Florham Park, NJ– To say the Jets aren’t stacked with receiver and tight end talent would be a huge understatement and that’s exactly why John Idzik continued his bargain shopping by extending tryout invitations to Mike Sims-Walker and Kellen Winslow.
With Santonio Holmes likely out until some point during training camp, Stephen Hill still working through some minor knee complications, as he tries to make a full recovery on his surgically repaired knee, and Jeremy Kerley as the biggest household name of the remaining receivers the Jets very much needed to upgrade their receiving core. On this team Sims-Walker gives the Jets a veteran presence (only four years, but that’s something on this team) and a solid receiver to add to the mix to give them some depth and flexibility. Rookies Zach Rogers and Joseph Collins have had solid camps, but Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith could certainly use a veteran receiver like Sims-Walker since Kerley has been the only receiver with experience to fully participate during these OTAs.
There’s been a ton of focus on the quarterback battle, obviously, but it’s not easy to judge quarterbacks when they’re working with an entire core of unknown receivers. The Jets hope Sims-Walker can change that, at least a little bit, and finds a way to stick with the team and become a solid target for whichever quarterback wins the starting gig. The receiving unit looks bad right now, but two of the top receivers haven’t been able to fully participate in team drills and while the Jets need a veteran receiver like Sims-Walker for depth purposes and as injury insurance it’s an entirely different situation with the Winslow signing and tight end group.
“With Jeff Cumberland, obviously he’s the starter right now. If we were going to have a game tomorrow, he would be our starter. Then you have Konrad (Reuland) and Hayden (Smith), guys with experience.” Rex Ryan said, “Then you have the (Boston College) kid (Chris Pantale) and the coach (Mike) Shanahan, (who) are working their way out there. And we’ll see about Winslow. I’m excited about seeing Kellen.”
Cumberland is a converted wide receiver who has shown gradual improvement during his time here, but if Winslow can stay healthy he offers play-making ability that the other tight ends on the roster simply don’t have.
“Yeah, my job is just to make plays and however it works out, that’s how it works out.” Winslow said, “I’m a playmaker and my job is just to make plays. I’m just trying to make the team.”
Winslow said he’s completely healthy and is happy to be back playing football since being out of football was extremely hard on him. “It was hard, very hard. It’s a situation I’ve never gone through and very hard, probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through.” Winslow said, “You don’t know what your future holds, you know this was my dream and when it’s taken away like that, it’s hard.”
Winslow was out with his family on Saturday and after he returned home he got the call offering him a tryout here and, “boom, I hopped on a plane on Monday and now I’m here.” Winslow said his focus right now is on learning the playbook and trying to make the team, but with his familiarity of the west coast offense he doesn’t expect it to take him too long to get comfortable and while he still has a lot of the offense to learn he certainly looked comfortable in practice today. Winslow made a number of catches, a few impressive eye-popping snags and certainly looked to be healthy and have plenty of speed and play-making ability left in the tank.
The Australian rugby convert, Hayden Smith, has made huge strides in his development from last year but considering just how far away he was last year the Jets were obviously looking for a more reliable tight end option to add to this unit. Reuland, Pantale and Shanahan are all more blocking tight ends than receivers and combine this unit with the underwhelming receiving unit and it’s no wonder they went out and took a shot on Winslow. If Winslow can build off of today’s performance and stay healthy he will almost certainly be the starting tight end once the season begins.
Sims-Walker didn’t have nearly as impressive of a day, but he also didn’t get nearly as much burn as Winslow did which should be expected since there’s a lot more for Sims-Walker to learn as an outside receiver. Sims-Walker said he knows he has a lot of catching up to do, but he feels good about what he’s seen so far and likes the amount and type of downfield throws he has seen Marty Mornhinweg call so far.
“I’m not new to this, you know it’s a different environment but football is football so I’m not going to make it harder than it is.” Sims-Walker said. “They’re just telling me to be myself, don’t try to do nothing outside of what I’ve been doing.”
“I hope both of them are like they used to be, because that’d be good. They’ll be trying out for a few days and signing here. But we’ll see.” Ryan said, “It’s a good opportunity to evaluate some guys. Obviously Kellen Winslow was a tremendous player in this league for a long time. One of the premier receiving tight ends in the game. So we’ll see how he responds. Obviously it’s going to be recovery more than anything else, how healthy is he. Because clearly the skill set that he has, the young man was a tremendous player.”
Winslow seems to have the right perspective and mind frame about the state of his career and the business side of the NFL, but he stressed he has plenty left in the tank and isn’t looking for this to be his last season in the league.
“Well I have years left. My last year was 2011, I caught 75 balls.” Winslow said, “I’ve been productive. It’s just the NFL – that’s how it goes sometimes. You know you get cut, you get traded and you can’t do anything about it. It’s out of my control, you know.”
Winslow also talked about his familiarity and appreciation of his new head coach, “Yeah Rex and I used to go at it when he was with the Ravens. He’s an awesome coach, man. One of the best defensive coaches in the league. He’s awesome. He’s a good guy.”
Idzik hasn’t been shy about dipping into the bargain bin and hoping to strike gold on a few low-risk signings and obviously isn’t going to let David Garrard’s knee injury or Mike Goodson’s arrest stop him from continuing this trend if they identify someone who they think could be a potential help. The needs are glaring at receiver and tight end, but those aren’t the only positions that could still see reinforcements called in.
“I think with any position, we’ll see. I know we work extremely hard up top in the pro personnel department trying to (see) if there’s somebody out there who can potentially help our football team.” Ryan said, “We’re open for anything, whether it be a tight end, a receiver, a tackle (or) a whoever, a defensive tackle, we’ll certainly look at all possibilities.”
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