Jeremy Ruckert’s second season as a Jet has gotten off on a better foot.
The tight end has been a noticeable target for Aaron Rodgers and Zach Wilson in the team’s practices in Florham Park, including a grab on Rodgers’ first pass on Sunday.
He’s far ahead of where he was last year, when he battled through plantar fasciitis after suffering a foot injury in the Senior Bowl.
Drafted in the third round (101st overall) from Ohio State, he missed all of the OTAs and about half of training camp then went on to catch just one pass for 8 yards in the nine games for which he suited up.
“I’m physically more comfortable and mentally more comfortable. Just having so much more fun this year than I was last year,” Ruckert said after Sunday’s practice. “Dealing with the injury, dealing with the whole new experience of being in a pro-style offense. Not really worrying about much, just getting to play again and spending time with the older guys.
“Obviously, the new quarterback we have is great — [helping] me learn how to play. Just being able to be healthy, be back to normal, and just getting to play fast. This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time.”
Ruckert said the injury was the first one he’d dealt with in his athletic career.
“Having something like that on the bottom of your foot, there is no hiding it or masking it. You’re using it every play, every step you take,” he said. “So, it was killing me because [of] how badly I wanted to be out there with the guys.
“I hate just being on the sideline watching and knowing I can do that, but it just hurts. It was affecting me in all those ways.”
The 22-year-old spent two months shuttling between his home on Long Island and a high-level tight end training camp in Nashville, Tenn., founded by Travis Kelce, George Kittle and Greg Olsen.
“It was good to be around those guys and see what they do in their offseason — it being my first one,” Ruckert said.
The Jets have quite a few options at tight end with veterans Tyler Conklin (58 receptions for 552 yard) and C.J. Uzomah (21 for 232) leading the way.
Seventh-round pick Zack Kuntz, 6-foot-8 out of Old Dominion, and holdover Kenny Yeboah also are making bids at the position.
In camp, the Jets have been using some “13” personnel packages, which refers to three tight ends on the field at the same time.
And Rodgers has a long history of getting his tight ends involved in Green Bay.
Ruckert did not suit up in the Jets’ 21-16 loss to the Browns in the Hall of Fame Game, but coach Robert Saleh said there will be game action for him as the preseason progresses.
Uzomah, who signed with the Jets as a free agent in 2022 after playing with the Bengals in the Super Bowl, already has seen a difference in Ruckert’s game in this camp.
“He’s grown leaps and bounds. I think that second season is where you grow the most and you can tell the strides he’s made in the offseason, the strides he’s making on the field,” Uzomah said. “His run blocking is really, really good. There was never a doubt about his hands, but his route running has improved immensely. You can tell the game is slowing down for him.”
Aside from the healthy wheel, the best part of this summer for Ruckert is no longer being a rookie.
That means the end of being a manservant for the veteran tight ends or having to pay fines for indiscretions, often at the behest of Uzomah.
“There is the typical stuff where you have to carry the helmets in and bring snacks into the room, or bring egg sandwiches in every Saturday,” Ruckert said. “Just the little things where they were, like, any time I would say something in the meeting, I would just see C.J. writing in his notebook. I knew that meant I was getting some money out of my pocket. So, I would look over there and just shut up right away.
“It was all love. I understand it now that we got some other rookies. It’s a lot more fun now. It’s just the lay of the land. It’s been like that since the beginning of time.”