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Record-setting QB adjusting to tight end for Jets


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Record-setting QB adjusting to tight end for Jets

By Dom Cosentino | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

ct-sta-football-jason-vander-laan-josh-f

Jason Vander Laan isn't just a rookie undrafted free agent adjusting to the NFL. He's a rookie free agent adjusting to the NFL while also learning an entirely new position. 

 
Jets Christian Hackenberg throws, is asked about inaccuracyJets rookie quarterback Christian Hackenberg participates during Day 3 of the New York Jets minicamp and answers a question about his inaccuracy throwing the ball. 6/16/2016 (Andrew Mills | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Vander Laan had a decorated college career at Ferris State. He twice won the Harlon Hill Trophy, which is the Division II equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. He's college football's all-time leader in rushing yards (5,953) and by a quarterback. He's the first player in NCAA history to run and pass for 1,000 yards for four straight seasons.

And the Jets signed him just after the draft to be a tight end.

"He has some toughness, he has things on film," Jets head coach Todd Bowles said. "I think a lot of people convert and project. Some people use basketball guys, some people use big quarterbacks from smaller schools. We saw something in him that we wanted to see if we had the ability to learn it, and the ability to grow and get better at it."

The 6-foot-4, 244-pound Vander Laan discovered as the pre-draft process played out that his best shot at making the NFL would be as a tight end. When the Chicago-area native he worked out at Northwestern's pro day, only the Bears and Patriots were interested in having him play quarterback.

Vander Laan did not have any private workouts or visits with the Jets before the draft, but the organization was in touch with him. After the draft, Vander Laan said, "four or five" teams showed interest in signing him as a UDFA, and that his decision came down to the Jets and Washington.

There was much to learn. Vander Laan had never played tight end or receiver before.

He spent his first two or three weeks getting familiar with the playbook.

"You can't even think about what you're trying to do physically, just because you're worried about where to line up, what motion to do, stuff like that," Vander Laan said.

"Sometimes you'll be pass-blocking when you're off the ball, sometimes you'll be on the ball, sometimes you'll be in the backfield. Sometimes you're checking out the backer, sometimes it's a D-linemen.

"A lot of that stuff is crazy in my head for the first couple weeks. It's starting to settle in."

Though tight end was not prominently featured in the Jets' passing game last year, Vander Laan has plenty of competition. There's veteran Kellen Davis, plus Jace Amaro and Zach Sudfeld—who both spent last season on injured reserve—along with Brandon Bostick and Wes Saxton, who spent last season on the practice squad.

Jets tight ends coach Jimmie Johnson was impressed by Vander Laan during organized team activities and minicamp.

"The transition has been a whole lot smoother than I thought it would be for a guy that's never played the position," Johnson said.

Johnson doesn't see Vander Laan becoming a Y (in-line) tight end because of Vander Laan's lack of experience as a blocker, but Johnson said Vander Laan could have a future as an H-back—a role that has had a place in the Jets' offense under coordinator Chan Gailey.

Vander Laan's biggest challenge will be learning to block—he had never blocked before. While OTAs and minicamp did not allow for any contact, he did have a chance to work on where he places his feet, what kind of stance he ought to be in, and the kind of technique the defense is playing.

Now that he's up to speed on the playbook, Vander Laan has also dipped into some film study of last year's Jets, to see what to do and what not to do as a blocker.

"I can kind of see how he's taking his steps, how he's placing his helmet, what kind of leverage the D-end has," Vander Laan said. "I'm just kind of comparing what I would do in practice to what other people have done in games.

"I"m happy with where I'm at, and where I'm going, but there's definitely a lot of work I still need to do."

Dom Cosentino may be reached at dcosentino@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @domcosentino. Find NJ.com Jets on Facebook.

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We have too many bad TE's and not enough good TE's worth throwing the ball to.

Best of luck to the kid, shame he has to whore out as a TE to get a shot because the NFL is more conservative than Rush Limbaugh when it comes to QB's.

