In 2010, back when we knew nothing about Rex Ryan’s choice of body art and had never heard of something called a butt fumble, or even dreamed that such a thing would ever exist, the New York Jets were a somewhat respectable franchise just looking for the public—and specifically, the Giants-loving Big Apple—to show them some love.
Enter HBO‘s “Hard Knocks.”
That summer, a funny thing happened—aside from Ryan ordering his players to get a Goddamn snack, and Antonio Cromartie reminding everyone why “suiting up” is a good idea, the most memorable moment of the show came courtesy of a rookie fullback from Kentucky named John Conner. That summer, Conner was able to do something that few NFL fullbacks over the past decade have been able to: become a household name. No, he wasn’t the flashiest player or the fastest player or the most dynamic player, but he played hard, he enjoyed football and man, could the guy hit. And really, as much as we try to say otherwise, there’s nothing we love more than a man that can hit.
Conner spent that season and the next one with the Jets. He started the 2012 season in New York as well, but was released last October and then signed by the Bengals in December, where he is currently still under contract.
Conner, who you can follow on Twitter at @JCONNER38, was kind enough to speak with TDdaily about going from New York to Cincinnati, his time with the Jets and more.
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TDdaily: What do you expect your role to be on the Bengals next year?
John Conner: I’m actually not sure. Last year, I got to the team late and they were already doing their thing, so we’ll have to see in mini-camp and training camp, but hopefully I’ll have a big role next year.
TDdaily: You were cut by the Jets this past October and then signed by the Bengals in December. How do you go about trying to integrate yourself into a team and learn a team’s playbook in the middle, or in this case end of the season?
JC: It actually wasn’t that hard because I was already at my home in Cincinnati, so I didn’t really have to travel or anything. As far as learning the playbook, you know, that can be difficult at times, especially in the NFL because you have all those different languages, but luckily I was able to get in and pick it up. And I spent time after practice with my coaches sitting down and watching film. Also, a lot of times teams run the same plays, just with different languages. And you know, I’ve been doing it for so long, I was able to do it pretty quickly.
TD: In terms of being a fullback in today’s pass-happy, spread-them-out offenses in the NFL, how do you view yourself in terms of playing a position that, in today’s league, is pretty obsolete?
JC: I mean, my view of being a fullback today, it’s just the more you can do the better off you are. You know, nowadays it takes more than just being a bruising blocker; you’ve got to be able to catch the ball out of the backfield and to be able to carry the ball in short yardage situations. So that’s kind of my thinking—to be as diverse as possible heading into next season, and I feel like I am, but I just want to be able to keep that up.
TD: So do you think you used to not be a diverse player? And if so, what specific things are you working on to make yourself more diverse?
JC: I’ve always been a pretty good pass-catcher out of the backfield and also a ball carrier, but I just want to continue in that direction and get better in those areas. Like special teams, that’s very important, especially as a fullback trying to make the roster. I mean special teams is where a lot of guys make their living.
TD: You play one of those positions where your job is almost literally to use your head as a weapon on the field. So you know I have to ask: All the concussion talk, is that something that worries you?
JC: Oh yeah, absolutely. That’s something that I definitely feel like we should be worried about, but at the same time, you can’t be out there on the field thinking. You just got to go out there and play because if you start thinking about it, that’s when it’s going to happen. So I’m just going to go out there and do what I do, but also make sure I take the right measures.
TD: So do you ever sit there and say to yourself, “I’m crazy. What am doing playing this sport, and this position?”
JC: Yeah, you’ve got to have a little something wrong with you to do it (laughs). I mean, obviously, football is not for everybody. It’s a rough sport and sometimes it can cause harm in the long run, but you know, it’s a lot of fun and I do enjoy playing the game, so I don’t really shy away from that stuff. But at the same time, you do have to take precautions and stuff. Really, though, you can’t think about that stuff—it’s just the risk you take every time you step onto a football field. I’m just going to play as much as I’m blessed to be able to play, and just take it for what it is, and hopefully I’m not one of these guys who can’t walk after I’m done.
