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Sprained knee sidelines Cowart

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Jets linebacker Sam Cowart seemed poised
for a big year after an impressive performance in the season
opener.

That all changed just before halftime against San Diego on
Sunday. An MRI exam revealed Cowart sprained the medial collateral
ligament in his left knee, and coach Herman Edwards said Tuesday
the veteran could miss four to six weeks.

Rookie Jonathan Vilma will start in his place when the Jets
return from their bye week to play at Miami on Oct. 3. Cowart, who
moved from the outside to middle linebacker in a revamped scheme,
had 13 tackles and forced a fumble in the opener against
Cincinnati.

He seemed rejuvenated with his switch back inside. But now the
focus turns to Vilma, taken No. 12 overall out of Miami. Vilma, who
played in plenty of big games with the Hurricanes, is unfazed with
having to fill in for Cowart.

"Coaches have been putting me in a lot, so I'm used to game
speed and game tempo," Vilma said. "It's not a big deal for me."

Defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson also has no qualms with
using Vilma extensively, saying Monday, "It's OK. Vilma's ready to
play. I don't worry about that."

The Jets also have several other injuries to deal with during
the bye week. Center Kevin Mawae got a second opinion on the broken
bone in his right hand, and doesn't need surgery. Edwards said it
was "50-50" on whether Mawae would play against the Dolphins.

Mawae, who has made five Pro Bowls, got hurt when his finger got
stuck in an opponents' facemask in the third quarter against the
Chargers. Jonathan Goodwin probably would start in his place,
though another option would be to move Pete Kendall from left guard
to center.

"The mark of a championship team is when you have an injury,
being able to fill in the void and still be successful,"
quarterback Chad Pennington said. "So that's what we have to
concentrate on if that's the case."

Defensive tackle Josh Evans also will have back surgery
Wednesday and will be placed on injured reserve. Evans hurt his
lower back three weeks ago, and played sparingly against the
Bengals before sitting out last Sunday.

"He's disappointed but he couldn't go," Edwards said. "It
wasn't getting any better."

Despite all the injuries, the Jets are in good spirits heading
into the bye because of their 2-0 start. A big reason why is
because of all the young faces, including Vilma.

Vilma has played outside and inside linebacker so far this year,
and will have the responsibility of calling the defense now that he
is taking over for Cowart.

"I've been doing it since high school, now it's just another
level," Vilma said. "Gradually I've been earning their trust.
They know I can play, they know when I come to practice I come to
work. So when I get in a game it's not like, 'Oh it's a rookie.'
It's like, 'It's Jonathan. He's going to make the calls so let's
get going."

The Dolphins game also will be a homecoming for Vilma, who grew
up in Coral Gables, Fla. When asked how many friends and family he
would have at the game, Vilma said, "Too many."