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Keller's Role, Confidence Continue to Expand


2008 Week 10 - Jets vs Rams Photos

There's not a lot that can rattle Dustin Keller.

When a reporter said late today that he hoped Keller hadn't hit the rookie wall yet because this short week before the New England game would be really tough, Keller just smiled and said, "No, I'm good, I'm good."

And when asked about the high praise Brett Favre offered him Sunday following the Jets' vanquishing of the St. Louis Rams, the young tight end offered a knowing nod.

"Yeah, I heard," he said, proud but hardly overwhelmed. "He's told me that a couple times. It means a lot to me."

Keller means increasingly more to Favre's and the Jets' offensive efforts. His six receptions and 107 receiving yards were career highs and more than all the other tight ends and wideouts on the Jets combined. His 1-yard touchdown reception with 28 seconds left in the second quarter was the third TD of his career — and like the first two balls he caught for scores, this one sits in the upper compartment of his locker wrapped in white tape, ready to be decorated for his trophy case.

He was an able complement as the receiving focus to the rushing force that was Thomas Jones in the 47-3 rout.

"I'm very proud of Dustin," Favre said. "That's what he is capable of doing. I told him I wish I'd had him when I was younger — there'd be a lot more of those. He'll have a lot of 100-yard games and a lot of big games. He has no idea how good he can be. He probably thinks he does but the guy has tremendous potential, he has great character. It was one of those games where you find out a little about certain players and what you can hang your hat on."

Keller is the kind of player all teams like to hang their hats on: a rookie who's wise beyond his years and not wet behind his ears.

"I'm very comfortable," he said of his place in the offense, which has featured prominent appearances in the game-plan-specific approaches to San Diego (four catches, first pro TD), Arizona (24-yard scoring reception) and Kansas City (four more catches). "I don't feel like a rookie ... well, maybe from the mindset of the coaches who might still call you 'rook.'

"But I'm very comfortable with the offense. I feel I'm in sync with Favre now and things are just going to get better."

"Dustin's made a lot of strides," head coach Eric Mangini said at today's news conference. "He's playing a bigger role. I think the relationship between him and Brett continues to develop. I've always liked tight ends in the passing game. I like that element, that presence in the middle of the field. I'm a big fan of the tight end. I'm glad to see him make those plays."

With Chris Baker's role still limited following his hip issue right before the KC game two weeks ago and Bubba Franks sidelined the last three games, if you like tight ends, you like Keller. As the last seven opponents come onto the radar screen, the wideouts will rise, different TEs will return to action and get loose and Leon Washington and Jones will slip out of the backfield and do damage.

But the 54-yard completion from Favre to Keller shows why the "rookie" should continue to contribute like a several-year veteran, forcing secondaries into mismatches or miscommunications and allowing him to break free down the middle while waiting for Favre off the pumpfake or the play action.

Keller was asked by an NFL Network reporter about the importance of this next game, in about three days' time, at Gillette Stadium against the rival Patriots. He didn't flinch. He knew just what the right things were to say about the Pats, to give them their due but to give his team its due as well.

"A win up there? It'd be huge," Keller said. "In the second week, they came in here and they got the win. So we'll go back up there and try to return the favor."

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