*We chatted with Jets third-year tight end Jeff Cumberland after practice this afternoon about his solid season-opening performance against Buffalo, his journey to the NFL and his battle back from an Achilles injury that cut his 2011 season short. The former Illinois product will be expected to step up at Pittsburgh on Sunday with starting TE Dustin Keller being ruled out due to a hamstring injury. *
Against Buffalo last Sunday you had three catches for 33 yards, the team put up 48 points and won by 20. How much fun was that game for you?
It was a lot of fun. Winning is always fun. You're coming out and executing things you worked hard for in camp as far as playcalling and things like that. Then you come out and execute in the game. It's always a lot of fun and helps build confidence for the whole team.
Before the game, did you feel you would be that productive?
I always expect when plays are called and they come your way, you've got to be ready to take advantage of them. That's what I did. When my number was called, that's what I tried to do. I tried to take advantage of it.
When did you start playing football?
Third grade all the way up to about eighth-grade year, and then I didn't play my freshman year of high school. I started playing back my sophomore year of high school.
Was there any particular reason you didn't play your freshman year of high school?
I was into more basketball during that time.
Who got you started in football?
As a little kid I just always used to run around outside, always played football in the backyard with my guys and all that. So that's where that came from.
Was basketball always right behind football for you?
Pretty much. I started playing basketball after football as far as organized sports. I didn't start playing basketball till about seventh grade.
And did you play basketball in high school, too?
Yeah I played basketball all four years of high school.
Have you always been a tight end?
Yeah, I played tight end and D-end.
Was that in high school when you played both positions?
As far as little league, I played everything. I played quarterback, running back, [wide] receiver. I always was a D-end my whole career, though, until college.
Was that tough having to play two positions?
It wasn't tough. Actually, pass-rushing was pretty easy to me during high school because I was quicker than all the linemen. So it was pretty easy.
Was it always a dream for you growing up to one day play in the NFL?
That's always a kid's dream. When reality sets in, not too many people make it. But it's always a dream. They say, "Oh, yeah, I want to be the first NFL or NBA player at the same time" and all that. So it was always a dream. And then you get an opportunity to actually make it here, it's a dream come true.
When was that moment that you realized you could be in this position?
I'd say probably my sophomore year of college, where I really thought into it, like I really have a big opportunity to be there.
No. 86. What's the story behind that?
It's pretty much the number they gave me. My first two years of high school I was No. 86 as well. But it was pretty much just a number they gave me.
Growing up did you have a favorite player you looked up to?
I always liked Shannon Sharpe growing up as far as tight ends.
He had some big years in Denver.
Yeah, they used to be my team back in the day.
Do you still watch him on TV now since he's an analyst?
Yeah, when he comes on I watch it. But I don't watch too much TV.
Last year was your second year in the NFL and you unfortunately went down in Week 3 with an Achilles injury. How difficult was that for you?
It was real difficult because I thought it would have been a chance for me to have a breakout year, knowing that my rookie year I didn't really play that much. It just gave me time to learn the offense and get used to the speed of the game and get better at certain things. Then in preseason, I did pretty good, and the beginning of the season I started to get into it, started getting my groove on, and then the injury happened. But like they say, it's just a minor setback for a major comeback.
Was that the toughest injury you've had playing football?
Yeah, by far it was. A season-ending injury, I'd never had that before. I had a couple of plates and screws in my feet where I only missed about two games. But the whole season, it definitely was the biggest injury I had.
What kept you going during that period?
It just kept me hungry wanting to go out there and prove myself. I mean, I haven't proved myself. I was a free agent, didn't get drafted, so I had to start from the bottom and make it up.
Did you feel when the injury happened that you had to start from square one?
I took it as it was an advantage for me to look at the game in a different way as far as OK, it can be over any minute. It's never promises, because it can be over any minute. So you've got to cherish every moment and go hard every time.
What are some things you like to do away from the field?
I like to play basketball, which I didn't get to do any during this offseason because of the injury. Usually I play basketball during the offseason about every day.
Since you're obviously into basketball, do you have a favorite NBA team?
Nah, I don't have a favorite NBA team. Once I found out that players get traded and teams are not the same after that, I stopped liking teams.
Did you cheer for the Bulls any? Because I know you went to college at Illinois.
I never have been a Bulls fan. I was a Michael Jordan fan but not a Bulls fan.
What's the best piece of advice you ever received and who did it come from?
Some high school coaches told me to just stay poised and positive. You're going to have your ups and downs but don't let that bother you. Just go out there each day and go hard regardless.