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How will NY Jets solve rapidly mounting OL questions?

Joe Tippmann, NY Jets, Offensive Line
Joe Tippmann, New York Jets, Getty Images

In training camp and the preseason, the New York Jets’ offensive line has created more questions than answers

The biggest question marks on the current New York Jets roster are well documented. Before training camp started, some of the weakest spots included safety, linebacker, running back (until Breece Hall returns), and of course, the offensive line.

Up to this point in camp, the Jets have found potential resolutions at most of these positions.

Tony Adams, a second-year player out of Illinois, has played at a high level and looks like he can be a crucial contributor at safety. Jamien Sherwood has impressed in the spot vacated by Kwon Alexander, while Zonovan Knight has stood out as the Jets’ best running back during training camp. Adding more hope to the RB position, Michael Carter and Israel Abanikanda shined in the Jets’ preseason win over Carolina.

These positions may not have perfect solutions, but different players have stepped up to make the prospect of adding another player less dire. Unfortunately, that is not the case for the offensive line.

Along the offensive line, the Jets have had issues with consistency and developing a cohesive unit this preseason. These issues have mainly revolved around the left and right tackle positions.

A considerable part of the problem stems from presumed starting left tackle Duane Brown. Brown, who signed a two-year, $22 million deal in 2022, had offseason shoulder surgery to repair an injury that plagued him all last season. The veteran left tackle opened camp on the PUP list and has yet to practice.

Without Brown at practice, the Jets are shuffling different players around the line while having a competition for center and right tackle.

The center position has not been a glaring issue, though, as both Connor McGovern and Wes Schweitzer have held up well enough during their reps in practice. While not currently running with the starting offense, rookie Joe Tippmann has shown development and bright flashes in his preseason reps.

If this were the case at the tackle positions, this article would most likely not be written. Unfortunately, that is not the reality of the situation for the Jets.

On the first-team offense, both Max Mitchell and Billy Turner have struggled to hold up against internal and external competition. The two tackles were expected only to be involved in the right tackle competition but have now rotated between both spots. 

Mitchell, heading into his second year, played six games at right tackle for the Jets in 2022. He was inconsistent but showed some minor flashes. The team has raved about his athleticism since drafting him out of Louisiana in the fourth round.

Turner is heading into his 10th NFL season, playing for the Dolphins, Packers, and Broncos before signing with the Jets this offseason. The veteran tackle has been, at best, an average player throughout his career and provided his best value as a pass blocker.

Two of Turner’s best seasons came in 2020 and 2021, as he was a positive pass blocker for Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. Posting PFF pass-blocking grades of 69.6 and 69.3, respectively, Turner has experience working in the offense and protecting the new Jets’ quarterback at an adequate level.

Despite the flashes of production both players have shown, it has not translated to the field so far.

Mitchell has struggled mightily with his run blocking, most notably in a troubling performance in the Hall of Fame Game. His pass protection has been slightly less problematic, although he has still allowed plenty of sacks against both the Jets’ defenders and the Panthers’ defenders in the joint practice.

Turner has struggled mightily in pass protection, getting dominated by Jermaine Johnson and others in almost every practice. To put it simply, he does not look like a player who should be competing for a starting tackle position.

The starters’ struggles would be less concerning if the Jets had solidified tackle depth. But that is not currently the case either. 

Mekhi Becton, a former first-round draft selection in 2020, is still slowly working his way back from two knee injuries. Unfortunately, Becton and the coaching staff do not trust his knee to play a full amount of reps just yet.

Becton played only seven snaps in the Hall of Fame Game as he was pulled out earlier than anticipated due to knee soreness. He returned to practice the following week.

Going into the Carolina game, head coach Robert Saleh said he would “like for [Becton] to push as far as he can” when asked about the amount of playing time Becton will have against the Panthers. It was a positive outing for Becton, who subbed in with the second team and stayed on the field for 27 offensive snaps with no issues, but there’s still a long way to go.

