This is a make or break year for New York Jets tight end Dustin Keller
New York Jets tight end Dustin Keller is entering the most crucial season of his NFL career. The team has understandably held off on giving him a large contract extension, instead choosing to wait and see how he produces in Tony Sparano’s offense. Through four years, Keller has been good but has never truly broke out in the way many around the team expect him to. This season, more than ever the Jets need the Pro-Bowl season that he has personally declared is on the way.
It doesn’t take an expert to see that the Jets are lacking proven offensive playmakers heading into this season, particularly in the passing game. Beyond that, Mark Sanchez is yet to have an opportunity to work with two of his top three receivers, Santonio Holmes and Jeremy Kerley, this pre-season because of his injuries. Without question, Keller is the receiver he is most comfortable with and should see a ton of passes coming his way all season.
Keller has never been able to sustain productivity throughout his career. The four seasons are marked by stretches of All-Pro caliber play followed by weeks of inactivity. The productivity tends to occur early in the season and then tail off throughout the year.
Last season, Keller caught 16 passes for 249 yards 2 touchdowns in the Jets first three games. Over the next six games, he only collected 15 receptions for 224 yards and o touchdowns. He improved slightly down the stretch but not much, finishing the season with only 5 touchdowns and 12.5 yards per reception. In 2010, it was the same story. He caught 5 touchdowns in the Jets first 4 games and then didn’t catch one the rest of the season. He also saw a gaudy early season yards per catch average drop off to 12.5 by the end of the year.
Keller needs to improve his consistency, his red-zone production and downfield playmaking ability. All of these issues don’t fall solely on him. It is fair to place blame on Brian Schottenheimer’s horizontal passing attack and perplexing game plans. It is also fair to blame Mark Sanchez for his occasional struggles.
Regardless, the top priority of the Jets passing game this year should be keeping Keller involved on a weekly basis and getting him the ball inside the 20 yard line. His yards per catch should improve thanks to Tony Sparano’s scheme. Anthony Fasano averaged 13.5 yards per catch and 14.1 yards per catch the past two years respectively and he is substantially less athletic and versatile than Keller.
It can’t be used as an excuse that defenses are keying on Keller. Santonio Holmes is enough of a threat on the outside to keep double teams away from Keller in most situations, nevermind if Stephen Hill develops into a viable deep threat. Keller needs to be moved around the formation to get matched up on defensive backs who he can take advantage of with his size, particularly in the red-zone. If he is seeing coverage from linebackers, the Jets have to get him down the seam where Mark Sanchez throws the ball particularly well.
The Jets can’t afford to have Keller go 5 straight weeks with less than 3 receptions. The Jets can’t afford Keller to have another 5 touchdown season. It is time to expand his route tree beyond bootlegs. Creativity will be needed because he is without question the team’s second best all around receiver and their most versatile weapon in the passing game.
Turn On The Jets counts down the top 50 New York Jets currently on the roster, continuing today with numbers 30-40
Frustrated and confused after seeing the NFL’s Top 100 player list? TOJ was as well. Due to that, we have decided to rank the current New York Jets on the roster from 50 all the way down to 1. Along the way, we will be classifying the players into the following five categories:
Bottom of the Roster(strictly a depth and developmental player)
Middle Class (Situational player, spot starter)
Quality Starter (Capable starting player or very good role player)
Red Chip (Swiping this term from Michael Lombardi, an above average stater/borderline Pro-Bowler)
Blue Chip (Another swipe from Lombardi, an elite player at his position)
39. Jeff Cumberland, Tight End – Currently projects as the team’s backup tight end. Cumberland is a taller, slower version of Dustin Keller which isn’t good for a team who wants to run the football as often as the Jets do. He does have potential to be a weapon in the red-zone and in certain packages, however it wouldn’t be surprising if the Jets signed a blocking tight end before camp which would bump him down the depth chart.
38. Stephon Heyer, Offensive Tackle – A six year veteran with a good amount of experience. He started 16 games for the Redskins in 2009 and started 2 games last year for Oakland. He projects as the top backup at tackle and could push for playing time if Wayne Hunter struggles in camp.
37. Martin Tevaseu, Defensive Tackle – He has bounced between the Jets practice squad and active roster over the past couple of seasons. Last year he outplayed rookie third-round pick Kenrick Ellis and leaped him in the defensive line rotation.
