Two consecutive days this week, Jets head coach Rex Ryan went out of his way to mention his new man in the middle.
"The guy that's really jumped out at me is Kenwin Cummings," Ryan said in the last question of his live chat with Jets fans from his Atlantic Health Jets Training Center office on Wednesday. "He's put on about five pounds of muscle and looks more athletic. He's a 255-pound linebacker who's really moving around. We need to have that third inside linebacker right now and it looks like he's got a foothold on it."
Cummings, who isn't all that new — he's a second-year player in his third season as a Jet — is happy for the recognition.
"That builds your confidence. It's always good, especially when you hear it coming from the head coach," he said. "I feel like everything's going good. I feel healthy and things are going as planned so far. I'm being a little patient and my time will come."
Ryan's not the only one who's singing No. 54's praises.
"Kenwin's coming," proclaimed ILB starter Bart Scott. "One of the first things I said to Rex when I got here last year was this Kenwin kid, with some coaching, could be good — could be damned good."
One strong reason Scott likes Cummings so much: his strength, which has helped lift Scott's "Team Skeezy" into a solid 800-point lead over the three other teams involved in this year's offseason strength and conditioning competition.
"He's one of the strongest people on our football team, and not just for his position," Scott said. "He was one of my high draft picks. I know how he works, how he prepares, and if you give him an opportunity, he'll run through a wall for you."
Cummings' weight has been all over the lot due to the systems he's played in and their requirements. He was up to 270 pounds at 6'3" at the end of his rookie season, which was the end of Eric Mangini's regime with the Jets in 2008. His program weight late last season was 260 but he was probably more like 245 when he made his NFL debut in the AFC Wild Card Game at Cincinnati.
Now he said he's added about 10 pounds to get to the 255 that his coach sees him at.
"Kenwin looks like a different guy to me," Ryan said. "He's moving in space well now and he's physical when the pads come on, which is the best thing he does — he's tough and can really strike you. The way he's moving in the open field has been really impressive."
"I'm moving better, I'm feeling lighter on my feet," Cummings said. "I pretty much got the scheme of the defense down now. My main goal this year is to really contribute on special teams and any way I can."
One way any of the young vets and undrafted rookies on the Jets roster can help out the defense is by showing that they're the best backup candidate to step in for either of the starters in the middle, Scott and David Harris. Right now fifth-year man Lance Laury is in the running, but Cummings has the inside track.