Can Keller Be the Jets' Dallas Clark?
By CHRIS HERRING
There are a number of offensive players the Jets are expecting big things from this season.
For starters, coach Rex Ryan and others have said they expect third-year quarterback Mark Sanchez to grow by leaps and bounds. They signed free-agent wideout Plaxico Burress in hopes that he, with his 6-foot-5 frame, would aid the team's ability to score once it nears its opponent's end zone. They're trusting running back Shonn Greene to take the reins as the primary ballcarrier after two years of splitting the rushes with more experienced backs.
And while they're counting on all of those players, there's a chance that their tight end, Dustin Keller, could end up having the brightest season of all.
The fourth-year pro will have a number of things working in his favor heading into the season. Of all Sanchez's targets, Keller is his most familiar, as he's the only remaining one on the roster from when Sanchez was drafted.
Furthermore, he already has chemistry with Sanchez, having quietly led the team with 55 catches in 2010.
That comfort will be a positive for Sanchez, who has new second and third receivers in Burress and Derrick Mason. The signal-caller said Keller "can unlock his full potential" this season in part because of the rhythm they've established with one another.
"He's definitely a Pro Bowl- caliber player. No doubt, with his ability," Sanchez said of the 6-foot-2, 250-pound tight end. The players, who are close friends, spent time during the four-and-a-half month lockout going over game film.
Beyond the roster moves, Keller will undoubtedly be aided by new Jets consultant Tom Moore, who, prior to signing on to work for the Jets, helped tutor Peyton Manning as the Colts' offensive coordinator.
Colts tight end Dallas Clark thrived in Moore's system, particularly in the red zone. According to Stats LLC, he's scored 24 red-zone touchdowns since 2007, tying him for the most at his position over that span.
That hasn't been lost on Keller, who said he's spent a great deal of his time asking Moore questions in training camp. "I think you can expect a great year. I think I'll be a big part of the offense," said Keller, adding that he'd put on some weight during the offseason in hopes that it would help his less-than-stellar blocking and allow him to stay on the field for more plays. (Ryan said he hasn't yet seen improvement in Keller's blocking.)
While Keller said Moore hadn't made specific mention of Clark in their conversations, Ryan said the two players share things in common.
"Dustin, he does some of those Dallas Clark-type things. There are some similar traits," Ryan said before a recent practice.
Both tight ends are agile and can get down the field quickly, as they both ran solid 40-yard-dash times coming out of college (Keller ran the faster time, with a 4.55). At 6-foot-3, Clark is an inch taller, but both players are about 255 pounds.
Keller has had more production in his first three seasons than Clark, having hauled in 148 catches to Clark's 91.
And that was before he got to work with Moore, who Keller said has been pushing him in training camp. "Any time I mess something up or any of the specific things I kind of mess up on a little bit, I turn around, and he's right there on my back, letting me know about it," he said.
In return, Moore had plenty of good things to say about his tight end. "He's a great, great talent, and you've got to find a way to utilize him," Moore said. Asked how he saw Keller fitting in this year, he said he saw him as a potential threat in the red zone.
"There's obviously going to be a lot of [defensive] focus given to Plaxico and Santonio [Holmes]," he said. "Having Keller will give us another weapon once we get the ball down there."