Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Camp preview: Tight end
By Rich Cimini
Breaking down the Jets, position by position, as we head to training camp:
Position: Tight end
Projected starter: Dustin Keller.
Projected reserves: Jeff Cumberland, Josh Baker.
New faces: Hayden Smith.
Going, going, gone: Matthew Mulligan.
Player to watch: This is a big year for Keller on a couple of levels. Without a proven wide receiver opposite Santonio Holmes, he'll be the No. 2 option in the passing attack. It's also a contract year for Keller, who would like to sign a long-term extension but has received a cool response from the organization. The message is clear: Play out your final year and maybe we'll talk. Keller has steadily improved each year and he could be poised for big numbers. Holmes figures to draw the double coverage, which should create matchup advantages for Keller.
Potential strength: This is an athletic group, with Keller, Cumberland and Baker all capable of making plays in the passing game. Considering the lack of experience at receiver, new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano could lean on the tight ends early in the season to generate a chunk of the passing game, as all three tight ends are capable of lining up anywhere in the formation. You'll see Baker, an H-Back, in the backfield on occasion. A creative mind could do some nice things with this group.
Potential weakness: Blocking, blocking and blocking. It's hard to operate a smashmouth running attack when you don't have a true blocking tight end. Yeah, Mulligan was a penalty machine, but at least he had the ability to seal an edge. Keller has improved as an in-line blocker, but it's not his forte. Cumberland is a former wide receiver and Baker is only 244 pounds. Smith, the former rugby star, has the size and tenacity, but he's more raw than sushi. The Jets are on the look-out for a blocking tight end, an essential part on Sparano's system.
Wild card: Cumberland made the team out of camp last year and was poised to be a contributor, but he blew out his Achilles' tendon in Week 3. He looked fine in the recent minicamp, an encouraging sign. Cumberland bulked up to 260 pounds, which should help his blocking. He's an interesting player because the raw talent is there.