With so much attention on the quarterback competition, the new group of receivers and a talented but inexperienced secondary it seems like this tight end group has been getting overlooked.
Of course the rookie tight end, Jace Amaro, has received plenty of attention, even if his performance took a slight dip between OTA’s and minicamp before starting to trend upwards again, but it seems like the rest of the group has been an afterthought.
During Wednesday’s practice the tight end group as a whole looked to be the most impressive unit of the day (not the best we know that is the defensive line, but most impressive on that day).
Patriots castoff Zach Sudfeld has looked pretty good running routes and catching passes, he uses his frame really well and presents a big target for his quarterback, but what’s been most impressive about him has been his blocking. Sudfeld has greatly improved his blocking technique and it shows as he did a really impressive job of protecting the edge of the line and stuffing oncoming pass rushers. He even had to diagnose the defensive coverage and pick and choose who to block on a couple of occasions and both times he choose right.
On two separate occasions Sudfled was in a three-point stance with both Calvin Pryor and Jermaine Cunningham lined up directly in front of him, the first time Cunningham dropped back into coverage and Pryor came on the blitz, Sudfeld stood up, stepped back, adjusted his body to face Pryor straight up and threw his hands directly into the shoulder blades of Pryor as Sudfeld was able to redirect him harmlessly out of the way. The next time Pryor dropped back and Cunningham rushed, but it was the same result two simultaneous punches to the shoulder blades which knocked Cunningham back taking all the leverage away from the blitzing defender.
The one question some had about drafting Amaro was that as good as a receiving tight end as he is, the team still didn’t have a true blocking tight end. This isn’t to say that that problem has been definitely solved (remember Sudfeld was the talk of Patriots camp last summer before being cut early in the season), but it should give hope that maybe Sudfeld can be the answer as a blocking tight end. We know he can help as a receiving target, but if he can block consistently and effectively it will go a long way to helping the Jets offense and also make him a sneakier/more dangerous receiving target.
Amaro has also shown improvement as a blocker in the short time that he has been here. Anyone who watched Amaro play in college saw that he was an excellent blocker in space, but usually it was against cornerbacks and safeties. If he had to block a linebacker or defensive end he struggled to create enough leverage and would usually get steamrolled. But since he has been here the Jets have made a conscious effort to put him in a three-point stance far more often and it appears to be paying dividends. On Wednesday’s practice Amaro looked more like a capable blocking tight end than at any point in college or OTA’s.
Amaro has struggled a little bit with drops during this offseason, but that’s most likely a combination of thinking too much about his routes and adjusting to catching passes from both a righty and lefty quarterback. In college Amaro showed he had great hands and there’s no reason to think he’ll continue with the drops once he’s able to go out and run all his routes as if it was second-nature.
“(Laughter) (I) remember when we were talking about it (all his drops in camp), sometimes when you’ve got so many things in there you forget to do what you do, which is catch the football, but he responded.” Rex Ryan said, “The next day he caught like seven balls. But it is good. Every time a rookie does something like that, gives you an opportunity to get on him, I think you should take it.”
In college Amaro lined up almost exclusively as a receiver, mostly in the slot, and the west-coast offense is a bit more complex with the route trees and play calls then he is used to in the spread offense he was in at Texas Tech.
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was asked about what Amaro needs to do to adjust to this offense and the NFL as a whole and said, “Well, there’s a host of things, and I am not concerned about that because when we get a young player in, we are going to do it a certain way. Certainly we knew what his strengths were, and those things, but we are just going to do it a certain way, and we knew this before we drafted him. He hasn’t played much, a little bit, but not much, in line in a couple of years. He did do it when he was young. So a refresher course in line, as far as footwork, releases, these type of things. The top of his routes he’s working on extremely hard right now, because it is like you said a much different type of system. So we emphasize timing precision, and so he’s working diligently on those two things.”
While Amaro and Sudfeld were mostly impressive with their blocking on Wednesday Jeff Cumberland stole the show as a receiving tight end. Making multiple impressive catches, running seamless routes, winning jump balls and extending and catching passes with his hands. He won a couple of jump balls and has learned to use his body more to shield defenders and present a bigger frame for his quarterback to hit.
Cumberland has flashed potential since his first training camp with the Jets and has shown bursts of that potential sprinkled throughout regular season games, he just needs to become a more consistent and reliable option. Cumberland will pretty much be a receiving tight end only, but with the wide receiver additions along with Amaro and progress from Sudfeld it should open up more opportunities for Cumberland, he just needs to take advantage of them more consistently in the past.
Chris Pantale and Colin Anderson have also had some standout moments, more Anderson then Pantale. Anderson has been with the second or third team offense and going up against second or third string defenses, but he has shown he has rather good hands, does a nice job of catching the ball with his hands and not using his body and has shown excellent extension. Some of Anderson’s most impressive catches have come in position drills with no defense, normally this wouldn’t even be worth mentioning but the amount of catches he reeled in that had no business being caught (often times the passes were coming from coaches not quarterbacks) has been too much to ignore.
Amaro, Cumberland and Sudfeld are all locks to make the active roster, barring injuries of course, but Anderson has made a case for himself to be a fourth tight end on the roster. With Amaro possessing the ability to also line up on the outside as a traditional receiver the idea of keeping four tight ends makes a lot of sense. Pantale, while looking good at times seems to be on the outside looking in. He’s shown glimpses, but also lapses and with the level of talent above him on the depth chart it’s going to be hard for him to make this team.
While Amaro has the ability and skill set to line up as a receiver, slot or outside, Ryan prefers to include him with the tight end group. The coaching staff likes the depth chart at receiver as is and adding Amaro to the tight end group gives them all types of options for attacking offenses.
“Yeah (he could play receiver), but I just like to put him in that tight end group, where I think all of a sudden I feel really good about our tight end situation. Where you’ve got Jeff Cumberland, you’ve got Jace, you’ve got Sasquatch (Zach Sudfeld) and you’ve got these two other kids. We’ve got a chance there. Like this is going to be good. I can see Marty (Mornhinweg) being real creative with that group.” Ryan said, “You mention with Jace, with Zach (and) Cumberland was a former wide out and Zach can play outside, so can Jace, you can do a lot of different things. You can present three tight ends out there and all of sudden you break out, you flex all of them out. There’s a lot of different things that we can do with our guys and Marty’s system is flexible enough, our system is flexible enough to take advantage of all our guys.”
The media has already seen some of this creativity with the use of the tight ends, and we’ve seen it with the running backs in the passing game as well, we’re just not allowed to talk about it anymore than that because we are not allowed to report anything formation specific. But we can confirm that Mornhinweg has already started getting creative with the tight ends, we’ll just have to wait and see how well it works during the season as Geno Smith will tell you.
“That has yet to be seen. We’ll see once we get out there against opposing defenses.” Smith said, “Obviously, there is a big difference with just the way that we’ve gelled, having a second year in this offense and a better understanding of what’s required of us and the way to get in and out of routes, the timing of the offense, all those little subtle details that really takes time to develop. Once we get out there against an opposing defense and play another 16 games, we’ll be able to measure just how much we’ve improved.
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