The Jets were only a week into training camp but players on defense were wary of one thing. When the ball comes over the middle, somebody better know where No. 88 is.
No. 88, otherwise known as tight end Doug Jolley, has made it a habit to find that open seam smack in the middle of the field, make the catch and continue running.
The Jets hope this is a sign that they've finally found their pass-catching, productive tight end - the one they've been searching for over the last decade or two.
The Jets aren't surprised at seeing Jolley make catch after catch in training camp, but the 1,500 fans coming to watch practice every day might be surprised seeing a tight end do anything on offense other than block.
Former starter Anthony Becht was the third tight end the Jets have picked in the first round since 1992, when they selected Johnny Mitchell 15th overall. But the constantly underachieving Mitchell was let go in a salary cap move after the 1995 season. That same year, the Jets used the ninth overall pick on Kyle Brady, who never caught more than 30 passes in four seasons and was allowed to leave for Jacksonville in 1999.
While they technically didn't pick Jolley in the first round, it took a first-rounder to get him in their trade with Oakland in the week before the draft, meaning the expectations will be almost as high.
"It's definitely encouraging," said Jolley, who played in Oakland for three years but found his role decreasing last season, making just seven catches for 78 yards over the final seven games. "Anytime a team trades for you that means they want you and they're looking forward to using you in their offense. To just be part of the offense ... is big for me.
"I like (the new offense). It's a good fit for me and the other tight ends so I'm real excited for it. I'm excited to come out here and see if I can hold my own out here."
Jolley's strength is breaking down zones, finding the open spot and running after the catch, something Becht never provided in four years with the Jets.
"This offense allows (the tight end) to work down the field," quarterback Chad Pennington said. "They're not just underneath decoys; they're not just underneath control receivers. They are going to get a chance to not only catch it and run, but also catch it down field. Doug does a great job of that."
While Becht never emerged as the pass-catcher the Jets had hoped for, he was an essential part of their run-blocking schemes, especially on the right side where Martin gained much of his NFL leading 1,697 yards last season.
With the running game driving the Jets offense again, Jolley's blocking can't take a back seat to his contributions as a receiver.
"We're going to run behind him. He's going to be in there so he better be able to do the honor," new offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger said. "When we watched the film (of Jolley in Oakland), I was looking for his pass-catching ability and there were a lot of times that he was in pass protection against a defensive end and he held up pretty good. We'll see. He will find a way."
Because he's a more vertical threat, Jolley puts a strain on opposing linebackers. If the middle linebacker moves up to cover him, Jolley is physical enough to get by him or the Jets can bring in the bigger Chris Baker for a better matchup. If the linebacker plays back, it's an automatic 10-yard cushion for Jolley to work with over the middle.
"The one thing about the tight end is that in any defense, the middle of the field is vulnerable between the line of scrimmage and 10 yards," coach Herman Edwards said. "It's always open. It's been open for 80 years."
Plus, being able to stretch the field with the tight end gives defenses another receiver to contend with and forces them to change their coverages, benefiting Curtis Martin and the running game.