2008 Green and White Practice Photos
When the Jets traded back into the first round to nab Dustin Keller in April's draft, they likely envisioned the athletic tight end creating matchup problems and stretching defenses.
Today the team and 3,500 fans got to see just that in the Green & White Practice at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium.
With Keller's White squad trailing, 10-0, early in the fourth quarter, the rookie ran a deep route on second down. After clearing the front seven, he found himself singled up against safety Abram Elam. Kellen Clemens heaved the pass over the middle.
Both went for the ball, and the coverage was good, but Keller was stellar. The tight end turned back and snared the ball over Elam's shoulder then made a move to avoid getting wrapped up — although the Green team disputed that — and sped to the end zone to complete a 55-yard touchdown play.
The crowd erupted.
"It's just a credit to how talented he is," Clemens said. "He was one-on-one with a safety. And for us, it's a good matchup when you've got Dustin Keller running down the middle of the field."
A dynamic tight end, coach Eric Mangini said, "puts a lot of pressure on the defense when you can threaten outside and in the middle."
Keller, on one play, showed what havoc he can wreak on a defense. His agility and pure speed (his 4.55 time in the 40 at the NFL Combine was the best at his position) makes him a tough cover for most linebackers, and at 6'2", 248 pounds he has a size advantage over just about any defensive back.
He finished with four catches, equaling WR Jerricho Cotchery's total, for a practice-leading 79 yards. His first three receptions came on short routes, underneath the defense and against the linebackers. That time, when he took it deep, he drew safety coverage and used his height to make the catch and his speed to pull away.
Confidence isn't an issue, either. Keller, 23, understands what his physical talents enable him to do.
"In every single practice, I feel as if nobody can cover me," he said. "If you don't have that mentality, you're setting yourself up for failure."
Still, Keller knows that he has much more to learn. He admitted that his blocking still needs a lot of work, adding, "I thought I was a good receiver in college, but being here has opened my eyes to a lot of things." But he is certainly getting better at reading defenses and analyzing coverages.
"Whenever they call a play, I know all the possibilities of what I may be doing," he said. "So I'm just thinking what kind of different defensive looks I might get and it's a lot more clear to me when I go to the line."
The touchdown play initially called him for him to run a standard seam route, "but I read 'split safeties' so I ran a post between them," Keller explained. "There was no looking back after that."
And he literally didn't have to look back, because no defender was close to him as he raced in for his team's only score.
On the White team's next-to-last play of the game, with Clemens facing third-and-20, Keller ran another deep post and, against double coverage, was able to get a step on the defense. The pass was just out of reach, however, landing harmlessly on the ground.
But in short time, Keller has garnered so much respect from his teammates that as the ball sailed toward him then, it got Cotchery, his rival-for-a-day, breaking into an Amy Whinehouse impersonation on the Green team's sideline.
"I said, 'No, no, no!' " Cotchery said of his reaction to the pass, which would have prolonged the drive had it been completed. "He was flying. I've just been seeing him make plays. He's been everywhere. He's doing a great job and he's got everyone excited."