36. Kenrick Ellis, Defensive Tackle – Putting him over Tevaseu based on his potential, which he will hopefully begin to recognize this year after his first full off-season as a professional. Ellis is currently serving a jail sentence but it was split so he won’t miss any training camp. The Jets are hoping he can develop into a big part of the defensive line rotation in 2012 and be Sione Pouha’s long term replacement.
35. Josh Mauga, Linebacker – Worked himself into a good amount of playing time last season at both inside and outside linebacker, finishing with 25 tackles, 1 TFL and 1 interception. This year he projects to being more of a special teams player but could see action in certain packages due to his pass coverage ability from the linebacker position.
34. Patrick Turner, Wide Receiver – Saw his most extensive playing time as a professional in 2011, finishing with 8 receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown. Turner has good size and chemistry with Mark Sanchez from their time together at USC. He also can contribute on special teams. Turner is the current favorite to be the team’s fifth wide receiver.
33. Marcus Dixon, Defensive Lineman – Dixon was a solid, reliable part of the team’s defensive line rotation last year and stepped in to start a few games for an injured Mike DeVito. He finished with 16 tackles, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Dixon can line up at both defensive end and tackle, increasing his value. In 2012, he should remain a key part of the defensive line rotation.
32. Chaz Schilens, Wide Receiver – Signed as a free agent from the Oakland Raiders this off-season, Schilens has all the desired measurables for a wide receiver at 6’4, 225 pounds and with a 4.3 forty. However, he has been unable to stay consistently healthy throughout his four year career. In those four seasons he has racked up 72 receptions for 902 yards and 7 touchdowns. Schilens was one of the most impressive players in the Jets off-season workouts and could carve himself out a nice sized role on offense if he keeps performing.
31. Josh Brown, Kicker – Working off the assumption that he will be out Nick Folk this summer. Brown has been a very good kicker at times throughout his career but is coming off a somewhat disappointing year with the Rams. He is a career 80.9 percent kicker with a long of 58 yards.
30. Demario Davis, Linebacker – The rookie third round linebacker is generating a ton of buzz this off-season as the steal of the Jets draft class. Teammates and coaches have been raving about his natural leadership skills, speed and tenacity. At a minimum, Davis will play in the Jets sub-packages and be a major factor on special teams. He will also take over for Bart Scott alongside David Harris at inside linebacker, no later than the beginning of next season.
Check back later for the 12 Pack and on Monday for numbers 20-30
Many Jets fans had immediate dreams of a two tight end set the minute that Tom Moore, the former Colts offensive guru arrived in Florham Park as the newest member of the Jets staff. However, even with the emergence of Jeff Cumberland this summer with the second unit, the Jets never unveiled what many thought might be a new look for the playbook. Priorities made it such that the Jets in limited time had to work the new receiving corps out first. Perhaps the two tight end set is next in line. Even kept under wraps on purpose for the time being.
The Jets would have loved by this time to have their new wide receiving corps that includes Plaxico Burress, Derrick Mason, and rookie Jeremy Kerley healthy and firing on all cylinders, which hasn’t happened yet. Former Rams WR Mardy Gilyard has now been added to this group. One that will go into week one unproven.
Both Burress and Mason missed time due to minor injuries and the offensive line started some second string players during the time that Mark Sanchez took first half snaps. Therefore the playbook was limited to safer throws that kept Sanchez safe as possible.
With the wideouts being the passing game’s top priority it is understandable that the club hasn’t gone to the next phase of development in adding 6’4 Cumberland to downfield routes with Keller yet. That’s doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
Should they roll out a formation that does include both Cumberland and Dustin Keller, one that the Patriots took to another level in 2010, it will be done without having attempted it during any of the four summer tune ups.
If and when it the duo do emerge out of the huddle together, there will also be no guaranteed success that the duo of Cumberland and Keller will match the effectiveness that Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski displayed up in Foxboro.
With Moore’s tutelage and track record however, this type of addition to the air attack could provide Sanchez the ability to find a high percentage rythym with big targets at close range. In places on the field that don’t include the flat. Where moves have to be made by those with the ball, just to cross the line of scrimmage.
Many who follow the Jets still wonder if this scenario will unfold in 2011, while dreaming about the potential upside it could bring the Jets offense.
Ah, the annual pre-season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles aka the battle of backups provides our last look at many New York Jets scrapping to make the roster as reserves. Here are a few players to keep an eye on tonight before the countdown can begin to week one (how about 7 days to Saints/Packers?)
