People who've been around the Jets the past few years may still do a double-take when they see Kareem Brown.
There's the size — he looks like a mini-me version of the defensive lineman listed as 6'4" and 295 pounds since he arrived off waivers from the Patriots in late November 2007.
And there's the number — similar to his weight, he's shed more than half of his old No. 98, wearing No. 45 these days.
So is Brown in the running to become the Jets' opening-day starter at tight end?
"No, I'm not. Dustin Keller is the starting tight end on this team," he said with a smile during last week's veteran minicamp. "But the transition is going pretty good. The only thing was learning the offensive playbook, but that's been going pretty well, and getting the timing down with the quarterbacks."
We've heard of projections and transitions before, but is it possible that this career defensive lineman out of Miami (Norland High and "the U") can be the Jets' next big-blocking, sometimes-receiving TE behind and alongside Keller?
Don't scoff just yet. Even though he was Norland's defensive MVP as a D-lineman and had 11 sacks as a UM senior, second-most for a DT in Hurricanes history, Brown has always had some versatility in his game.
"I played tight end and linebacker, I played everything, in high school, but high school don't really count," he said. "At Miami we ran a whole bunch of different packages that allowed people to utilize their talents. I'm used to moving around and stuff like that in space, and I'm a pretty good athlete. So I was just happy they gave me a chance to help the team in as many ways as I can."
Brown said he was told he'd be making the transition to tight end (not to mention some linebacker work) "last week," although we suspect Jenny Craig doesn't have a lose-25-pounds-in-seven-days plan to help in such matters. Maybe it was the Rex regimen that got the weight off.
"When the bossman asks me to do something," he said, "I gotta do it."
"Bossman" Rex Ryan said the transition from his perspective has been going fine.
"Poor guy goes to every offensive meeting and every defensive meeting, but he's got that kind of ability," the head coach said. "I checked with [TE coach] Mike Devlin and he said Kareem is doing outstanding as a tight end and that speaks volume of that young man."
Many times, Ryan said, at the back end of the gameday 45-man roster, "you need to have a guy that can 'fix it.' whether it's a tight end, an outside linebacker, a defensive end. Last year we had a young man that we tried to do that with in Baltimore, Edgar Jones, and if you watched tape of the AFC Championship Game and even before that against Tennessee, he might have played half the game. It wasn't planned that way, but we needed him.
"With Kareem, he has a great attitude. He just wants to help the football team. He is unselfish. It's tough, he's got to learn a lot of different things, but he has that kind of talent."
No. 45 wasn't being hidden at the recently concluded minicamp. He was in some patterns and made some nice catches. He also dropped a few and made some athletic receptions that didn't have to be so spectacular if only he'd put the ball away first instead of juggling it.
But even at his slightly deflated size, he's still plenty big to block the kinds of players he used to be. And wouldn't it be a great story if Brown turns into the Jets' next "fantastic four"? After all, the Pats drafted him in the fourth round of the 2007 draft, 127th overall.
One thing's for sure. Brown prefers Ryan's "Madonna" approach to the Mangini method of practice that he experienced in full last season.
"Practice was more uptight last year. It wasn't bad but it wasn't loose," he said. "I think the fun approach is the better approach, because what athletes want, we want to have fun. It's in the nature of the game, that's how we were born and raised in the game, so obviously we would like to continue to play like that."
The Jets will continue to sift through the TEs available as free agents and in the draft, but if a position change enhances the fun factor for a guy who's already here such as Kareem Brown, so much the better.