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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Diapers and playbooks.
That's what life is all about these days for Eric Decker — brand-new father and big-time wide receiver for the New York Jets.
"She's been keeping me up at night," a smiling Decker said Wednesday about three month-old daughter Vivianne. "I get a couple of hours (sleep) here and there. That's about it."
Talk about a life-changing week: He agreed to terms on a five-year deal with the Jets on March 12, and six days later, wife Jessie James gave birth to their first child.
Decker is learning to balance his increased responsibilities on the field with a new team and at home with a new baby, which is why he has no regrets about missing time last week at the Jets' voluntary practices to travel to Nashville with his recording artist wife to attend the CMT Music Awards. The wide receiver received some criticism from fans and media for not attending the practice, but received full support from coach Rex Ryan and the team.
"A marriage is give-and-take, and any relationship is give-and-take," Decker said. "It's funny how this became such a story. It was an opportunity for us to get down there and be around our friends and be around the music industry that she's a part of.
"When your wife gives birth and goes through nine months of tough days to give you a child, you respect the woman a lot more. Obviously, she's very important to me and her career is very important, as well."
Ryan has often mentioned that his biggest regret in football is missing the birth of his second son, Seth, because he was coaching. So, when family events come up — particularly in "voluntary" offseason sessions — Ryan knows where his players are coming from. That's why the coach made it clear last week that he was on board with Decker spending time with his wife, even if it was at a country music awards show.
"It's huge, and that's what's so great about Rex Ryan, and really this organization," Decker said. "Everyone here is family and you take care of one another. That's how you build a winning culture. I've got a lot of respect for him and for him to stand up and say that, it means a lot to me."
Decker is doing his best to seamlessly work himself into Marty Mornhinweg's offense, one that was in dire need of a playmaking No. 1-type target. He had 87 receptions for 11 touchdowns last season while catching passes from Peyton Manning, and totaled 172 catches for 2,352 yards and 24 TDs the last two years.
When Decker signed with the Jets — before Michael Vick was on the team — he talked about how impressed he was from afar with Geno Smith's development as a rookie. After working with him for several weeks, that feeling has only grown as Smith and Vick compete for the starting quarterback job.
"We're all out there busting our butts and he's a guy leading the charge," Decker said about Smith. "I think he's done a good job of getting guys on the same page, making sure we're coming to work and we're motivated every day. Sometimes in the offseason, if you're not playing for something, it can get hard at times, but he's been making sure guys are grinding.
"It's good to see a leader at the quarterback position like that, and him to be so mature at his age."
Decker and David Nelson are the veterans among a group of receivers that mostly lacks experience, other than Jeremy Kerley, who led the Jets with 43 catches last season. New York also has former Raiders receiver Jacoby Ford, but the rest are either still finding their way in the NFL — such as Stephen Hill, Clyde Gates, Greg Salas, Saalim Hakim and Michael Campbell — or were drafted last month: Jalen Saunders, Shaq Evans and Quincy Enunwa.
"We've got a young group in there," Decker said. "We've got a lot of raw talent. It's about kind of finding your identity and for a lot of these guys, this is the time to do it, through practice. And through my experiences, I hope to help."
During the special teams period of practice Wednesday, Decker was off to the side with wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal. The two were going over details, a discussion that included talk of routes and play calls as Decker tries to get up to speed with Mornhinweg's offense. The less he thinks on the field, the more he can focus on making big plays — just like the Jets are counting on.
"Change and stuff takes time, but it's been a good transition for me," he said. "Every day, I feel more comfortable, and been getting a better grasp of the system. It's always easier when you get more reps and more experience with it, so to have these practices under my belt, I feel good lining up, I feel good with what we're doing and all the guys have been tremendous."
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