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Keller making a big impact

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1 Keller making a big impact on Sun 23 Nov 2008, 2:26 am

Rookie Keller making big impact Saturday, November 22, 2008 BY TARA SULLIVAN--STAFF WRITER

FLORHAM PARK — When rookie tight end Dustin Keller led the Jets in receiving two games ago against St. Louis, veteran quarterback Brett Favre later revealed his postgame message to his young teammate.

"I told him after the game in the locker room, 'I wish I would have had you a few years back,' " Favre said.

That is high praise coming from Favre, whose Hall of Fame career has been built on the hands of his tight ends.

But the confidence Favre is gaining in Keller is obvious in more than just his words.

In an encore to outdo the blowout of the hapless Rams (in which Keller made six catches for 107 yards and a touchdown), the first-round draft pick had a team-high eight catches for 87 yards in the overtime victory over the rival Patriots.

No catch was bigger than the 16-yarder he made on the third play of overtime, which turned a third-and-15 into a first down en route to the game-winning kick. The play was one Favre specifically requested be included in the game plan and is indicative of his growing trust in Keller.

"It's always good to have the quarterback counting on you and having faith in you because it's not something that's given, but something that's earned," Jets coach Eric Mangini said.

"Dustin has earned Brett's respect."

Keller is beginning to show more of his feisty personality on the field, imitating an official's first-down signal on a few occasions.

Favre deserves some credit.

"It was huge for me to have a guy of Brett's caliber say that about me – a big confidence booster," Keller said after practice Friday.

"It couldn't have come from a better guy."

The Jets traded up to make Keller their second first-round pick (30th overall), and at the time, they didn't have Favre. But the late trade for the future Hall of Famer only brightened Keller's outlook for an impact rookie season.

At least, that's what teammate and fellow tight end Bubba Franks told him. Franks spent eight years with Favre in Green Bay and caught 29 touchdowns from him.

"Bubba told us to get ready, that the ball is coming fast and the ball is coming our way. A lot," Keller said.

"I was definitely prepared and excited for the opportunity."

As the Jets head to Tennessee today to take on the undefeated Titans on Sunday afternoon, Favre will be facing one of the league's best defenses.

In the face of pressure from DT Albert Haynesworth and DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, both playing at Pro Bowl levels, Favre just might need the quick release to his tight ends. And Keller has the confidence to be there.

"I feel like [whomever] I'm lined up against, I have a mismatch, but I think if you don't have that mentality, you're already a failure, Keller said.

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