Dustin Keller: Should He Stay Or Should He Go?
It’s been said all season. The Jets could really use a tight end. But wait! They have a tight end? Really? Well, technically they do. But let’s look at the facts here. For the better part of the season the tight ends have been Jeff Cumberland and Konrad Reuland. I’ll get to the details and my feelings on these players shortly, but I’m going to hone in on the underlying thing that ties the beginning of this post together. Dustin Keller, in a contract year, has been a non-factor. He’s been out due to injury for almost the entire season, first with a pulled hamstring that kept him out for far more games than we as fans thought he would’ve been MIA for, and now with an ankle sprain that, again, may just keep him out for more games than we’d expected. Even if he plays, will he be a factor? In previous seasons, Dustin Keller has been not only a security blanket to embattled quarterback Mark Sanchez, but he’s been something of a good luck charm as well. Some would say that it’s the familiarity, chemistry and comfort the two have with one another as their off the field rapport is even stronger than their on the field connections. Others may say that opposing teams are aware that DK is Sanchez’s favorite target and thus they double up on him which actually allows for other guys on offense to get open for their own receptions. Keller has been a Jet since the day he turned pro but in this coming off-season we may see the tides change and watch another team grab him up. The league has become driven by good, strong, and especially blocking TEs. Keller is more of a receiving TE. In the days of Gronkowski, Hernandez and Gonzalez, the Jets could certainly use a force like that on the offensive line. Keller’s a good receiving TE when he’s healthy. Overall he’s had 17 touchdowns with five coming in both the 2010 and 2011 seasons. He’s netted 2 this season in just 8 games, and of those 8 he’s only played a full 6. With Keller it’s also all about receptions. Sanchez trusts him to run a proper route, to be where the ball is going to be put and also, what seems to be a constant question with anyone catching a ball for the green and white, to hold onto it.
Jeff Cumberland has had his share of woes in Keller’s absence. He’s had a few mis-steps where his back has caught the ball as opposed to his hands. There’s been a few interceptions brought about by a poorly run route, or just the wrong route entirely, or a simple hesitation that allows a defender to step between him and the ball that’s sailing right for his numbers. He may be a work in progress or we may be seeing the best of what he can give us. Here’s a glimpse at Cumberland’s career as a Jet. He’s been a member of the team since the 2010 season but only played 1 game in each of his first two seasons. In 2012 he has been active for 12 games, has been targeted 37 times and has 22 receptions for 270 yards and 2 TDs. I think when you look at the numbers he is a guy who looks a little better on paper than he does on the field, but the hope is that with time he can grow and maybe become that reliable guy behind Keller or whichever other TE there is. But at this point, he’s one of the only two options the team has unless we count Jason Smith who sometimes comes in at jumbo TE.
Sanchez and Keller work well together on and off the field. What will 2013 hold for the duo?
Then there’s the other TE who’s been given the starting nod a few times here this season. Konrad Reuland has been a good surprise, in my opinion. 9 receptions, 75 yards and no TDs but he is a smart guy who blocks and opens up paths and opportunties. He’s a bit of a hybrid in that he’s not just a TE– he can play halfback and fullback as well. He can block, he can catch, he can run a good solid route. People have honed in on the fact that he’s another one of Sanchez’s off the field friends; the two go back to their childhood days where they played basketball as well as football together as far back as elementary school. Rather than focus on that, people should focus on the fact that Reuland has actually been a positive addition in a sea of negative or at least questionable moves that is now known as the 2012 season. I wouldn’t be disappointed to see Reuland remain on the team. It shouldn’t matter that he was a friend of the starting quarterbacks before their voices even changed. It should only matter that he’s played pretty well. And he has.
So this brings us back to Dustin Keller. Do the Jets let him walk? Is he still a security blanket for Sanchez? Normally I’d say yes, but at this point I feel that the presence in the locker room and day to day life is probably more beneficial to the chemistry than anything we see happen on the field between #6 and #81. When Sanchez was silent after the implosion of the team on January 1st it was Dustin Keller who loaned his voice to defend his quarterback and friend against rumors, slander and in basic defense. And that wasn’t the first time that he’d stepped up to do so. In a contract year a guy is supposed to play his butt off and prove his worth. Injuries sidelines Dustin, but will that earn him the pass to the point that the Jets throw the money at him and re-sign him, or will they go out and get themselves a more complete TE and start from scratch? It’s one of the many things that we as fans will have our eyes peeled for as free agency begins. But we’re not there yet. So let’s just hope that Dustin can somehow get back to playing shape and show up for however many games this team has left in them. If not, we may very well be looking at him on the opposite side of the field next season.
✈ Sydney Find me on Twitter at @SydneyKira1; email: firstname.lastname@example.org