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'Goliath' rookie Gholston hard to miss at minicamp

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Vernon Gholston's first big test of minicamp came before he even stepped on the field Friday for the New York Jets.

"I've got a lot of catching up to do," the sixth overall draft pick said with a smile. "The first time I walked in there, I barely knew any guys and I had to name them all."

That's hardly an easy task when there are 85 players on the minicamp roster. It's even tougher when you've missed the last three weeks of organized team activities and the first day of minicamp because of an NFL and NCAA rule that prohibits rookies from participating in more than one camp before their college class is finished with the semester.

"I really haven't worked the names with the faces," the hulking linebacker said. "Coach put me to the test and I had to name the guys. I did OK on it. Some guys you haven't seen, so you have to grunt through it."

Coach Eric Mangini poked a little fun at Gholston, saying: "Vernon made his appearance today."

"I asked him a couple questions during the meeting this morning and one was OK -- OK, with an asterisk -- and one wasn't bad, a little bit better," he said.

Gholston participated in rookie minicamp, but hadn't been back at the Jets' facility because Ohio State hadn't finished classes. The rule still applied despite Gholston not being enrolled in any classes this semester.

"Once the quarter ended back in January, I just prepared for the draft because this is what's important to me and I wanted to prepare as hard as I could," he said. "With that being said, the rule is the rule and you have to abide by that. I was just pretty much back there (in Columbus) working out, studying as much as I can."

Mangini kept Gholston posted on team matters during his absence, but wasn't necessarily going to cut him much slack while the rookie tries to catch up.

"Well, it's not his fault that he couldn't be here, but it's not like he was getting his master's," Mangini said jokingly. "In between 'Judge Judy' and 'Days of Our Lives' or whatever's on during the daytime, you can study. There's some hours in the day, regardless of how many curls you're going to do."

Apparently, Gholston has kept up on those. At 6-foot-3 and a ripped 264 pounds, he's clearly one of the most physically imposing players on the team.

"He's a big dude," safety Kerry Rhodes said. "It's my first time seeing him in person and he's living up to that Goliath look they said."

The players practice without pads during minicamp, but you might not know it watching Gholston line up on the field.

"It's good to have someone on defense with comparable arms to Thomas Jones," Mangini cracked, referring to the beefy biceps of the team's running back. "When they go head-to-head in the weight room, we'll see what that looks like. He's going to have to roll up his sleeves like Thomas does."

Gholston worked mostly with the second-team defense at outside linebacker in the morning and afternoon practices. During one stretch in the early session, he stood on the sideline in silence with his helmet in his left hand, watching intently as the first-team defense worked against the first-team offense.

"Those guys came up to me and said if I had any problems or any questions to just come and ask them," he said. "That's big for me, coming in here for the first time and not really knowing where to line up in certain situations. I'm just trying to lean on them a lot and they helped me out a lot through this practice."

He worked some on special teams, and showed off his speed in drills when he closed quickly on fellow first-rounder Dustin Keller after the tight end took a pass from Chad Pennington and turned up the sideline for a short gain.

"I'm sure his head's spinning," Mangini said. "It looked a couple of times like he needed direction out there on the practice field. That's what you have and it's just the situation he was in with school, but he's back in the building and he's working with the coaches, the players and other rookies and we'll work to get him up to speed as quickly as we can."

General manager Mike Tannenbaum said the team has started initial negotiations on a deal, but doesn't anticipate anything being done soon. Regardless, Gholston is only focused now on fitting in with his new teammates.

"I'm just trying to get adjusted to the guys and to what's going on," he said. "It's a big learning curve, but that's what comes with the job."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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