Add the fact that Becton has only lined up at left tackle so far, and it seems that he is not yet ready to be a solution to the team’s problems in the starting lineup.

The same can be said about Carter Warren, who the Jets selected in the fourth round of the 2023 NFL draft. Warren is also coming off of a knee injury of his own and has not been considered a true option to start. It seems the Jets are content to let him develop out of the spotlight for now.

If the questions about the offensive line are noticeable on the outside looking in, then it is clear that the Jets know they exist too. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers spoke Wednesday about his perspective on the team’s offensive line situation. 

“With Duane, he’s going to play well. We got to figure out who the first five is going to be. So, a lot of guys in competition right now. It seems like they’re switching the tackles left and right, just about daily, with Max [Mitchell] and Billy [Turner]. Just looking for consistency with those guys. I feel like the interior has been a bright spot, pretty consistent for us both the first and second group. We just need a little more consistency on the edge,” said Rodgers.

In his press conference Thursday, Saleh also spoke about the offensive line, saying that his “optimistic side will say we have time” but that “as a coach, you want it done yesterday.”

“We want these guys rolling, we want confidence, we want to start humming, but I also understand all the different moving parts, verbiage, and new scheme. Keith (Carter) has a different style to the way he coaches and his technique, so there’s a learning curve, so that part of it, I have empathy for and understanding that it is going to take some time for them, but yeah I’m a coach, I always wanted it yesterday,” said Saleh. 

After Saturday’s preseason game, in which the Jets won 27-0 over Carolina, there was evidence that there is no need to panic just yet. The Jets’ offensive line dominated throughout the game, leading the offense to 141 rushing yards (82 in the first half) and just one sack allowed.

The first-team line of Turner (LT), Laken Tomlinson (LG), Connor McGovern (C), Wes Schweitzer (RG), and Mitchell (RT) looked good. However, lining up with Rodgers’ comments, the interior trio performed the best. While Turner and Mitchell improved, they were up and down, still appearing to be the weakest links.

Even with solid performances in the second preseason game, the question marks have not been erased. If these issues carry into the season, the game of Jenga along the offensive line may have to continue.

Those moves could include moving Alijah Vera-Tucker to right tackle, as he looked comfortable on the outside when called upon last season. The Jets do have the guard depth to withstand that move, but multiple changes would restrict the offensive line’s ability to build cohesion.

With Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, the play of the Jets offensive line is more critical than ever. There is still time to answer the question marks surrounding the unit, but the Jets must be aggressive in finding those solutions.

Otherwise, the shortcomings of the team’s front line may derail what looks like the most promising Jets season in recent memory.

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9 months ago

I too like Becton at LT, and he either wins the job or is the back up at LT. A few things can still develop, as Rich below mentions Turner could end up at RT, with the OL…Brown, Laken, McGovern, AVT, Turner but I still think there are some things to shake out.

If Tippmann keeps improving he could push his way into the line up either as the starting C or starting RG. If Rogers prefers McGovern at C, then I can see the “best 5” …Brown, Laken, McGovern, Tippmann, AVT.

9 months ago

I’m actually on board with the decision to play Becton only at left tackle. The reason is, we have a little more hope to get through a full season at LT with two high-level, albeit injury-prone players (given both Brown’s age and Becton’s leg history). It kind of solidifies one fifth of the line and the Jets can just concentrate on filling the RT slot. If we started both Brown (LT) and Becton (RT), the odds of losing two starters at the same time are just way too high. See 2022.

9 months ago

The likely outcome is the Jets will start Brown at LT and Turner at RT. I would not mess with Becton at RT because that puts more stress and on his right knee and makes him unhappy. Just watching Becton on the field you can see what tremendous potential he has, so I think it is worth it for the Jets to exercise patience with him (and not trade him!). I think having him sit as the backup LT for at least the first month of the season might be the best course. At some point, and as events unfold, he should be given another chance to start at LT.