Tyler Conklin has quickly built chemistry with Zach Wilson and looks as if he could be a big weapon for the Jets this season.
The former Viking has been a standout in training camp, and his impressive play continued Saturday night in the Jets’ Green & White practice at MetLife Stadium.
Conklin was Wilson’s most targeted player during the team portions and scrimmage. The fifth-year tight end had seven catches overall, including Wilson’s lone touchdown pass.
“Conk is awesome,” Robert Saleh said. “He’s been fantastic for us . . . Just his ability on third down to create separation and win those one-on-ones and be a run blocker. He’s an all-around tight end. He’s been a pleasant surprise.”
This is one of the things the Jets were missing last year, especially in coordinator Mike LaFleur’s system. The tight end is such an important part of this West Coast offense, which needs guys who can win one-on-one battles blocking in the running game and work the middle of the field as a pass catcher.
See George Kittle in San Francisco, LaFleur’s former team.
Conklin isn’t Kittle. Neither is C.J. Uzomah, the other tight end the Jets signed after he had a productive season for the Bengals. But in Conklin and Uzomah, the Jets made huge and necessary upgrades at tight end.
No team targeted their tight ends less than the Jets last season — 77 times total. Ryan Griffin’s targets (42) and receptions (27) ranked 34th and 35th among tight ends.
Conklin caught 61 passes, tied for ninth among tight ends, three of them for touchdowns last season with Minnesota. Uzomah had 49 catches and five touchdowns, tied for 18th among tight ends.
The Jets believe rookie Jeremy Ruckert (Lindenhurst) can be a force as a blocker as well as in the passing game. But he’s playing catch-up after suffering a foot injury in January. Ruckert was cleared for practice last week.
The Jets didn’t have the players to run two-tight end sets as much as LaFleur would have liked last year. Now they have that luxury and can cause mismatch problems, especially with their deep and talented receiver group that features Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, Garrett Wilson and Braxton Berrios.
“We’re in a good situation,” Saleh said. “We have a pretty good receiving corps. It’s a pretty cool group. And then you get that tight end in the middle and usually, if you’re a pretty darn good receiving tight end, you’re probably in a mismatch with either a linebacker, possibly a safety.
“[Conklin] is just a versatile guy. He can play in-line, he can play split, he can play off the ball, he can play whatever you want him to play, and because of it, you can find mismatches for him.”
LaFleur will look for them tirelessly. A first-time coordinator last year, he grew throughout the season and got more creative. He has more talent at all of the skill positions this season, so it will be about finding the best ways to have them play off each other and keep the defense guessing.
Uzomah thinks the Jets have one of the best “if not the best” tight end duos in himself and Conklin and expects them to do damage in this offense.
He said there have been times when he and Conklin come off the field in practice and say, “That’s going to be a damn good play, that’s going to work for sure.” With Wilson’s athleticism and arm strength and all the talent the Jets have, Uzomah believes there are no limits to what the tight ends can do in this system.
“We got so many weapons on the outside that he can throw a 5-yard route that we can turn into a 20-yard . . . you know the sky’s the limit for what we can turn it into,” Uzomah said. “That’s going to be up for debate. We’re going to have a little list of what we have to get as a tight end. That just opens up the offense so much. His athletic ability, his arm strength is stupid.”