This is Dustin Keller Week on newyorkjets.com. On Thursday we posted Nick Gallo’s piece on the tight end’s community event at Brooklyn Tech earlier this week. Today it’s back to football.
The bad news for No. 81 is that he’s no longer on that TD-a-game pace he was on, five scores in the first four games this season, eight in the last seven dating to the start of the ’09 playoffs. He’s touchdown-less the past two weeks.
The good news is that he’s moving the chains and gobbling up the yards big-time. In fact, this week he checks in as the second-best tight end in the NFL when it comes to yards per reception. His 14.3 average trails only the usual suspect, San Diego’s superb Antonio Gates at 15.4.
“I’m always behind Antonio,” Keller told me with a mock shrug this week. “It always seems that if I have a good one, he has a crazy good one. As long as we’re winning, that’s all that really matters, but we’ll see.”
That’s the exquisite competitor in Keller coming out. He wants the ultimate prize, which is the Jets being on top when and where it counts, but if he can get the other things done in the process, like showing he’s the top dog in a talented group of NFL tight ends this season, then he’s ready to attack it all.
One thing is for sure. DKNYJ is off to a fashionable start. His 24 receptions lead the Jets, his 343 yards is tied with WR Braylon Edwards and his five TDs equals LaDainian Tomlinson’s total. It’s the best six-game start by a Jets tight end since Mickey Shuler opened 1989 with 24 catches. The club’s TE records of 76 receptions and 879 yards (both set by Shuler in ’85) and 10 TDs (by Rich Caster in ’72) are all doable.
“I think a lot of plays have been to my strength. They’ve given me a chance to get more yards after the catch,” said Keller, who had the fourth 40-plus reception of his three-year career on his 41-yarder (24 after the catch) at Denver. “Also, our receivers are making it easier on me. We always have some type of mismatch out there. We have too much talent at our skill positions to not have those mismatches. So it’s just making it that much easier.”
But that should also work in the opposite direction. We’ve seen flashes of the passing game that’s been touted since Mark Sanchez welcomed LaDainian Tomlinson and Santonio Holmes in the offseason to join Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery, Brad Smith and Keller.
Yet the air game has yet to spring wide open. Holmes, not including a certain 46-yard advance late at Denver, has just seven catches for 88 yards in his two games back, Cotchery is averaging 7.7 yards a catch, and Tomlinson, while adding a backfield receiving dimension that was missing last year, has averaged 5.6 yards per reception.
Perhaps the Packers on Sunday will be a chance for the passing game to erupt. Whenever it happens, Keller figures to be in the middle of it.
“We’re fortunate, since it hasn’t kicked in all the way yet, to be 5-1 at this point,” he said. “But things are just going to get that much better offensively. Hopefully these next few weeks things start to go full-force and we start really playing some good football, all the way up to, God willing, the playoffs.”
And getting the postseason, Keller knows, is the goal that counts most as the Jets prepare to lift off into the final five-eighths of their season on Sunday.
Ryan’s news conference today at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center was short and sweet, with some standup stuff mixed in. The only news as such was Rex proclaiming of his team, “Everybody’s playing.” LB Calvin Pace, C Nick Mangold and CB Darrelle Revis are still the only players on the injury report, all practiced full today and all are probable for the Packers.
Update, 3:15 p.m.: The Packers have been banged up but their final I-report of the week took a turn for the healthier today. Three starters are questionable — DEs Cullen Jenkins and Ryan Pickett and T Mark Tauscher, although first-round rookie Bryan Bulaga has been starting at RT for Tauscher the past several games. Five are probable, including CB Charles Woodson, WR Donald Driver and LT Chad Clifton.
Tags: Braylon Edwards, Dustin Keller, Green Bay Packers, Jerricho Cotchery, LaDainian Tomlinson, Mark Sanchez, Santonio Holmes
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