Brian Bassett, TheJetsBlog.comBack in 2013, I stood in Radio City Music Hall during the first round of the NFL Draft. Music boomed in the background and lights flashed while the tumult of the crowd ebbed and flowed. I was leaning over a row of journalists, shouting above the din to catch up with one of the NFL’s most universally respected journalists. We were talking about the Jets and what direction they would like to go in the NFL Draft.
I babbled on about how the Jets needed to upgrade their offense with a certain pint-sized first round receiver, but the journalist indicated that the Jets would try hard to pick up a tight end on day two of the 2013 NFL Draft to help upgrade their transitioning offense, even throwing out a few names that were of particular interest to the team. It wasn’t news to me that the Jets needed to fill up the position, but the earnestness of the journalist’s statements made it clear that the Jets were serious about addressing the position in a tangible and long-term way.
Of course in the end it didn’t work out that way for the Jets. The Jets were trying to install a new offense with lots of West Coast elements from their new (and proven) offense coordinator Marty Morhinweg. Looking back at the draft while there were talented players, the Jets draft board might have indicated the need reach in any of the middle rounds to take the player they would have wanted. The Jets second round pick (which they used for Geno Smith) would have been their best chance, but after that they appeared to be chasing talent in successive rounds. If we learned anything about John Idzik in 2013 it’s that he doesn’t reach for players all that frequently.
With an obvious hole on the roster, the Jets brought in stopgap Kellen Winslow during June minicamps on a tryout. When healthy, Winslow was productive in the Jets offense, but was never a long-term solution for the team.
It might have been a year late, but this year Jets were able to get their man in on the second day of the draft in Jace Amaro. Amaro, the tight end from Texas Tech who played in the simple no huddle offense in college, had some hiccups during the early OTAs. The concepts, where he should be on the field, working against defenders seemed to catch up to him in this new much more complicated NFL offense.
But this week, it sounds as if the team had him moving around and lining up all over the field and according to his position coach Steve Hagen, he was doing a good job at it.
“He’s lined up everywhere,” tight end coach Steve Hagen said the conclusion of the OTA sessions. “He’s lined up flexed out, hand down, out by himself (on the) single-receiver side, on the three-receiver side, on the two-receiver side. We use him everywhere we can use him. So we have asked him to do a lot, and we expect him to do a lot. He’s asking that of himself, and he’s delivering, too. It’s been fun to watch him.”
It sounds as if Amaro has very high expectations of himself. He uses future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez as his personal measuring stick of success, per ESPN NY in May.
“He’s kind of old school, but he did some great things,” the Jets’ second-round pick said Friday of Gonzalez after his first rookie-camp practice. “I’d definitely like to (model) his game. … That’s someone who I’d ultimately love to be. He’s supposedly the greatest tight end to ever play. That’s somewhere where I want to be, too.”
Amaro has also said that he wants to catch 100 balls in the NFL “on a consistent basis.” That might be something possible for the most talented player to do on a college team that runs a no-huddle offense, but in the NFL with other talent around him, let alone talented players lining up across the line of scrimmage might be tough for Amaro to do.
There’s something very noble about measuring yourself against the player who might be considered the greatest of all time at his position, but it’s also something that his position coach wants to make sure doesn’t impact his productivity early on.
As for Amaro’s 100-catch goal, Hagen does not mind his players setting high standards, but he wants them to do so logically.
“First of all, I tell him to catch all the passes,” Hagen said. “I don’t know how many it’s going to be. So when you start to put benchmarks on that, you can create your own frustrations. It’s more important to do the right thing all the time. I’m never going to ask a guy to lower his standards. If he gets frustrated because he’s not doing the right thing, good. Because now he’ll continue to push himself to do the right thing, and I think that’s the mark of a true pro, that they don’t lower their standards.”
Competing for some of those 100 passes will be players like Eric Decker, Chris Johnson, Jeremy Kerley along his battery-mate Jeff Cumberland who might put up a good fight for offensive snaps this season.
Hagen also spoke about Cumby, who related that the fifth year Jet took Falcons’ defensive coordinator by surprise with his speed on the Monday night game last year.
“Jeff is a fast guy,” Hagen said. “Jeff went from primarily playing a receiver role to being a really good tight end, as the NFL would look at, like: ‘Who is that guy? Wow.’ He blocks. He can run. And he can catch. He can run after the catch. You saw some big, dynamic plays from him last season. The defensive coordinator for the Falcons last year (Mike Nolan) said they didn’t realize how dynamic Jeff was until he was out there on the field, and they were like, ‘Whoa, that guy can run.’”
Hagen said Nolan made these comments to him right after the game. On that Monday night in Atlanta, as the Jets won, Cumberland had three catches for a career-best 79 yards and a touchdown (a 20-yarder).
“Some things you see on film and you’re like, ‘Whoa, that guy can play,’” Hagen said. “But sometimes, it doesn’t really sink in until you see the guy blowing by one of your guys that you’ve been training all week long, and you’re like, ‘Whoa, this dude can run.’ So, Jeff is good at that.”
Between Amaro and Cumberland, the Jets now have a solid duo of pass catching receivers with youth, speed and upside. What they don’t seem to have yet is a player who can be relied on to be an excellent run-blocker. Even though the Jets of added a number of players on offensive side of the ball for this year, there are questions about what kind of offense they will run come the regular season. If it is a run heavy attack, then Amaro and Cumby might not be suited to be on the field every play.
While new RT Breno Giacomini is known for his ferocity and grit, the Jets might still consider who can be the team’s blocking tight end beyond Amaro and Cumby. The Jets were said to be interested in Brandon Pettigrew, a player known as a solid blocker, during free agency.
Last year the Jets brought in Zach Sudfield from the Patriots who didn’t make cutdowns and he played passably despite coming to the offense late. Could Sudfield be that player? Could it be Chris Pantale?
Pantale helped his former teammate Ryan Quigley out last year with a place to crash, but it sounds as if Quigley won’t be boarding at the Pantale house again this season.
Regardless, the Jets have good pass-catching options at the top of the roster and have some promising depth players who can fill in as blockers when necessary. The position is secure for a few years and will only get better with time together.
Considering all the other changes on the roster that will help this offense and isolate tight ends for their quarterbacks, it’s time to get bullish about this group.