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Friday, Aug. 22, 2014

Jets' Keller becoming one of Favre's top targets

Friday, November 21, 2008

By DENNIS WASZAK Jr.

AP Sports Writer

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Dustin Keller heard the boos from Jets fans when his name was announced on draft day. He'll show them, he thought on that April afternoon.

The rookie tight end out of Purdue is only hearing cheers these days as one of Brett Favre's go-to guys and a valuable part of New York's surging offense.

"It feels good to be on their good side," Keller said Friday with a smile. "I still feel like there's a lot I have to prove and I think throughout the rest of the season, with more repetitions with Brett and the rest of the guys on offense, that that's going to happen."

Keller had eight catches for 87 yards in last week's victory at New England, with none bigger than his 16-yard reception on third-and-15 in overtime. He caught a ball over the middle and stretched his body past safety Brandon Meriweather to keep the winning drive alive.

He also had six catches for 107 yards and a touchdown in a win against St. Louis the previous game.

"I'm definitely confident out there," he said. "I feel whoever I'm lined up against, I have a mismatch. I feel like if you don't have that mentality, you're already setting yourself up for failure."

Keller's combination of speed and size -- he's 6-foot-2, 248 pounds -- and ability to shed linebackers trying to cover him was what most attracted the Jets. They were so enamored of him, they traded up into the first round and took him with the 30th pick. Many of the fans packed into the draft at Radio City Music Hall voiced their displeasure, thinking New York should've taken a cornerback or wide receiver.

Favre, for one, is happy the Jets made that decision a few months before he got here. The 39-year-old quarterback has taken a quick liking to the tight end.

"I told him, 'I wish I would've had you a few years back,"' Favre said recently. "The sky's the limit for the guy."

Keller has been helped by the passing lanes being opened up by the "Pow & Later" running back tandem of the rugged and powerful Thomas Jones, and speedy and elusive Leon Washington. He also has gotten a firmer grasp on the offense, which leads the AFC in scoring with 289 points.

"He's very gifted," coach Eric Mangini said. "It's easy to have confidence in him at practice. He makes unbelievable catch after unbelievable catch, so the things that he has been able to do in the games aren't surprising. If he continues to work at it and understand defenses, as he gets better in terms of the fluidness and the feel of the routes, then he will be that much more productive."

After only seven catches in his first six games, Keller has 20 in the last four.

"I think we've become more in sync as the season's gone along," he said. "I think it's just going to continue throughout the season with more repetitions and we're just going to be on the same page even more."

Keller leads AFC rookie tight ends in receptions and also leads the team with 12.6 yards per catch, giving the Jets their first true vertical threat at the position since perhaps Johnny Mitchell in the early 1990s.

"He's what I call a 'tweener,"' Favre said. "He's like (Antonio) Gates, where he can line up at wide receiver, but he also can line up at tight end and block. The problem that that presents to other teams is: What type of matchup do we want to put up against him?"

Favre has also said multiple times that Keller doesn't know how good he can become.

"It's definitely a confidence builder," Keller said. "I think I could be pretty good, but that's big for me, especially coming from a guy like Brett."

Against the Patriots, Keller dropped a sure touchdown pass in the end zone in the first quarter. Favre and fullback Tony Richardson made sure the rookie didn't dwell on it.

"You have to move on because if you sit there and think about the drop, you're going to drop the next one and continue dropping them the rest of the game," Keller said. "You just have to move on to the next one and you've got to take the good with the bad and there's nothing you can do about it."

Lately, it's been mostly good for Keller, who has become a regular go-to guy for reporters, too.

"Yeah, he's bigtime," said a smiling Richardson, whose locker is next to Keller's.

One of the few knocks on Keller coming out of Purdue was that he was a poor blocker. His blocking has been at least good enough to keep him on the field even during running plays. The Jets realize the more he's involved in the offense, the greater the chance of Keller making something happen.

"I don't really set expectations for myself," Keller said. "I just go into every game with the mentality of try to make every play you possibly can and whenever they call my number, make that play. And for the most part, I think I've done a good job."



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