ARLINGTON, Texas — Buster Skrine finally feels free.
For the first time in almost two months, the Jets nickel cornerback was out of a cast and able to use all of the fingers on his left hand against the Titans last Sunday. And he had a feeling that he’d make his presence felt against rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota.
“I was talking to my dog, Sheldon, before the game,” Skrine told Newsday. “I was like, ‘Watch, I’m going to get a pick today. ’Cause I can use my fingers.’ ”
And he was right. Skrine made his first interception as a Jet in the second quarter of the Jets’ 30-8 blowout at MetLife Stadium.
“He spoke that into existence. I can testify to that,” defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said with a smile a few days later. “Hey, if somebody says they’re going to go out there and do something, I do not tell them no. I say, ‘Go do it.’ ”
Making plays never has been an issue for the 5-9, 185-pound Skrine. His feisty and physical play offsets his size, and it’s one of the reasons Todd Bowles often used Skrine as a blitzer before he broke a bone in his left pinkie Oct. 25 against the Patriots. Now that Skrine’s unencumbered by injuries, he’s back to being a force in the Jets’ revamped secondary.
“I play with a chip on my shoulder because I’m from a small school and I’m a smaller dude,” said the Tennessee-Chattanooga product and 2011 fifth-round selection of the Browns. “My whole life coming up, I had to work extremely hard to get to where I’m at.”
Two days before the Jets torched the Titans, Skrine told the story of how he went from a 5-7, 140-pound high school running back and safety — who didn’t start until the 11th grade — to a receiver in college. “As soon as I committed, they put me at receiver,” he said, frowning. “And I was No. 41 at receiver. It don’t get no worse than that — 41 . . . at receiver?”
Had one of the team’s starting cornerbacks not been injured during Skrine’s freshman year, Skrine might have ended up being a receiver in the NFL. So would he have been another Julian Edelman or Wes Welker?
“No. A Buster Skrine,” he said, adding that he’s versatile and fast enough to be an outside “X” receiver. “I could have been Antonio Brown.”
Forty-eight hours later, he was flashing his receiver skills against the Titans. “I told you,” Skrine said with a smile after the game. “I’ve been wearing two casts since the Patriots game. Today was the first time I could use my fingers.”
With the Jets up 10-0 in the second quarter, he came on a third-down blitz but ran into running back Dexter McCluster. But that brief disruption put Skrine in the perfect position to pick off Mariota’s ill-timed pass to McCluster.
“A few weeks ago, he was coming with all of these injuries,” defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers said of Skrine, who suffered a concussion in Week 6 against the Redskins and also sprained his right shoulder against the Patriots. “And now you finally can kind of see him get healthy again. We really think he’s coming back into form.”
Having played against the Browns in recent years, Richardson said he knew exactly what the Jets were getting in March when they signed Skrine to a four-year, $25-million deal. “He’s real scrappy,” Richardson said. “Not afraid to be in the run game. He can cover, I’ll give him that.”
So what was his reaction to Skrine’s pick prediction?
“I most definitely ran over to him and said, ‘Oh, so we’re just making stuff come true with our mouths now?’ ” Richardson said, laughing. “Hey, he did that. He did it.
“I’m glad to see him catch some with those fingers. First time out the cast and he got a pick. I said, ‘That’s tight.’ ”