McGuire im­presses with ef­fort

New York Daily News - - SPORTS - BY DANIEL POP­PER

Ev­ery day af­ter Eli­jah McGuire fin­ishes his work at the Jets’ Florham Park fa­cil­ity — meet­ings, prac­tice, lift­ing, more meet­ings — the rookie run­ning back heads home. He set­tles in, pulls out his team-is­sued tablet and, for at least two more hours, watches film of op­pos­ing de­fenses.

McGuire is 23 and only has 13 ca­reer car­ries through three games. But he’s nonethe­less fully aware of the thin line be­tween em­ploy­ment and un­em­ploy­ment in the modern NFL. And the 2017 sixth-round pick is putting in the ex­tra ef­fort to make sure he keeps his spot on the ros­ter.

“It’s hard mak­ing it here, and it’s even harder to stay on the team,” McGuire told the News in the Jets locker room Fri­day. “It’s just the lit­tle things that get guys out the league. I’m not try­ing to be one of those guys.”

So far, McGuire’s com­mit­ment to his craft is im­press­ing team­mates and coaches alike. And this Sun­day, when the Jags come to MetLife Sta­dium to take on Gang Green, McGuire should see more ac­tion with Matt Forte sit­ting out be­cause of turf toe in his left foot.

The ad­di­tional hours spent watch­ing film are help­ing McGuire ac­cli­mate to the pro game as a pass blocker — a skill Bi­lal Pow­ell said most rook­ies strug­gle to grasp be­cause they aren’t asked to do as much pro­tect­ing out of the back­field in col­lege.

“He’s got a great ap­proach to the game like he’s a three or four-year vet. I think it’s his prepa­ra­tion, ev­ery­one help­ing, the coaches, and it’s him want­ing to do it,” of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor John Mor­ton said of McGuire this week. “It’s hard for a rookie to come in and play right away in this league. I think he’s done a re­ally good job and that’s be­cause he pre­pares.”

Todd Bowles is pleased with how McGuire doesn’t panic in pass pro­tec­tion.

“It’s great for a young player be­cause you don’t see half of the things in pre­sea­son that you see in reg­u­lar sea­son,” Bowles said. “So for him to still do his job and un­der­stand where he needed to be is pretty good.”

“He’s turn­ing into a pro real quick,” added Pow­ell, who will start in place of Forte Sun­day. “He’s a guy that’s a sponge, he soaks up ev­ery­thing, all the knowl­edge that’s around him. He takes coach­ing and goes out and puts what he’s coached (to do) on the field.”

McGuire didn’t play in the Jets’ sea­sonopen­ing loss to the Bills, but he’s taken ad­van­tage of his op­por­tu­ni­ties in the past two con­tests, rush­ing for 63 yards on 13 car­ries — a 4.84 yards-per-carry av­er­age that leads the team. The 5-10, 214-pound back has dis­played break­away speed when bounc­ing runs to the out­side. His only hic­cup came on a lost fum­ble late in the fourth quar­ter of Sun­day’s win over the Dol­phins.

It’s McGuire’s de­vel­op­ment as a pass blocker, though, that is earn­ing him play­ing time and the trust of coaches, as well as quar­ter­back Josh McCown.

“It’s just that mo­ti­va­tion,” McGuire said of the key to pass pro­tec­tion. “A cou­ple times when I picked up pass blitzes when Josh is in the game, he’ll tell me good job. But most im­por­tantly, when we get to the side­line, he’s like, ‘Man, you’re do­ing a very good job of pick­ing up the blitz, and that’ll keep run­ning backs in the league for a long time, know­ing the pro­tec­tions.’ So I just try to take pro­tec­tions very se­ri­ously.”

McGuire thanks his po­si­tion coach at Louisiana-Lafeyette, Mar­quase Lov­ings, for stress­ing pass pro­tec­tion in col­lege. And he’s main­tained that fo­cus as a pro, lean­ing on Forte and Pow­ell for ad­vice in prac­tice.

“It’s been that lit­tle-brother talk,” McGuire said. The ex­tra study­ing doesn’t hurt, ei­ther.

“I’m just watch­ing film and just think all the pos­si­ble ways of what they might bring,” McGuire said. “What­ever they bring, I’ll be ready for it.”

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