This season might very well be the year of the tight end for the Jets . . . mostly because they don’t have much choice.
After years of being relegated to little more than trimming in Chan Gailey’s offense, the team’s tight end troupe finds itself cast into more of the spotlight ahead of tonight’s third preseason game against the Giants. Not only does John Morton’s West Coast-style offense favor tight ends more than Gailey’s ever did, but the Jets’ weak receiving corps might leave coach Todd Bowles with few other options.
That, in addition to the Christian Hackenberg factor — the Jets have been cautious in every dress rehearsal so far, and the dump pass has reigned supreme — leads to a pretty picture for a position group that’s been left out in the cold since the Brian Schottenheimer era.
“We hope so,” tight ends coach Jimmie Johnson said, “in comparison to what we’ve caught in the past. We’re excited about this system that we’re in because we’ll have some opportunities moving forward to possibly catch the ball . . . I think in this offense, we’re going to need everybody to share in a piece of the pie. We’re going to need a little bit of everybody helping out to move the ball . . . Everybody catching the ball when we want them to.”
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who will be suspended for two games at the start of the season for the DUI arrest that got him cut from the Buccaneers last season, will be the key. Early returns indicate it was a wake-up call: Seferian-Jenkins quit drinking, attended outpatient rehab and lost 20 to 30 pounds. He sparkled in OTAs and he’s kept it up in training camp, leading Johnson to say he believes this could be a breakout year for the 24-year-old from the University of Washington.
“Austin, as we know, has done a transformation from where he got here last year to now in terms of getting himself in shape and losing weight and changing his body,” he said. “He’s done a great job in OTAs as well as this training camp, so we’re excited about what the season holds for him.”
In his stead — and up until Week 3 — the Jets’ other options will have to step up. Rookie Jordan Leggett looked set to assume Seferian-Jenkins’ role, but he missed this week with a foot injury and will not play tonight. The Jets have not disclosed the severity of the injury.
After him, there’s Eric Tomlinson, a blocking tight end whose role has become more important as the Jets’ offensive line has failed around him.
Leggett, too, has gotten his hands dirty.
Leggett, who slipped to the fifth round in the 2017 draft, left Clemson with the reputation of being a weak blocker, but Johnson said he hasn’t seen any indication of hesitation there. “I don’t know what other people thought about him,” he said. “I like him. Why he went to the fifth, I don’t know. I’m glad he did. I’m glad we got him. He has no problem sticking his nose in there and getting physical with people. That’s good to know. So with him having that, I can teach him to block.”
Leggett, he added, is “incrementally getting better every day . . . It’s a little bit different being in Clemson with the spread offense.”
It’s a little bit different for everyone these days at 1 Jets Drive. But for a group desperate to distinguish itself, that might not be so bad.