Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry formed the most effective pair of tight ends in the league a year ago.
The Chargers entered the 2016 season expecting that type of production from the position. They just thought it would come from three tight ends rather than only the dynamic duo.
Jeff Cumberland was primed to play a big role for the Bolts as a 6-4, 260-pound target with impressive speed. Unfortunately, an Achilles injury suffered in the preseason ended his campaign before it began.
Head Coach Anthony Lynn knows firsthand what Cumberland is capable of, having coached the tight end when he first joined the Jets as an undrafted free agent seven years ago.
"I had Jeff coming out," Lynn said. "He was a wide receiver that we converted to a tight end. He can run. He's 260 pounds, 6-4. His blocking is better. Jeff just has to stay healthy."
After an offseason of soul-searching, Cumberland re-signed with the Chargers in April. It took a couple months to knock off the cobwebs, but the veteran started to feel like his old self by the time mini camp ended. Combined with a new training regimen in which he's lost 20 pounds, Cumberland arrived at training camp determined to make up for lost time.
Fully healthy and in the best shape of his life, he's done just that with an impressive first week.
"It feels really good to do what (I've done so far) especially coming off an injury like I had," he said. "For me, this is my second injury. Sometimes you have doubts, and you wonder and think (what could have been). So to come out here and make plays, and be able to show what I can do, I feel good about what doing what I'm doing. This is definitely a blessing."
Having dealt with a similar injury in the past, Cumberland knew the rough road ahead as he lay on the turf nearly a year ago. It's been just under 52 weeks since that fateful day, and he didn't know how his body would respond. Yet there he is again, using his size and speed combination to come up with clutch catches on a consistent basis.
"I don't take it for granted. I haven't played in a year. That's a whole year without football. I just do what I have to do and handle my business. I can't control anything other than me. I know what I can do. My top speed is back. It's not just back, but I'm lighter, faster and stronger."
Most players are content with getting back to their old self following an injury. For Cumberland, he knew he had to come back even better.
"I changed my diet and the way I trained," he explained. "I trained a lot harder. My diet was more strict than ever. I was in the high 280s when I signed, and when I showed up for camp, I was 258. I did that in a four-month span. But really, it was those few weeks between (mini camp) and training camp where I lost most of it. I lost 15 pounds. I feel better than ever."
No longer worried about his health, Cumberland's focus is on carving out a meaningful role on offense. He knows reps might be hard to come by with Gates and Henry already in the fold, but he's also aware his size and speed brings a unique dynamic to the Bolts.
"My body feels good. I am able to do what I need to do. I'm ready to show what I can do. My entire career, for a long time, I've watched other teams and other players doing well in certain systems and I'd be like, 'Man, I wish I played in that system with that quarterback.' Now I'm in that system. It's nothing against the Jets. They were a great organization, but the quarterback situation wasn't the same. There aren't many like Philip Rivers. And they ran the ball a whole lot. There were a few times I had spurts to show some things, but I never had the opportunity to do what I know I can do. I'm ready for that."