Greg McElroy – The rookie quarterback has impressed all pre-season and will get the start under center tonight. Mark Brunell will return to the backup role when the regular season starts but you have to wonder if Mark Sanchez were out for an extended period of time, if the Jets would consider handing the reigns off to McElroy instead of the 65 year old Brunell.
Muhammad Wilkerson – It has been a good, not great pre-season for the Jets first round pick. He was ejected last game for getting into a scuffle with Brandon Jacobs and still hasn’t generated much pressure on the quarterback, despite being solid against the run. He should log a ton of playing time tonight, so hopefully he can take advantage of the Eagles backups.
Nick Bellore/Garret McIntyre – A pair of undrafted rookie linebackers who have a very good shot to make the roster after strong training camps and pre-seasons. The Jets could be risking it by going so young with their backups but if they are the best players on the roster after the starters, they deserve a spot on the final 53.
Aaron Maybin – He needs to make a play or two to intrigue the coaching staff enough to keep him around for a longer look. The speed is there but Maybin is easily pushed around because of his lack of size.
Joe McKnight – It has been a strong all around pre-season for the Jets second year running back, who could use one more solid performance to demonstrate that he should be involved with the first offense when the regular season starts. McKnight could bring a much needed speed dimension to the Jets running back group.
Jeff Cumberland – The second year tight end missed last week with an injury but should be back. I’d be shocked if the Jets didn’t keep him on the final 53 because of his size and potential but he needs a good performance to lock himself in.
After an impressive 6 reception, 77 yard performance against the Houston Texans. It is time for offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to find a way to involve tight end Jeff Cumberland in some packages with the first unit. The Jets kept him on the roster all of last season as an inactive player, obviously believing he had a high amount of potential and he displayed it last night.
Cumberland is 6 foot 4, 260 pounds and had experience at both tight end and wide receiver in college at Illinois. He has terrific hands and looked good running in the open field last night. I would imagine he still has to improve on his blocking to become a more full time player, yet he could contribute as a pass catching weapon immediately.
If Plaxico Burress is missing time with an injury, Cumberland could provide some of the height the Jets are missing. Even with Burress in the line-up, he is another weapon to use in the red-zone and on passing downs. Dustin Keller is enough of a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses, never mind worrying about how to defend Cumberland if the Jets show a two tight end set.
Matthew Mulligan is basically like another tackle playing tight end. There is a danger in showing too much of a tendency by using Mulligan as the second tight end on running downs and Cumberland as the second tight end on only passing downs. Yet, if Cumberland can block somewhat adequately, the Jets should be able to incorporate him on offense. If he continues to grow and develop, he could become an excellent number two option at tight end behind Dustin Keller.
There have been varying emotions on the New York Jets recent round of cuts. A mix of joy and disgust as the Vernon Gholston disaster finally came to an end, sadness at seeing respected veterans like Kris Jenkins and Damien Woody go, amusement at Jason Taylor now only wanting to continue his career with the Jets, a team he once despised as much as we despised him, and indifference over Ben Hartsock (sorry #84). Regardless, all of these moves are going to open up new opportunities for other players on the roster and will affect strategy in April’s draft.
Woody – The Jets are expected to have veteran Wayne Hunter and second year lineman Vladimir Ducasse battle for his old spot. For Ducasse, this a make or break battle. The Jets are going to have to admit they may have missed in last year’s second round if Ducasse begins his NFL career by losing consecutive battles to Matt Slauson and Hunter. Towards the end of last season, Hunter showed he could be adequate as a starter but I am sure the coaching staff is hopeful Ducasse will seize the position and be the long term answer at right tackle.
Jenkins – There is still a good chance Jenkins will come back at a reduced price. Regardless, this just means embracing Sione Pouha as the quality starter he has shown himself to be. It also means the Jets will have to look defensive line early in the draft, as we expected them to anyway.
Gholston – He didn’t play enough to shake up anything on the roster. The coaching staff does seem high on Marcus Dixon at defensive end and Ropati Pitoitua is returning from injury. Expect both players to get a shot at becoming large parts of the defensive line rotation in 2011.
Taylor – He has expressed an interest in returning to the Jets at a reduced price. I have a hard time seeing that happening as the Jets will likely look to get younger at linebacker and defensive end (where Taylor frequently lined up) in the draft. Jamaal Westerman might be a guy who gets more of a shot now that Taylor is gone. Westerman showed some potential in 2009 but wasn’t given much of a chance last season…until he roughed the punter against Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game.
