When the New York Jets hired former Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore as an offensive consultant this offseason, Jets coach Rex Ryan envisioned a more efficient and more complete offense under offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
One of the key players in that offensive transformation is second year tight end Jeff Cumberland, number 86. The 24-year-old tight end was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Illinois in April of 2010, and spent most of the season on the gameday inactive list.
It says a lot, however, that the Jets did not try to sneak Cumberland through the practice squad last year. Instead, they kept him on the 53-man roster, albeit as one of the eight inactive players most weeks. He made his NFL debut in Week 17, with many starters inactive.
Now, with Mark Sanchez becoming more and more competent as a passer, and the offense expanding to include various formations and different personell packages, it may Cumberland’s time to shine.
Cumberland has 8 catches for 120 yards in two games this preseason, and has quickly become a favorite target for rookie quarterback Greg McElroy, as the two of them have feasted on the second-team defenses they’ve played against.
While you have to take preseason stats with a grain of salt, it’s not hard to see how the athletic Cumberland could find himself a role in the Jets offense this season.
The 6’4, 260 pound tight end can be a mismatch for opposing defenses, especially alongside teammate Dustin Keller, himself an athletic tight end with receiver-type skills.
Both tight ends were wide receivers in high school, and possess skill sets that are tough for opposing defenses to match up against.
With 4.45 speed, Cumberland is a freak of an athlete that will force teams to pay attention to him. That, in and of itself is a big victory for the Jets.
One of the staples of Tom Moore’s offensive philosophy is the double-tight end set, something the Colts used effectively for years.
Conor Orr of the Star-Ledger wrote about Cumberland and the affect of the two-tight end set on opposing defenses.
Tom Moore, the team’s offensive consultant and the coordinator behind the recent success of the Indianapolis Colts offense, has seen the destruction a good double-tight end formation can cause.
Defenses might attack it differently, but must sacrifice something either way. Stuffing extra defensive backs on the field to help cover the tight ends will allow the opponent to run the ball. Adding extra linebackers will make it easier to throw.
“It’s how they want to substitute with their people, a question of what they feel is best for them for matchup purposes,” Moore said. “The more problems you can present, the better it is. So, the chess match begins.”
“It can open things up tremendously,” said Cumberland of the formation. “Two tight ends with tremendous speed, receiver-type hands, it will be hard to cover. It will do a lot of damage.”
For any packages that include Cumberland, the key to success is shedding his one-dimensional label.
Like Keller, Jeff Cumberland is known for his smooth receiving skills, not for his blocking skills. Both Keller and Cumberland will have to become reliable blockers to give defenses another thing to worry about.
Position coach Mike Devlin will be charged with the task of turning the two former wide receivers into complete tight ends, capable of run blocking, and staying on the field together for longer periods of time than just a play or two here and there.
“You can’t just be known as a pass-catcher,” Devlin said. “The more they can stay on the field in regular offensive sets, and not just get subbed in when they run routes, it always helps.”
“Who ya taking? Who are you doubling? You got Plaxico (Burress), you have Holmes, you have Derrick Mason, you have all these good guys,” Devlin said, “and now you have to contend with the tight ends as well.”
It will be an interesting new wrinkle this season to see Keller and Cumberland, 81 and 86, on the field together, creating opportunities for themselves and others.
It’s just another example of the evolution of the Jets offense from a one-dimensional “ground-and-pound” ball control offense, to a fully realized offensive attack that will be capable of taking what the defense gives them on a weekly basis.