Camp Countdown '10: Tight Ends
There should be no real secrets in the battles for tight end. Dustin Keller is a lock as the starting Tight End, while Ben Hartsock would have to be terrible to not be the primary blocker for the club. Also in the mix are Matthew Mulligan and undrafted free agent Jeff Cumberland.
This is a big season for Keller as the Jets hope he makes the leap into an elite category. It might not be fair to label Keller a disappointing player, but the team probably expected more from him in his two years in the NFL Keller played very well at the start of his rookie season and seemed to hit a wall which put him in the coaches doghouse for the last few weeks of the season. People expected a major rebound in 2009, but he seemed to have a very hard time getting on the same page as QB Mark Sanchez and was invisible for a portion of the season. The Jets had hoped he would have filled the void left by the departure of WR Laveranues Coles, but Keller has yet to turn into a major receiving threat. Keller is an outstanding athlete and may trend more like a wide receiver than a tight end in terms of early career development and production. That makes this a crucial campaign as most wideouts usually make it or break it in their third season in the league. Keller did have an outstanding game in the playoffs against the Bengals and the Jets will hope to see more of that from him in 2010.
Hartsock is a strong blocker than can aid on both sides of the line, but did have a few crucial offsides and holding calls which cost the Jets opportunities to win games. Still, the team was happy enough with his performance to bring him back on a two year contract and he would need a terrible camp to not make the roster. The Jets like his ability as a blocker and if he could improve just a bit as a receiver he could be a surprise option. The few times he went off the line into the passing routes he was usually left wide open.
Both of the other two guys have a chance to make the team. Mulligan was claimed off waivers last year and spent some time on the club before winding up on the Jets practice squad. He is a somewhat versatile player who should get a chance to be the teams long snapper, which may be his best chance to make the team. Cumberland is a wildcard in the race. Cumberland is somewhat of a tweener between wide receiver and tight end, combining size with athleticism. He went into the draft with the knock of being lazy and not having a position to play in the NFL. He could factor into the goaline package due to his size and his main competition may actually be WR's Marcus Henry and Britt Davis moreso than any of the tight ends on the roster. Most likely one of these two players will spend the majority of the season on the practice squad.
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