During the free-agent signing period last spring, veteran wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery flirted briefly with the Jets, the team that drafted him in 2004 before releasing him in training camp 13 months ago. But after sampling the Pittsburgh locker room in a backup role last season, Cotchery new he couldn’t go home again because he’d made a new home for himself.
“Once you’re a part of this atmosphere, it’s hard to go somewhere else,” Cotchery said of the Steelers when he spoke to the Jets media in a conference call Wednesday. “That’s the type of atmosphere it is. I wanted to come back, and they really wanted me back, so, we found a way to get it done.”
On Sunday, Cotchery will face his old team for the first time, and he admitted it was a “little weird” to write their name as the opponent when he began to take notes on the opposing defense. He said it’s the same defense he saw in practice with lots of movements and disguises, but he praised the addition of safety LaRon Landry for adding a new physical element.
Of course, Cotchery was a stabilizing influence in the Jets’ locker room for seven seasons, and it’s hard not to wonder if he might have made a difference last season when the Jets went 8-8, there was dissension in the locker room and quarterback Mark Sanchez wasn’t on speaking terms with wideout Santonio Holmes by the end. But Cotchery wasn’t especially interested in comparing the Jets’ so-called “circus atmosphere” to what he has no in Pittsburgh
“I just know I had a lot of great teammates over the years with the Jets,” Cotchery said. “It started from Day 1 me and Chad Pennington and Curtis Martin and Kevin Mawae and all of those guys to the day I left with guys like Brad Smith and Brandon Moore that you knew had your back when you stepped out on the field. I still have many friends over there.
“I don’t want to compare any of those guys to the atmosphere over here. I just know that over here, it’s run like a family business. The Rooney family really takes care of their players and everyone is held to a high standard. They put you back in line when you don’t hold up to their standard. It’s a great family atmosphere.”
Asked for his opinion of the breakdown in camaraderie the Jets endured last season, Cotchery simply attributed it to the effect of missing the playoffs after two straight trips to the AFC Championship Game. “Anytime you’re losing games, it’s hard to fight that urge to blame someone,” Cotchery said. “There’s just a natural tendency to blame someone when times get hard. Obviously, that urge wasn’t fought.”
Cotchery’s last game with the Jets, coincidentally, was their 24-19, AFC title loss in Pittsburgh at the end of the 2010 season. He’ll always be a part of that team even though he’s wearing black and gold now, and his current teammates don’t let him forget it.
“That was a tough loss,” Cotchery said. “I thought we would have come out with more emotion and played with a little more sense of urgency. Obviously, Pittsburgh came out with more energy and more passion. It’s still something you’ve just got to live with the rest of your life. The guys over here give me a lot of grief about it. Believe that.”