It’s been written about over and over, especially on this site, but it bears repeating again; the biggest difference between the first two years of the Rex Ryan era, that included two straight AFC Championship appearances, and the past two years of missing the playoffs was the quality and depth along the offensive line.
Mark Sanchez struggles are well documented, but it was the deterioration of the line that derailed Sanchez into constant train wreck performances.
Under Mike Tannenbaum’s watch the Jets went from having the best offensive line in football to relying on the likes of Wayne Hunter, Vladimir Ducasse and even had to resort to starting an undrafted rookie named Nick Baxter at center when Nick Mangold got injured. It was a minor miracle Sanchez was able to walk out of the stadium in Baltimore that Sunday night, but it’s clear he has never quite recovered as he’s played shellshocked ever since. Of course Sanchez had his issues even when the line was great, but once the line stopped being amazing Sanchez’s limitations became much more damning.
“I think certainly when you look at it out there as I’m sure all of us have seen, it looks way better than it has the last couple of years when like you said, you don’t want your kid playing quarterback the second half of a preseason game. With some of that group we had out there a lot of the times, there might (have been) one or two good ones, but as a unit, this clearly looks a lot different.” Ryan said, “Even from the center we have, Dalton (Freeman) from Clemson was a First-Team All-American. He looks good. Obviously the draft picks, all three of the draft picks (look good). It’s a good-looking group, there’s no doubt. And there are some players in that group, so when you line up there and that’s your second offensive line, that looks pretty impressive to me.”
While it may be too late to save Sanchez, with Tannenbaum gone the new GM, John Idzik, is looking to correct Tannebaum’s mistake of ignoring the offensive line deficiencies. Whether it’s Sanchez, David Garrard or Geno Smith taking the snaps, Idzik clearly realized they needed to shore up the talent and depth along the offensive line if any of them are going to have a chance to succeed.
So far Idzik has signed guards Willie Colon and Stephen Peterman as free-agents and drafted a guard described as, “possibly the nastiest player in the draft,” (Brian Winters), a swing tackle (Oday Aboushi) and a defensive tackle transitioning to guard in William Campbell as well as signing an undrafted rookie center from Clemson, Dalton Freeman.
If Freeman can make the team they’ll have their first true center as an available option if Mangold were get hurt and Winters, Colon, Peterman and even Campbell will all battle it out for the two available starting guard spots, may the best two players win and the others serve as competent backups.
Aboushi could also eventually make the transition to guard but it sounds like the plan is to hopefully use him as a backup right and left tackle and possibly as the sixth offensive lineman in jumbo sets.
“The Campbell kid is the one (who) really intrigues me when you look at him because you know what you’re going to get with the big Kent State kid (Winters), you know what you’re getting there.” Ryan said, “This is going to be a solid guy that’s going to look a lot better when we put the pads on and he’s able to throw people down than right now. But he’s an impressive guy.
“I think Oday looks pretty good. He’s going to be a swing tackle, left tackle (and) right tackle. We’re working with him on the left side in this camp, but with Campbell, here’s a guy with that defensive background and yet we’re moving him to offense, projecting him as a guard. Mike Devlin is an outstanding coach, but I’m surprised (Campbell) is not making mistakes. He seems like he’s been doing it his whole life, so I think that’s been impressive to me. I’ve been really impressed with him. I see that 65, hopefully he can have half the success that Brandon Moore had at that position. I think we’d all sign up for that.”
Since Idzik arrival he has continued to preach his desire to build through the draft and competition, maybe only a couple of these players work out, but the competition will decide who the best options are and while it’s Idzik’s job to try and find the right players to bring in, it’s Mornhinweg’s and offensive line coach Mike Devlin’s job to bring the best out of each of them and see who rises to the top.
“I liked the way the offensive line, with (Coach Mike) Devlin coaching that offensive line, he’s talking about finishing and things and I looked down and as the guy’s running down the field as guys will do, they keep running and they’ve been touched about 10 times and they keep running. He’s yelling, ‘Finish.’ And I look down and say, ‘My goodness,’ the offensive line’s about 50 yards downfield. I’m like, ‘I think they’re getting the point.’ So that was good and Dev (said), ‘Yeah, I’ll get them back.'”
Ryan obviously likes the potential he sees in this rookie camp offensive line group, but only one of them is likely to crack the starting lineup, that’d be Winters with Colon most likely earning the other guard spot and if those two can be equal to or better than Moore and Slauson (definitely an achievable goal) the Jets offensive line could once again become one of the better units in football.
Build from the inside out, use both the defensive and offensive lines as foundations and as you see the changes made to the offensive line imagine the same types of improvements eventually working it’s way through to the rest of the roster because this is only step one of Idzik’s game plan to overhaul the offense.
“I think as a football team, you want to get more athletic and obviously (want) more speed. We’re putting in some more perimeter runs, which has been Marty’s (Mornhinweg) thing, get some speed out there, and we have some backs, certainly, that can do that.” Ryan said, “But we were working a lot today, especially in the individual part, we’re pulling those guys and I think we are much more athletic, especially at that guard spot.”