As a tight end last season for the AFC East’s first-place team, the Buffalo Bills, Tyler Kroft snagged three TD passes the entire season in a limited role. That was before he signed with the Jets in free agency in March.
If his play and his pair of TD receptions against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in Saturday afternoon’s 23-14 preseason victory are an indication of possible things to come, then his teammates and coaches have to be thrilled.
“In this offense in general, the tight ends get asked to do a lot in the running or passing game,” Kroft (6-6, 260) said. “They put a lot on our plate and as a unit we’re building good chemistry.”
In the offense being installed by coordinator Mike LaFleur, tight ends play a big, often pivotal role. From their days in San Francisco, LaFleur and first-year head coach Robert Saleh witnessed the development and breakout play of the 49ers top TE, George Kittle. The situation in the Jets’ TE room gives the team experienced and multiple options — there’s Kroft (7 years), Chris Herndon (4), Ryan Griffin (9), Daniel Brown (7), Trevon Wesco (3) and rookie Kenny Yeboah.
“They’re gonna catch the ball when the time comes,” LaFleur said in June. “But that’s what kind of stood out with that group is they’re pros. And they’ve played on Sundays before, you can tell.”
Kroft made the most of the mere 12 plays (22% of the offensive snaps) he participated in during the first half on Saturday, with his two catches (for 36 total yards) both going for 18-yard TD plays from rookie QB Zach Wilson.
With the Jets trailing, 7-3, early in the second quarter, Wilson threw a dart down the middle of the field to an open Kroft on the Packers’ goal line. He fought off a tackle, spun around and fell into the end zone. It was Wilson’s first TD pass as a professional and Kroft’s first TD grab in the Green & White.
“Right off the snap the near safety started pushing into the middle of field and the ‘backer was coming to me play me man,” Kroft said. “We had a double move on, and the safety kept pushing to the middle. I tried to keep the route skinny and Zach threw a perfect ball away from the safety. He was trying to protect me as much as he could.”