CORTLAND, N.Y. -- With tight end size and wide receiver speed, Jeff Cumberland has the ability to make jaw-dropping plays. In college, he was simply a jaw-breaker.
In 2008, Cumberland slugged Illinois teammate Mikel Leshoure during a dispute over a cell phone, breaking his jaw. Leshoure, his jaw wired shut for six weeks, had to eat liquid food. You haven't lived until you've had to suck blended spaghetti through a straw.
Cumberland was allowed to keep playing, but the incident hurt his pro stock and, two years later, here he is with the New York Jets, trying to make the roster as an undrafted rookie. He got off to a great start and, although he has tailed off in recent days (perhaps because of a concussion), the team is interested to see him in the preseason opener Monday night against the New York Giants.
"Early in camp, he really jumped out," Jets coach Rex Ryan said Saturday. "He can run away from people, he's got great height, he will go up and catch it and he's fairly physical. I'm excited to see how he does in this game, against guys that have no idea about him."
Cumberland is 6 feet 4, 260 pounds with 4.43 speed in the 40 (his Pro Day time). He caught only 51 passes in his career but averaged 17 yards per reception and scored 11 touchdowns. His ability to separate from defenders shows up immediately on the practice field, prompting the coaches to give him a few reps with the starters.
Not shy on confidence, Cumberland expects to create a buzz Monday night.
"I believe I'm certainly going to surprise a lot of people," he said. "As of now, probably not too many people know about me. I feel that once Monday comes and I show what I can do ... people will soon find out who I am and what I can do."
Cumberland was reluctant to discuss his college fight, claiming it's not an accurate reflection of his character.
"When you do a background check, you find out I'm a good guy," he said. "There was an incident that shouldn't have happened, but it did. It's over."
Cumberland signed with the Jets because of "the way they use Dustin Keller. That's the type of skill I have. This program fits my skill level."
The Jets would be tickled if Cumberland is anything close to Keller. On Monday night, he'll get a chance to make his name.
"Sometimes you only get one shot," he said. "This could be my one shot."