Why was Ricks added?/Graber update

It looked like the Jets were all set at tight end entering training with Anthony Becht, Chris Baker and James Dearth. So why did they just sign journeyman Mikhael Ricks?<p>

It's with an eye towards the future. With Becht due to become a free agent after the 2004 season, the Jets wanted to get a player in place to potentially replace him. The Jets most likely will not re-sign Becht, and the concept of combining Chris Baker with Ricks in 2005 intrigues them.

In Baker and Ricks, they would have players who would compliment each other well. Baker has turned into a very good blocker, and is a short-to-intermediate threat in the passing game. Ricks is one of the most mobile tight ends in the NFL with the ability to get far down the field.

During his eight-year NFL career, he's hauled in a number of long passes including receptions of 50 and 49 yards. Over the last four years, Ricks has six catches for 20 or more yards and four catches that have gone for 40 yards or more.

Remember Ricks was a wide receiver at Stephen F. Austin, and was drafted in the second round by the San Diego Chargers in 1998 to play that position. He played his first three seasons in the NFL with Chargers as a jumbo wide receiver at 235 pounds. Then he joined the Kansas City Chiefs in 2000, and was moved to tight end. Two instrumental figures in that move were the team's offensive coordinator Paul Hackett and player personnel director Terry Bradway. It turned out to be a good move for Ricks, who has grown into a 260-pound tight end. After a couple of season is Kansas City, he joined the Detroit Lions in 2002, and caught 27 and 37 passes the last two seasons. Ricks had the second most receptions on the Lions last year, but was released this off-season when the team signed Stephen Alexander.

So with his size and great mobility, why has Ricks bounced around the NFL so much? The Jets are his fourth team in eight years. One problem is that Ricks has inconsistent hands and has suffered nagging injuries. The other issue is that while he's up to 260 pounds, he's not a very good blocker. Bulking up hasn't helped Ricks in the blocking department.

"It doesn't matter how much weight he gains, he's not a blocker," said one Jets source.

"Ricks offers little as a blocker," said one NFL scout. "He is a liability as an in-line blocker. He lacks a mean streak."

The Jets know exactly what they are getting in Ricks, especially with Hackett and Bradway's background with the player. They know he's a poor blocker, but they are excited about what he can add to the Jets offense. Aside from wanting a player who can potentially team with Baker in 2005, they want a tight end that can stretch the defense this year. Becht was considered a fast tight end when he came out of West Virginia and ran a 4.7 forty at 270 pounds prior to the draft. However, that speed doesn't seem to manifest itself on the field. Baker is a 4.8 forty player, so he's not particularly effective getting down field. Ricks can get down field, and is an superb athlete for the tight end position.

"He has excellent athletic ability and is versatile," said the NFL scout. "He has the size to cause matchup problems for defensive backs. He possesses good speed and leaping ability and wins many jump balls."

The signing of Ricks could create a number's problem for the Jets personnel department. The Jets would prefer to keep just three tight ends, but now it looks like they will have to keep four. Remember Dearth, the team's talented long-snapper, is also listed as a tight end. He might be the NFL's finest long-snapper, so he isn't going anywhere. By keeping four tight ends, the Jets are going to have to short-change another position, probably wide receiver. But another good aspect of Ricks game is that he can still play wide receiver. So in a jam, he can swing to wide receiver. Last year, when the Lions suffered a myriad of injures at the wide receiver position, Ricks filled in.

Notes –

Jets secondary coach Doug Graber is still on a leave of absence from the team. About a month ago, Graber left the team for personal reasons. It's still unknown whether he will rejoin the team for training camp. According to an NFL source, Graber is not suffering from a life-threatening illness. If Graber doesn't return, former Jets safety Corwin Brown will take over as the team's secondary coach . . .

Jets coach Herman Edwards is currently on a vacation in Carmel, California, and will return next week to gear up for training camp . . .

While a lot of the Jets football staff is on vacation, one guy who is still working is cap guru Mike Tannenbaum. Aside from negotiating contracts of unsigned draft picks, he has also been talking to Tom Condon, the agent for Chad Pennington, about a new deal for the star quarterback.

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