Jets rookie camp has been no layup for Bullock

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
For the first time in five years, J'Nathan Bullock pulled a helmet over his ears.

"It messed with all sorts of things," Bullock said Saturday by phone from the New York Jets facility in Florham Park, N.J.. "My neck, my vision, my timing, everything was off. I'm still getting used to it.

"Today, I woke up with a sore neck and my head was banging."

While most participants in this weekend's rookie camp can strap on their equipment as easily as most folks slip into a pair of loafers, Bullock is relearning even the simplest routines.

Bullock hasn't played football since high school. The Jets signed him as an undrafted rookie in hopes of turning him into a tight end.

Bullock was a 6-foot-5, 240-pound power forward at Cleveland State. He led the Vikings into the second round of the NCAA basketball tournament by averaging 15.2 points and 7.1 rebounds a game.

When he took off his football pads for the last time at Flint Northern High in Michigan, he figured it was forever.

"There weren't any thoughts about the NFL marinating," Bullock said.

Shortly after Cleveland State was eliminated from the tournament, he received queries from the Buffalo Bills and Chicago Bears.

That got him wondering.

"It caused some deep thought," Bullock said. "The idea resonated in my mind when actual teams started talking to me.

"I had aspirations to play in the NBA, but I took a turn. That's life."

Because Cleveland State doesn't offer football -- pro-football-reference.com lists no alumni in its database -- Bullock staged a workout for NFL scouts on the campus soccer pitch.

With visions of discovering the next Antonio Gates, a Kent State hoopster who went on to star for the San Diego Chargers, over half the league was represented at Bullock's workout. But Bullock said only the Jets sent a position coach. That won him over.

Bullock's goal is to make the 53-man roster. The Jets need help at tight end. Their depth chart consists of Dustin Keller and James Dearth, a long snapper with three catches in nine NFL seasons. The Jets released Chris Baker and haven't re-signed Bubba Franks.

The Jets didn't draft any tight ends. They brought in only Bullock, Utah State's Rob Myers and Arkansas' Andrew Davie as rookie free agents. Davie also is a long snapper. He caught eight passes for 71 yards and three touchdowns last year.

It would be interesting to see if he would clear waivers if the Jets tried to place him on their practice squad.

He insisted he isn't flippant about football, that he's not treating it as some fling before returning to the hardwood.

"Once something's on my plate, I go at it wholeheartedly," Bullock said. "I'm giving it 110 percent. I'm not going to cheat the Jets."

But Bullock admitted he had a rough time in his first two practices.

"I would want to make a better first impression because my expectations are high, probably too high," Bullock said. "I was fighting it all day [Friday]. I'm trying to learn the system and plays. It's hard to play naturally through all the mental parts.

"I haven't played up to my ability, but this is a different environment and we're at the beginning of the process."