coast offense like the one run by offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, so the terminology is different but the routes are similar to what he knew with the Bills.
“I take the student part of the game very seriously,” Nelson said. “I stay in late and watch a lot of film. I spend time with the receivers coach. I want them to do what they do. I don’t want them to simplify anything. I’ll put it on myself to learn what I need to learn.”
The key to getting up to speed quickly, Nelson said, is to develop some chemistry with the quarterback to gain his trust. In that regard, Nelson was happy to find that Jets rookie QB Geno Smith was ready to go to work building a relationship from the moment he arrived.
“The first thing that impressed me about Geno is he walked up to me and asked me to come into the film room with him,” Nelson said. “It was really cool just to have him say, ‘Hey, good to have you.’ He brought me into the film room and started showing me a couple plays of Atlanta’s defense. ‘This is what they do, this is what I see you can do.’
“I think he’s got a great grasp of the offense. He commands the huddle really well. Usually, a quarterback will say the play wrong at first, but today, when they gave him a play, he came in the huddle and called it really fluidly. It was really impressive for me. The ball was on point, and so, I was really impressed.”