Hartsock – The Jets decided to keep Jeff Cumberland on the roster all of the last season, despite only making him active once in week 17. He showed potential as a pass catcher in the pre-season and clearly the Jets think he can become a bigger part of the offense, which he may need to if Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith don’t return. In terms of blocking, Matthew Mulligan should be able to step into that role as he received occasional reps in run heavy sets last season.
Check Out Hartsock’s Lone Touchdown as a New York Jet at 1:05…and his incredibly lame celebration
It has been a tough couple of weeks for Jets wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery. He suffered his worst game as a professional in their week 8 loss to the Green Bay Packers with a collection of drops no seasoned Jets fans could believe, considering his history with the team. The problem followed him to Detroit where he dropped a couple of more passes and was officially demoted out of the starting line-up after holding down the position since the start of the 2006 season.
Cotchery has rightly been a fan favorite since becoming a starter on the team. He is a gutsy player with terrific hands, who always had a knack for making a big run after the catch. He has developed a reputation as a humble, hard-working, team first player who couldn’t represent the Jets organization on or off the field in a better way. (http://www.cotcheryfoundation.com/)
As we all expected he would, Cotchery bounced back in week 9 with a strong performance. I spent plenty of time this off-season writing about what an ideal fit he would be as a slot receiver and how he would be a killer weapon for the Jets on third downs, and that is exactly what he demonstrated yesterday. The stats (3 receptions, 43 yards, 1 TD) don’t jump off the page but look a little closer:
He pulled in a 25 yard touchdown on a 3rd and 8 in the second quarter, where he operated the scramble drill to perfection with Mark Sanchez.
He had a 8 yard reception on a 3rd and 6 in the fourth quarter, which helped lead the Jets to a field goal, giving them a 20-13 lead.
And then of course, the play none of us will soon forget –
What can you really say? Just an awesome football play.
Unfortunately, the Jets will now be without Cotchery for at least a few weeks. Similar to hamstrings, groin pulls are tricky to recover from and Cotchery expressed how much pain he was in after the game. You would hope he could be back by December 6th for Monday Night football in New England but that could be wishful thinking, so what will the Jets do moving forward?
Keep in mind the Jets only carry 4 active receivers on their roster: Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Brad Smith, and Cotchery. You can say that Smith could bump up to take Cotchery’s reps but that limits what the Jets can do in their “Tiger” formation with Smith, which as we saw yesterday is a big part of their offense. Beyond that, Smith is a very good all-around football player but not a true wide receiver. He has never demonstrated great route running or the hands needed of a true slot receiver.
The Jets could give their old friend Laveranues Coles a call. If he has been keeping himself in shape, maybe he could provide 20 quality snaps a game. Patrick Turner could be given a shot off the practice squad but he is very inexperienced. Another thought is that reserve rookie tight end Jeff Cumberland could finally get a bump to the active roster and take reps. Keep in mind, Cumberland played wide receiver in college and the Jets love his receiving skills, which is why he remains on the 53 man roster.
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A few comments on the recent roster developments…
First off, I can’t say I disagree with the decision to release Laveranues Coles. The Jets are better off giving his roster spot to a young player, who can contribute on special teams. David Clowney is the obvious favorite to stick on the roster as the number five receiver, but don’t be shocked if Danny Woodhead or Larry Taylor bump him off if they can put together strong performances Thursday against Philadelphia.
I am not crazy about keeping four tight ends. Clearly, the Jets are very high on Jeff Cumberland. Yet, why not just stash him on the practice squad this year, let him develop a little more as a blocker and hope he can become the number two tight next year? I can’t see many scenarios when Cumberland will be active on Sundays. I just don’t think he has shown enough this pre-season to merit a spot on the 53 man roster.
It is a wise decision to keep Tony Richardson and John Conner. Let Conner get a full season working off the bench and soaking up as much information as possible from Richardson. The Jets need Richardson’s veteran presence in the huddle. Both of these guys will be active on a weekly basis, while we may not be able to say the same for Joe McKnight.
It sounds like Kellen Clemens is going to make the final roster, which should have been a no-brainer. Clemens should be the #2 quarterback. Mark Brunell has done absolutely nothing this pre-season. He will get the starting nod this Thursday and if Clemens outplays him again, how could the Jets keep him as the number two quarterback?
