Vander Laan's Starting Over...as a Tight End

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Two years ago, a writer for mlive.com said Jason Vander Laan "is built like a linebacker, hits like a fullback and, this season, is developing into a passer."

This offseason the Jets are trying to turn the passer who racked up numbers like an SEC tailback into an NFL tight end.

Vander Laan takes all this positional hopscotching in stride.

"Coming in, I wanted to make sure I worked on blocking a lot because it's something I've never done before. I never ran routes before, but that's a little easier transition," Vander Laan told me at mandatory minicamp. "So things are going well, the offense is looking good, and right now I'm starting to feel a lot more comfortable."

Jets tight ends coach Jimmie Johnson has been pleasantly surprised by the undrafted free agent's development as well.

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"It's going better than I anticipated for a guy that's never played tight end," Johnson said. "He's not a 'Y' because he can't get in there and block, but he's more of a move guy, more of an H-back type. He's a smart kid, having played quarterback, and the transition has been a whole lot smoother — we're going to say that's coaching — than I thought it would be."

NFL fans have seen intriguing transition players come and go, most of them quickly, and why should a Division II tight end who's played nothing on offense except QB since fourth grade hang around any longer than most?

Yet there is Vander Laan's 6'4", 244 size. And his production — he set the NCAA all-divisions record with 5,953 rushing yards by a QB and the D-2 mark with 81 rushing TDs by a QB, added 85 passing TDs to that total, and not surprisingly won two consecutive Harlon Hill.

He won't dwell on those artifacts of a previous position now as a Jets TE.

"I've kind of put that behind," he said. "When you're going from college to the NFL, you're a freshman again. Everybody here was a great college player. It's helped you get this far, but what's done is done. I'm not going to rely on that or look at that at all. I'm just going to say, Hey, this is starting over, just be the best tight end I can be.

"There's still a ways I have to go before I can be where I want to be," he said, "but I'm happy with the progress I've made."

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