Alijah Vera-Tucker is the glue that holds the New York Jets offensive line together
Going into their Week 4 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New York Jets were expected to start Conor McDermott at left tackle in place of the injured George Fant. McDermott is the Jets’ last-resort tackle option who has struggled immensely in pass protection throughout his career. It was assumed the Jets would have to accept the challenge of finding ways to work around him.
Little did anyone know that it was actually Alijah Vera-Tucker who was prepping to protect Zach Wilson’s blindside in the Steel City. The Jets’ starting right guard moved over to left tackle for the first time since he played the position during his final college season at USC. Backup guard Nate Herbig took over for Vera-Tucker at right guard.
Nobody knew this was happening until Vera-Tucker lined up at left tackle on the Jets’ opening drive of the game. It was a masterclass of secrecy by the Jets’ coaching staff – one that likely provided a useful competitive advantage.
While Vera-Tucker spent all week studying Pittsburgh’s edge rushers, Pittsburgh’s edge rushers had no idea they would be facing Vera-Tucker, meaning they probably spent little-to-no time focusing on him during film study.
Still, switching from right guard to left tackle in a one-week span is a Herculean task for an offensive lineman. Heck, some people were skeptical about the Jets’ decision to switch Vera-Tucker from left guard to right guard even when he had an entire offseason to prepare. Asking a guy to switch sides and positions in one week is daunting and should never work out.
But it did work out. Because Vera-Tucker is that guy for the New York Jets right now: dependable, no-nonsense, and flat-out talented.
Vera-Tucker lined up at left tackle on all 67 of the Jets’ offensive snaps in Pittsburgh and played fantastic football on a day where the Jets badly needed it. The rest of the offensive line was struggling. To make matters worse, right tackle Max Mitchell left with a knee injury and had to be replaced by McDermott, subjecting the Jets to the fate they so desperately tried to avoid.
Amidst the mess, there was No. 75 on the blindside, winning rep after rep in both phases. Vera-Tucker’s consistency was the glue that held New York’s offensive line together, preventing it from completely falling apart.
Vera-Tucker was already establishing himself as an elite guard over the first three weeks of the season. Now you’re telling me that he can flip over to left tackle on one week’s notice and hold the fort down?
This man is the Jets’ best player right now.
Let’s take a look at some clips from Vera-Tucker’s tremendous performance at left tackle in Pittsburgh. His pass protection helped set up many of the Jets’ biggest plays.
Alijah Vera-tucker Film
Steelers outside linebacker Alex Highsmith goes for an inside spin on Vera-Tucker, but he telegraphs it and Vera-Tucker recognizes it fairly easily. Vera-Tucker is able to strike Highsmith’s back while he is mid-spin to shut down the move. Vera-Tucker does a good job of absorbing the contact as he quickly resets his feet.
Highsmith comes at Vera-Tucker aggressively and seems to be going for a bull rush. Vera-Tucker does a nice job of keeping his hands tight so he can fire them into Highsmith’s chest and stall his momentum. Highsmith throws his hands first, but since Vera-Tucker keeps his hands tight, he is able shoot them through the small space between Highsmith’s arms and land quality contact.
Highsmith comes in for another bull rush after being widened out by Tyler Conklin. Highsmith comes in with a full head of steam, but Vera-Tucker shows great quickness in his punch to land first contact – watch how quick his hands come up from his hips to the body of the defender.
Vera-Tucker lands his hands into Highsmith’s upper body just a split-second before Highsmith gets his hands on Vera-Tucker, helping to lessen the force of Highsmith’s contact. Highsmith is still able to get some push-back on Vera-Tucker, but he absorbs it and is able to anchor down.
Following the run fake, Highsmith tries to shoot inside, but Vera-Tucker stays in front of him with smooth lateral footwork and quickness.
Vera-Tucker immediately engages with the defensive tackle to help sell the run fake and then does a nice job working with Laken Tomlinson to keep him at bay once the play turns into a pass-rush rep. Great placement with the inside hand as Vera-Tucker is straight into the defensive tackle’s chest.
Where does Vera-Tucker go from here?
With this outing on his resume, it will be interesting to see what happens next for Vera-Tucker.
Will Vera-Tucker continue to stay at left tackle while Duane Brown is out? Or will the Jets push him back inside to guard and start one of their new offensive tackle pickups (Mike Remmers or Cedric Ogbuehi) at left tackle?
Max Mitchell’s injury muddies things up. If he is out long-term, the Jets now have two tackle spots to fill.
Once Brown returns to take the left tackle spot, will Vera-Tucker move to right tackle? Or will the Jets put Remmers or Ogbuehi at right tackle while kicking Vera-Tucker back inside to guard?
What happens next is anybody’s guess. The Jets are playing a dizzying game of musical chairs at this point.
All that matters is the Jets now know they can trust Vera-Tucker to play tackle in a pinch, making him an extremely valuable player for the organization.
For now, though, I think the Jets would be wise to continue viewing Vera-Tucker as just that: a guy who can play tackle in a pinch. He is proving he is an elite guard. I wouldn’t mess with that. Personally, I would pump on the brakes on considering a full-time switch to tackle just yet. We need to see more of Vera-Tucker at tackle before it is certain he can succeed there over an extended period of time.
Pittsburgh was a perfect opponent for Vera-Tucker in his first game at tackle. The number one concern about Vera-Tucker at tackle is his severe lack of arm length (32⅛”, 8th percentile for offensive linemen). The Steelers did not challenge that weakness since they do not have much length or size on the edge. Vera-Tucker mostly faced Alex Highsmith, who weighs 248 pounds and has subpar 33⅛” arms (34th percentile for edge rushers).
I want to see Vera-Tucker hold up against big, long, and powerful edge defenders before I can be certain he is capable of overcoming his short arms to be a successful full-time tackle.
Nevertheless, that’s a discussion for another day. Today’s discussion is simple: Alijah Vera-Tucker is playing out of his mind for the New York Jets. He was already in the midst of a meteoric year-two leap at his natural position and then stepped up to the plate with a seamless position change when the Jets were in a desperate position.