I think the Jets can survive without the addition of Adalius Thomas. Yes, it would be nice for depth purposes but I like what I have seen from Jamaal Westerman this pre-season and think he can adequately spell Jason Taylor. I also think, similar to last year, Bryan Thomas can handle most of Pace’s regular responsibilities. We’ll see how Vernon Gholston looks when he drops back to outside linebacker occasionally on Thursday. Yet, I would hate to see the progress he has been making at defensive end go to waste. He has actually looked like he could be a capable part of the line rotation in 2010.
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A few highlights from this morning –
The defense dominated practice. Mark Sanchez struggled, going 5/11 with an INT, which was picked off by David Harris. Jason Taylor also swatted a pass up in the air and into the arms of D’Brickashaw Ferguson.
Nick Folk went 5/5 today, including making a 56 yarder.
Mark Brunell and Laveranues Coles hooked up 3 times in the two minute drill for the second offense. When is the last time you hear about David Clowney doing anything?
Jim Leonhard recorded a sack. Kyle Wilson and Dwight Lowery both had passes defensed against the first offense.
Sanchez and Braylon Edwards hooked up for a 55 yard bomb down the sideline.
Donovan Warren didn’t practice today, due to a head injury.
Rookie corner Brian Jackson was tied to the goalpost after practice and had two buckets of Gatorade dumped on him. The reason? Apparently, he complained to defensive backs coach Dennis Thurman about how he was being used in the defense.
Jamaal Westerman, Kenwin Cummings, and Matt Kroul all sat out practice as a reward for winning an “Iron Jet” award this off-season.
Rookie show and King Ugly contest in Jets camp tonight.
Expect to see plenty of Mark Brunell and Laveranues Coles on Saturday night.
Five Things We Learned In Cortland
After tonight’s practice the Jets will be packing it up and heading out of Cortland, New York. Next week they will have practices at their Florham Park facility and out at Hofstra.
1. Tale of Two Rookie Running Backs – The Jets selected halfback Joe McKnight in the fourth round and fullback John Conner in the fifth round of this year’s NFL Draft. Most people assumed McKnight would move into a Leon Washington type role on the team, while Conner spent a year learning behind Tony Richardson. Yet, both players have made a distinctly different impression so far in training camp. Conner has quickly become a favorite of the coaching staff because of his physicality and now appears likely to be the opening day starter at fullback. McKnight has disappointed the coaching staff with his hesitancy to run inside and his attitude. If the Jets are going by on-field production, McKnight doesn’t deserve to be on the active roster as of right now.
2. The Underdog – Most people, including myself, believed Vladimir Ducasse would end up being the starting left guard on opening day. Shame on me for sleeping on Matt Slauson who has built a comfortable lead over Ducasse in the battle to replace Alan Faneca. The coaches love how physical Slauson has been playing and he obviously already had a jump on knowing the offense. I will be interested to see if the Jets begin grooming Ducasse to replace Damien Woody at right tackle, if he doesn’t end up beating out Slauson.
3. Thumbs Up On The Kyle Wilson Selection – I guess there could be some propaganda behind the coaching staff hyping up Kyle Wilson but every report out of camp is that he looks like a seasoned veteran out there. Most importantly, he is demonstrating a strong knowledge of the defense and is very coachable. Could you imagine the luxury of having him in the nickel role, with Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie in front of him? We have also learned that Dwight Lowery hasn’t shaken off the AFC Championship Game yet and that Drew Coleman still can’t cover anybody.
4. Good Recoveries – Kris Jenkins appears to be his old self after season ending ACL surgery last year, which is obviously a major boost to the Jets defense. Mark Sanchez hasn’t shown any signs of being slowed down by his off-season surgery either. I certainly hope Sanchez can keep building on his performance against the Giants, where outside of an early interception, he demonstrated accuracy, the ability to spread the ball around, and complete control of the offense.
5. Good Camp/Bad Camp –
Good – Antonio Cromartie, Braylon Edwards, LaDainian Tomlinson, Kyle Wilson, John Conner, Nick Folk, Kenwin Cummings, Jeff Cumberland, Matt Slauson, Dustin Keller, Santonio Holmes, Aundrae Allison, Danny Woodhead, Vernon Gholston
Bad – Dwight Lowery, Marquice Cole, Drew Coleman, Joe McKnight, David Clowney, Kevin O’Connell, Donovan Warren, Vlad Ducasse, Chauncey Washington