The Jets' tight end position continues to evolve since the unit in the 2015 and '16 seasons caught only 26 passes combined.
There's great promise as Chris Herndon comes off his 39-catch rookie season, yet in some ways he's a first-year player again in the new offense of head coach Adam Gase and coordinator Dowell Loggains. Big blocker Eric Tomlinson returns, too, but two more parts are new to the Green & White — versatile vet Daniel Brown and fourth-round rookie Trevon Wesco.
What does it portend for the position as 2019 training camp approaches?
"Tight end is a difficult position. It's also one that's fun to play," new TEs coach John Dunn said in the spring. "In Coach Gase's offense, they do everything, and that's the fun part. It's also the challenging part. The attitude has been great, the work ethic has been great. Obviously, there's the challenge, not only physically but learning a new system.
"Until we put pads on, especially at our position, it's hard to fully gauge who they are and what they can do. I like the attitude, I like the skillset."
Herndon's Late Sophomore Start
For a while last year, when Herndon became the first Jets rookie TE with touchdown catches in three consecutive games, there was the thought that he was the franchise's next Mickey Shuler or Dustin Keller.
Herndon may still match or surpass the achievements of the Jets' best players at the position, but that may or may not be realized immediately in receiving numbers. Gase's Dolphins TEs from 2016-18 didn't have great catch numbers, either. On the other hand, TE Julius Thomas under Gase as his coordinator with Denver had 24 TD catches in 2013-14 combined.
Also, Herndon's season can't start until Game 5 against Dallas after the NFL suspended him for four games for violating the league's susbstance abuse policy. When he returns, Gase said, "I think it's really how far can we take him in the first year of this offense and transitioning him from last year.
"I think he's done a good job of working hard. He came in, he's in good shape, he's absorbing the playbook as fast as he possibly can. We're not trying to overload him too much because at that position, you could play multiple positions. It's a lot of verbiage, calls, all of those things. They've got to do a lot, so we're trying to make sure we're doing right by him and make sure that he has this wired down."
But Gase does see great things in store for No. 89, whom he's referred to as a tight end "unicorn," and Dunn expanded on that thought.
"We want to be a three-down player and to do that, not only is that being a good matchup player in man-to-man in the passing game, that's also pass pro and in the run game," Dunn said. "When Adam talks about the unicorn, you're really talking about a guy that can have success in all three areas, all three phases."
Tomlinson (6'6", 263), since coming to the Jets as a free agent midway through 2016, has made a home for himself as an end-of-line blocker who can also make a surprise clutch catch when called on. Wesco (6'3", 267) has a chance to fill a similar role if not do more.
Tomlinson is "a true grit and tough guy. He's going to battle and compete at the point of attack," GM Joe Douglas said in last week's conference call with season ticket holders. And Wesco, Douglas said, was "one of the best route runners at the position at the Senior Bowl. You forget that he's 270 pounds catching the ball, but he's not afraid to mix it up with defensive ends and play a little smashmouth footall."
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How Now Dan Brown?
Brown's top NFL career traits have been versatility and adaptability. In 2016-17, with Loggains as his coordinator and Dunn as an assistant coach at Chicago, he had 29 catches in 20 games. Last year he had no receptions but put in 243 special teams plays in 15 games for the Bears' playoff team.
"Sometimes with the tight ends and all we ask them to do, being a jack of all trades is not a bad thing because you have to dabble in a lot of different areas," Dunn said. "I think the one thing with Dan is his experience. His knowledge helps him. Dan has a natural feel for the game and you can see that when he plays."
The Jets tight ends should play a significant role in helping the Sam Darnold/Le'Veon Bell offense get up to speed. They'll be pass-blocking for Darnold, opening up gaps for Bell's wait-wait-GO rushing style, and they could benefit as receivers if Bell and the Jets WRs stretch defenses the way they'd like. In Bell's first three seasons with Pittsburgh, TE Heath Miller had 193 catches. Just maybe those can be the kind of numbers that can trickle down from Bell and the wideouts to Herndon and the tight ends this season.