Jets tight end Sudfeld tackling special teams role

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Zach Sudfeld always figured he'd be the guy avoiding tackles, not making them.

But the New York Jets backup tight end has been consistently taking down kick returners this season, leading the team with 15 total special teams tackles. Not bad for a guy who, as far as he can remember, last regularly tackled someone in his high school days.

"Oh, man, it feels great," Sudfeld said Friday. "When you make a good tackle, it's like, 'Man, this is awesome.' I can see why people love playing defense so much. It's a lot of fun."

At 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds, Sudfeld — nicknamed "Sasquatch" by coach Rex Ryan — isn't exactly the prototypical special teams player.

"You just don't see it from that body type too much," said linebacker and special teams standout Nick Bellore. "Not from a guy that tall, that big."

Sudfeld has a nose for the ball carrier, though, and he has become one of the biggest surprises this season for special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey.

"When I got here last spring and I saw him on tape," McGaughey said, "if you would have told me that that guy would be our lead tackler this year, and if he was sitting right there, I would say the same thing — and I've said this in the meetings — it's unbelievable."

Sudfeld is third on the depth chart at tight end behind Jeff Cumberland and rookie Jace Amaro and has just two catches for 35 yards this season. While he works for more snaps on offense, Sudfeld has made himself a valuable part of the special teams unit.

"He's starting to become more of a leader," McGaughey said. "He's more vocal. He has more confidence because he has been making plays. The one guy that I would say that really shocked me is Zach."

And, it came about almost by chance.

Sudfeld didn't play special teams in high school and rarely did so in college at Nevada. He had some spot duty as a blocker on punts last season, his first with the Jets, but didn't see much time on special teams in the preseason this year. But in the season opener against Oakland, McGaughey needed someone to cover a kickoff and Sudfeld was sent in.

He assisted on the tackle — his first since he played some linebacker at Modesto Christian High School in California.

"I kind of just jumped out there and no one blocked me," Sudfeld said. "No one accounted for me, so I was in on the tackle. From then on, it was like, 'Hey, I could do this.' I don't have much technique, though. I just try to grab them and wrap 'em up somehow."

It's not pretty all the time, with some awkward-looking arm tackles and near-body slams, so it makes for some laughs among the other special teamers who tackle for a living. But, it gets the job done.

"We don't really mess with it because some of the ways he gets guys down is pretty creative," Bellore said. "I mean, he had one last week where he kind of got his arm in between a guy's feet and tripped him up. It's been working for him."

Sudfeld has spent extra time with assistant defensive backs coach Brian Smith working on tackling techniques, and he also asks questions of teammates Bellore and rookie linebacker Trevor Reilly.

"I think they all know that it's not just second nature for me," Sudfeld said. "It's a credit to a lot of the other guys making plays in there, so the returners kind of bounce out to me and I'm just kind of there to clean up."

So, if the tight end stuff doesn't work out, perhaps Sudfeld could think about a position switch.

"I don't know, man," he said, laughing. "You see guys like Calvin Pace and David Harris and Quinton Coples, and those guys are pretty spectacular at what they do. I don't think I'd be a very good defensive end or something like that in this league."

But, making 15 tackles — including eight solo — isn't too shabby.

"Really, 15? Wow," Sudfeld said, smiling. "I didn't know that. That's a lot, man. To really be contributing, you go into meetings and you feel like you can really provide a service to the team. It's just great."


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