Jets utilizing tight ends similar to Patriots in years past

Kellen Winslow is finding an easy rapport with rookie QB Geno Smith. Credit: Getty Images
Kellen Winslow, right, is finding an easy rapport with rookie QB Geno Smith.
Credit: Getty Images

There’s something very Patriots-esque about the Jets tight ends.

For the last three seasons, the tight end has been an integral part of the New England passing attack, with head coach Bill Belichick targeting strong, imposing tight ends not just as blockers but as downfield passing options. The match-up problems made by Rob Gronkowksi and Aaron Hernandez over the past couple seasons was a nightmare for defensive coordinators, who have struggled to find linebackers with the speed or safeties with the size to cover these targets. In many ways, the Patriots have revolutionized the position, once known first and foremost as being staffed by blockers.

The NFL is a copycat league and the Jets now have three quality tight ends who can pose these types of issues for other teams. Instead of a pure blocking tight end on the roster as in years past there are hybris who resemble converted wide receivers.

“I definitely think we have three tight ends and even a fourth one in Chris [Pantale] who is very talented. We’re all big, tall, fast and athletic,” Konrad Reuland told Metro. “We don’t have anyone who is slower; we try to be as balanced as possible. I think that’s a difference this year.”

In Sunday’s 17-15 win over the Buccaneers, quarterback Geno Smith had eight completions to his tight ends, seven of which went to Kellen Winslow for 79 yards and a touchdown. The emergence of Winslow in that first game is welcome news for the Jets and their rookie quarterback. Reuland said that in the West Coast offense, the tight end is often “the safety valve” and having a lengthy veteran tight end like Winslow is certainly a plus for rookie Geno Smith.

“I remember Kellen when he was coming out in the Cleveland days and I’ve had some of those nightmares,” head coach Rex Ryan said. “As soon as the name pops out you’re intrigued but as soon as he gets here, you realize that this guy still has great receiving skills. Smart, he’s a warrior to quote himself. That’s kind of his mentality, there’s no question. Is he as good as he once was? Maybe not, but he’s pretty darn good.”

Reuland had the other reception Sunday but Jeff Cumberland could be a major factor on Thursday night. Cumberland was hurt during the Tampa Bay game and while he returned to the field he wasn’t as impactful as during preseason.

The 6-foot-4 inch, 260-pound Cumberland is a prototypical pass-catching tight end. In college, he was a wide receiver who converted to tight end due to injuries at the position at Illinois.

In many ways, the Jets have more prototypical Patriots tight ends right now than the Patriots themselves.

Given their current situation, the Patriots would love to have the Jets’ depth at tight end right now. Gronkowski will likely be scratched from the game as he continues to recover from back and forearm surgeries this offseason. Aaron Hernandez was cut after being charged with murder and is currently going through legal proceedings and tight end Zach Sudfield has a hamstring injury.

Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.


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