Clyde Gates … the contributor?

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Corey Griffin, TheJetsBlog.com

CORTLAND, N.Y. — Clyde Gates could end up making a serious impact on the 2013 Jets. Seriously. No, stop laughing. I’m not kidding.

I get the concern and even the laughter. When Dolphins coach Joe Philbin called Gates a “route-running novice” (or something to that effect) on last summer’s Hard Knocks, that’s about the last thing I thought I would be writing a little less than a year later. Philbin’s barb sounded like yet another indictment of a track star trying to play football. Of course, this was only days before the receiver-needy Jets claimed Gates off the scrap heap waivers. At no point last season did I think Gates would even make the 53-man roster in 2013. No, I figured they’d add wideouts in free agency or via the draft. Sure, Gates might come to camp and get a shot, but he’d be way down the list, barely registering outside of individual drills where his speed could dazzle and amaze. Then I watched him in those drills, and 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 and I saw a player running crisp routes, hauling in almost everything thrown near him and burning every DB the defense threw at him. And I thought, well, maybe I was wrong. When Rex Ryan went out of his way to compliment Gates multiple times during Saturday’s news conference — specifically his route running and his ability to beat press coverage — I realized it was time to take Clyde Gates seriously.

How seriously? Well, that’s another question entirely. He won’t unseat Jeremy Kerley, Stephen Hill or Braylon Edwards. He won’t be their go-to receiver in late in the game or in the two-minute drill. But he can give the Jets, along with the freakishly athletic Hill, a downfield presence that they simply haven’t had consistently for a long time. And the vertical game is a big part of Marty Mornhinweg’s offense — big enough that I expect Gates will have get time with the first-team offense all throughout the preseason, which is when players like Gates and David Clowney either shine or get off the pot.

Is it early? Super early. They haven’t even put on pads yet, which could drastically change things once Gates starts getting hit hard and checked harder at the line of scrimmage. But after two days, it’s hard to ignore the improvements he’s made and the contribution he might be able to make this season.