TD: What’s the craziest injury you’ve ever played with?
JC: I’ve played with a torn MCL, a hamstring…I’ve played with a lot of injuries, and I mean that’s just this year. But I mean, it’s just one of those things that you have to fight through because it’s your job, and they’re looking for the next guy all the time so you just have to do what you got to do to be out there.
TD: Are you still the “The Terminator?” Or did that nickname stay in New York?
JC: No, it hasn’t left yet. I still hear guys calling me that. And I’m cool with it (laughs).
TD: What’s the strangest time someone has yelled out something like, “Hey, Terminator!” or the funniest time where someone has called you by that nickname?
JC:You know, it happens to me all the time. It’s like people have forgotten what my real name is and are just calling me “Terminator” (laughs). But man, it’s become so natural, there’s nothing really out of the norm. Like anytime someone says the word “Terminator” I just turn my head and assume their talking to me. Like, you could be talking about the movie and if I hear “Terminator,” I’m going to turn my head (laughs).
TD: That story that Rex Ryan told on “Hard Knocks”, how he said he found you, or saw you on tape for the first time while scouting someone else, was that really how it all happened?
JC: Yeah it is. You know, he shared that story with me when he called me on the phone to tell me that the Jets had drafted me. I thought it was pretty cool actually—that I stuck out while he was watching somebody else.
TD: Ryan’s tattoo—did you know about that before the picture came out?
JC: No, I didn’t (laughs). It’s pretty crazy.
TD: That surprises me. I imagine he’s the kind of guy who’s very comfortable walking around the locker room without a shirt on.
JC: I mean (laughs), I can see him doing something like that, but, honestly, I never saw the tattoo before the picture. He keeps his clothes on in the locker room (laughs).
TD: So when you did hear about the tattoo for the first time, what was your reaction?
JC: You know, I didn’t believe it—I thought it was one of those media hype things, but when I saw it, I was like, “Oh man, just give the man a break.”
TD: From the outside, it seemed like you and Ryan had a good relationship, but do you think it was the right move for the team to bring him back?
JC: You know, Rex is a guy that I have a great deal of respect for. I’d play for him any day. So yeah, I think he did a good job. I think his players have a great deal of respect for him—they’d run through a brick wall for him. He’s just that kind of guy. A great leader. A great motivator. So hopefully he can turn things around and they can get them rolling again.
TD: On to everyone’s favorite backup QB—when Tim Tebow is brought in, what are guys in the locker room thinking?
JC: Honestly, when he came in, I was excited. I thought he’d be a guy, a great leader, a great football player and he’d come in and do that stuff, but I guess things didn’t work out how they could have, but I still think he’s a great football player, and I’m sure a lot of other guys do to, just maybe he didn’t get the right system or around the right people. But hopefully it works out for him.
TD: How did it seem like Mark Sanchez handled the whole Tebow thing?
JC: I think it could have been a distraction at times, because he’s the leader and especially with the media and other people eating that up, but I think Mark handled it very well, and I think Tebow handled it very well.
TD: So why do you think Sanchez regressed this year?
JC: I don’t know. I thought, you know, he’s the type of guy who works really hard, and we did a lot of stuff off the field that people don’t really see. You know, he’s meeting up with guys and throwing in the off-season, watching extra film…and I think a lot of times distractions can really hinder your game a little bit, and he and the Jets had a lot of things going on outside of the game. But I think if he’s put in the right system or with the right people, he can be a good quarterback. I think it’s one of those things that distractions probably caused it. But he’s still the same guy that took the team to back-to-back AFC Championship Games, so I think that talent’s there, but just something else is missing.
TD: Most important question I’m going to ask you: Who was the most handsome quarterback on the Jets last year?
JC: (Laughs) You know, I’m a guy, so I’m going to leave that for the ladies.
Yaron Weitzman is an Associate Editor for TDdaily.com Follow him on Twitter at @YaronWeitzman.