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Haynes, Wadsworth attempt comeback with Jets

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) - Michael Haynes spent last football season recovering from a back injury while his former team played its way to the Super Bowl.

"I'm very happy that it is behind me," a smiling Haynes said earlier this week after practicing with the New York Jets. "This year, I'm just very happy with so many things."

Andre Wadsworth knows the feeling. He's back in an NFL uniform for the first time in six seasons after fully recovering from what appeared to be career-ending knee injuries.

"You only have one chance in a lifetime to do this and I saw an opportunity when I was healthy enough to at least try to attempt to do this and see if it works out," the linebacker-defensive end said.

The two former first-round draft picks are in training camp with the Jets, both attempting comebacks.

"The end goal is to assess everybody fairly and assess everybody equally," coach Eric Mangini said. "That's what we're always trying to do, give them the chance to make their case."

Haynes was the 14th pick by Chicago in 2003 after an impressive college career at Penn State. He played in every game during his first two seasons, but his production dropped dramatically when the Bears switched defensive systems under Lovie Smith.

A back injury slowed him last summer, when he was cut by Chicago, signed by New Orleans after training camp and then inactive for the Saints' opener before being released. Then, he sat and waited - and watched the Bears play the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl.

Training camp 2007's training camp tour:

"I hate watching any championship game that I'm not in," Haynes said. "I use that as motivation because I want to be playing in those games."

A few years removed from his can't-miss-prospect days, Haynes has no regrets about how his career has panned out so far.

"Actually, I think it was more of a blessing in disguise," the 26-year-old Haynes said. "It gave me an opportunity to get out of Chicago. They decided to go in a different direction and it gave me an opportunity to get my back healthy and to refocus on what was the best fit for me."

Whether that ends up being the Jets will depend on how he adjusts to playing in Mangini's two-gap defensive system.

"I've never done it before, but it is one of those things where I think two-gapping fits my personal strengths," the defensive end said. "It is a transition, but I don't think it is that difficult of a transition for me."

Wadsworth's road back to football has been incredibly unlikely. He was the No. 3 overall pick - behind Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf - by Arizona in 1998 out of Florida State. Hampered by serious knee injuries, he appeared in just 36 games for the Cardinals in three seasons.

In 2001, Arizona opted to not pick up the last three years of his six-year contract and released him. Doctors told him he'd never play again.

So Wadsworth limped away from football and became a successful businessman, buying six high-end car dealerships in Florida. But the itch to play never left.

In the 90-degree heat of training camp, Wadsworth is trying to earn his way onto an NFL roster again. He's healthy and doesn't even wear braces on his knees in practice.

"It's been slow, but I think they've been patient with me," he said. "I've been working as hard as I can."

He acknowledges that he's far from completing a successful comeback, and tries not to get discouraged when he makes mistakes.

"The last time I saw myself on film when I'm healthy is a guy that can run a 4.5, the guy that can jump, is explosive and can make moves," the 32-year-old Wadsworth said. "I can say, `Wow, I did that.' Now I'm looking at the film and I'm kind of disgusted. It's tougher. I have to continue to work at it everyday. The humility of that is the tough part. I am my toughest critic."

Mangini said Wadsworth and Haynes are still coming along, but have made progress since camp started last Friday. And that's good to hear despite the heavy odds stacked against them.

"You have to constantly motivate yourself and talk to yourself," Wadsworth said. "You have to prepare yourself. It's not just something you can breeze by. Mentally, you have to be strong."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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