Jets pick sleeper in Coleman By RICH CIMINI DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER Erik Coleman has been a hit in rookie season. Donnie Henderson The Jets aren't known for uncovering late-round gems, but they found one in free safety Erik Coleman, a fifth-round choice (143rd overall) who was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for September. Some might call it luck, finding an immediate starter so late in the draft, but it actually was the confluence of hard work, keen eyes and a healthy debate. And some luck, too. GM Terry Bradway will get the credit for Coleman - ultimately, he pulled the trigger - but this was more than a one-man show. As Bradway acknowledged, "When you get to the fifth round, it's on the scouts." A breakdown of the scouting/drafting of Coleman, which began one year ago: The hard work: By draft day, the Jets had five scouting reports at their fingertips, written by scouts Jeff Bauer, Joe Bommarito and Joey Clinkscales and assistant coaches Corwin Brown and Doug Graber, who no longer works for the team. They also compiled four game tapes from Coleman's senior year at Washington State, where he made seven interceptions in 2003. Despite his productivity, Coleman wasn't highly regarded because of his modest size (5-10-1/2, 200) and less-than-stellar speed (4.59). At the scouting combine last February in Indianapolis, only one team - the Dolphins - requested a formal interview with Coleman. "All my friends were busy, going from one interview to another, and I had nothing to do," Coleman recalled. Despite an upbeat conversation with Graber, Coleman didn't think the Jets were too interested. He was wrong. The keen eyes: They rarely get the glory, but perceptive scouts are the backbone of every successful draft. From the beginning, Bauer and Bommarito were Coleman's biggest supporters in the organization. Last fall, Bommarito scouted Coleman three times in person - one game (against New Mexico) and two practices. He fell in love with Coleman's intangibles - his smarts, toughness and nose for the ball. Bauer scouted Coleman at the Hula Bowl, where he led his team in tackles. Both scouts filed glowing reports to Bradway, who recalled the pre-draft buzz on Coleman: "A tough, competitive player. Makes plays. Good football savvy. Can play strong safety, free safety, cornerback. Will upgrade the secondary. Undersized. Could add more strength." The debate: On the Jets' draft board, Coleman was rated as a fourth/fifth rounder. When their fifth-round pick came up, five other players also were under consideration: T Marko Cavka, WR P.K. Sam, C Drew Caylor, LB Colby Bockwoldt and LB Darrell McClover. Some in the draft room pushed for Cavka. Bommarito and Bauer lobbied hard for Coleman. "I got to be the mediator," said Bradway, who cast the deciding vote for Coleman. As it turned out, the Jets picked Cavka and McClover in later rounds. Caylor, chosen by the Steelers, was recently signed by the Jets. Luck: On the second day of training camp, veteran S Reggie Tongue pulled a calf muscle. If he doesn't get hurt, who knows if Coleman gets a shot? In three games, Coleman hasn't missed a play and leads the team with two interceptions. "This," Bradway said of the Coleman discovery, "is the combination of a lot of good things." Donnie sacks plans Donnie Henderson gets it. Unlike some coaches, who stubbornly refuse to tweak their beloved system even when they know something isn't working, the rookie defensive coordinator made an adjustment during the bye week. It paid immediate dividends and made his linemen a happy bunch. Henderson, whose unit entered the Miami game with only two sacks, decided that DE/LB John Abraham needed to be rushing the passer as often as possible. In the first two games, they were too cute, trying to throw changeups by dropping Abraham into pass coverage as a linebacker in the 3-4. That's like asking Randy Johnson to throw junk. Unofficially, in 51 plays against the Dolphins, Abraham dropped only five times - once as a 4-3 end, twice as a 3-4linebacker and twice as a down lineman in dime situations. On most of the plays in which Abraham didn't rush, Henderson sent speedy MLB Jonathan Vilma on blitzes. With Abraham in the game, Henderson went heavy on the 4-3, calling it 24 times out of 30 base plays. Abraham's two sacks came in the 4-3, with OLB Victor Hobson blitzing as a fifth rusher. The Jets also used a five-man rush on the biggest play of the game, Donnie Abraham's interception for a touchdown. Henderson didn't limit his wrinkles to the 4-3. When he switched to a 3-4, he let Abraham rush from the stand-up position on four of six plays. Previously, they hadn't done that at all. Result: The Jets had four sacks, four takeaways and plenty of smiles among the linemen, who prefer the 4-3 over the 3-4. Abraham, downplaying his performance, acknowledged that he exploited a suspect offensive line. Guess what? It could happen again Sunday against the Bills. Drew Bledsoe, who moves like a mannequin, was sacked seven times by the Patriots. LIGHT'S ON: Patriots LT Matt Light yesterday signed a six-year, $27 million deal, which could set the market for Jets RT Kareem McKenzie. ... Don't be alarmed by Justin McCareins' slow start (eight catches for 89 yards). He's learning a new system, so there figured to be a transition period. ... At his current pace, Curtis Martin would finish with 453 carries. The NFL record is 410, set by the Falcons' Jamal Anderson in 1998....No doubt, the Jets will be working on blitz protection this week. Against Tom Brady last Sunday, the Bills blitzed 42 times out of 56 plays (30 pass plays), but they didn't sack him once and he passed for 298 yards.