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1 hour ago, NYs Stepchild said:

After being told by scouts that he was too much of a “tweener” to make the NBA, Gates (6′4″) arranged a workout in front of NFL scouts. Despite never playing football in college,[8] as many as 19 teams were believed to have contacted Gates about a tryout. Gates chose to work out first for the San Diego Chargers. Recognizing his potential, the Chargers immediately signed him to a contract as an undrafted free agent.

Monday, Wednesday and Friday are "look under every rock" to find talent days.

Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday are "why" days.

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This guy is big and strong and this guy can run. If he can show he is a capable blocker and can catch the ball, he could very well play TE in the NFL.  

This is an experiment and odds are he will end up on the practice squad. But I'm pulling for the guy. Only Amaro is safe right now. Everyone else could potentially get cut if another player emerges or becomes available in FA. Not to mention that Sudfeld is coming off an injury and Davis is dealing with an existing injury. 

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He needs to put some pounds on. I'm tired of this H back gimmick BS, I want the real deal TE. The guy that can block in the running game even when the defense knows that the offense is going to run and the guy that can catch passes. Jace Amaro SUCKS. Zach Sudfeld is easily a more complete TE than Sudfeld will ever be..

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7 minutes ago, Mainejet said:

. Zach Sudfeld is easily a more complete TE than Sudfeld will ever be..

Your posts are very much all like drunken, emotional, repetitive rants.  Even when you are sober, none of them ever use any logic or sound reasoning.  "Sudfeld is better than Sudfeld"?   LOL.  Have another Newcastle but keep your guns locked up. 

 

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Just now, Dcat said:

Your posts are very much all like drunken, emotional, repetitive rants.  Even when you are sober, none of them ever use any logic or sound reasoning.  "Sudfeld is better than Sudfeld"?   LOL.  Have another Newcastle but keep your guns locked up. 

 

You knew I meant Amaro, get over yourself....

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6 hours ago, Mainejet said:

He needs to put some pounds on. I'm tired of this H back gimmick BS, I want the real deal TE. The guy that can block in the running game even when the defense knows that the offense is going to run and the guy that can catch passes. Jace Amaro SUCKS. Zach Sudfeld is easily a more complete TE than Sudfeld will ever be..

You're always so infatuated with how big our players are.

 

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2 hours ago, rex-n-effect said:

You're always so infatuated with how big our players are.

 

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It's because he is old and thinks a team should be built like they were in the 70's.  Someone forgot to tell him that football has changed.  

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On 6/29/2016 at 0:32 PM, Mainejet said:

He needs to put some pounds on. I'm tired of this H back gimmick BS, I want the real deal TE. The guy that can block in the running game even when the defense knows that the offense is going to run and the guy that can catch passes. Jace Amaro SUCKS. Zach Sudfeld is easily a more complete TE than Sudfeld will ever be..

Jace Amaro is one of the largest framed guys I've ever seen. You should love him. Sudfeld is skinny compared to him. Neither of them were anywhere near being considered a "complete" TE when last we saw them on the field, but both have the potential to become decent blockers. Neither of them did any inline blocking in college. We'll see which if either has been working on that during their sabbaticals.

Amaro has far superior route running skills. Yeah he dropped a few but was open far more often. In fact he seemed to be open almost every time he ran a route. For some reason Marty kept trotting Cumberland out there instead. I never understand why people don't see that drop rate is a relative stat. I realize that you see the drops and that is what you remember, but what's important is completion %. The percentage of balls caught which are thrown to you.

Amaro's was 71.7% (38 catches on 53 targets) as a rookie with Geno throwing to him. Correct me if I'm wrong but I think Geno's completion % was slightly lower than that on the whole. 

Sudfeld's % is about the same but a far lower sample size 5 catches on 7 targets. 

I think they both have outstanding potential. From a size/strength/athleticism standpoint they are as capable as anyone. If they work hard and stay healthy we could hypothetically go from worst to the best duo in football.

I think one of them becoming a competent blocker and a very good receiving TE and the other becoming a decent H back red zone threat is not unrealistic.  

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