Heading into Sunday afternoon's game between the Jets and Patriots, much of the talk has been on a player who may or may not be suiting up to play, New England's TE Rob Gronkowski. With an average of exactly one receiving touchdown for every game started in his first three NFL seasons, it's easy to understand why there's been such a big emphasis on the status of No. 87.
But what about the other No. 87? Our No. 87. Fourth-year TE Jeff Cumberland.
It seems as though he's flying under the radar, but he's embracing that position.
"It's always good being an underdog," Cumberland said after practice Thursday, "because a lot of people don't prepare for you as much as if you were someone with a big name and they really have to pay attention to you."
The Jets hope that teams continue to let their 6'4", 260-pound tight end fly under the radar, because the lower he flies, the easier it will be for him to take off over the top and wreak havoc on opposing linebackers and DBs. He could be flying especially low on New England's radar, as Cumberland didn't catch a pass headed into or out of our Week 2 loss at Gillette Stadium.
With No. 1 WR Santonio Holmes set to miss his third consecutive game this week and fellow TE Kellen Winslow out for the second game of his four-game suspension, it's that much more important that rookie QB Geno Smith and his fourth-year TE are in sync.
And they have been.
Since Week 3, Cumberland's second on the Jets with 11 receptions and leads the Green & White with 198 receiving yards.
"Geno's getting more comfortable with the offense and things are clicking a lot more," Jeff said. "With guys out, I guess you've got to depend on certain guys and I guess I've been one of his targets that he's been hitting."
In his last three games, Jeff Cumberland's hauled in four passes of at least 20 yards. Among tight ends with double-digit receptions this season, only San Francisco's Vernon Davis at 18.4 yards per catch averages more than Cumberland's 18.0.
"Having a tight end as a deep threat, it's been a plus for us," WR Stephen Hill said. "Jeff's been working hard. I even told him, 'You've gotten better from last year to this year and we love it.' It's a big help."
Speaking to reporters during his weekly news conference at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center on Thursday, coordinator Marty Mornhinweg described his offensive weapon as "a fine football player, an important part of our offense."
"He's just an excellent all-around player," Mornhinweg said. "He's got size, he's got skill, he's got quickness, he's got ability, he's got good hands. He's a natural player."
Much of the talk will likely stay focused on No. 87 in red and blue, regardless of whether he plays or not, but the Green & White's No. 87 is emerging as another one of the league's best tight ends.
"I'm just looking to get better day by day and then week by week," Cumberland said. "Come out this week and do the same thing. Do a lot better on offense, move the ball, and hopefully come out with the victory."
A Young Man of Distinction
Quick, who's the only player during QB Matt Ryan's six years in the league whose team beat the Falcons on their own Georgia Dome turf in back-to-back weeks?
Give up? Why, TE Zach Sudfeld, of course.
The University of Nevada product went undrafted before the Patriots signed him as a rookie free agent earlier this year. At 6'7", he stood tall throughout preseason with eight catches for 101 yards and a touchdown before securing a spot on their 53-man roster.
He was on the sideline, but inactive, as New England beat the Jets, 13-10, Week 2. He played for the Pats in Week 4 at Atlanta, a 30-23 win, but for the third time in as many games played, he failed to catch a pass and was subsequently released.
That's when the Jets swooped in and acquired the 24-year-old tight end off of waivers. He was inactive for our Week 5 30-28 victory over the Falcons, but he played last week vs. the Steelers with Winslow suspended and will likely suit up against his former team just two days from now.
"It's definitely an interesting feeling," Sudfeld said. "There's a lot of great guys on that team that I have good friendships with, but when it comes down to it, on Sunday I'm a Jet and I'm excited to be here and do whatever I can to help this team win."