Tuesday, September 20, 2011

At 6-8, Jets' Pitoitua makes big return

At 6-8, Jets' Pitoitua makes big return

September 20, 2011 7:47 PM By RODERICK BOONE roderick.boone@newsday.com

Marcus Dixon almost feels sorry for anyone lining up opposite fellow Jets reserve defensive lineman Ropati Pitoitua.

"He is a beast," Dixon said. "That guy manhandles everybody in front of him."

Pitoitua is gargantuan, not cut in the prototypical mold of a defensive lineman. He seems to hover into the stratosphere because of his 6-8, 315-pound frame.

The third-year pro out of Washington State is slowly and quietly becoming one of the Jets' rising young players, despite being someone who doesn't fill a stat sheet. Pitoitua, who has fully recovered from a torn left Achilles tendon, has only one tackle in the season's first two games. But his effectiveness can't be measured by numbers.

"His ability to hustle for a tall guy, he plays everything at 6-foot-8," defensive tackle Sione Pouha said. "He's strong, he's fast, he's quick, he's nimble and he's also smart. And to have that on the defensive line, I think he's very valuable for us."

The Jets were planning on Pitoitua being a major part of their defensive line rotation last season. Rex Ryan was excited about the potential contributions of Pitoitua, who signed with the Jets as an undrafted free agent in 2008 and spent that season on the practice squad before playing in eight games in 2009.

However, in 2010, Pitoitua tore his Achilles in the second preseason game, forcing the Jets to place him on season-ending injured reserve.

"It was really tough," Pitoitua said. "With any injury, it's tough physically and emotionally. You really want to be out there and be a part of the team. There's nothing you can do as far as being on the field and helping the guys out."

Once the lockout was implemented last March, Pitoitua was caught in a tight spot during the rehab -- which was supposed to take 12 to 14 months -- because he couldn't have any contact with Jets trainer John Melody. So with Melody keeping tabs through a third party, Pitoitua instead worked out with personal trainer Gerry Guerrero in Manhattan. Guerrero apparently did a good job because people were raving about the shape the 26-year-old native of Samoa was in.

Still, it took some time until Pitoitua was comfortable again, a moment that finally arrived when the Jets met the Giants in Week 3 of the preseason.

"Just the feeling, I don't know what it is," said Pitoitua, who recently signed a one-year extension that keeps him under contract through next year. "But once I got to it, I'm like, 'This is where I left off at.' I'm like, 'Man, this is what it is.' Bam! Felt like I never left."

Pitoitua is giving the Jets another quality reserve to rotate in and keep guys fresh, something they hope helps their late-game pass rush and run defense.

"It's huge," defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said. "He's come back and has picked up exactly where he left off. He's that guy. He's high-motor, super strong. He's a guy that, for as big as he is, sometimes you have to worry about his pad level, but he's so strong that he can still pop up a little bit and still be effective. He's a Jet and he plays like that. He's passionate, he's relentless.

"The phrase we use, he plays like his hair's on fire. He doesn't say a word. You can just tell he loves football, and that clearly makes him one of us."

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