The days of Nick Mangold, D’Brickashaw Ferguson and a dominant Jets offensive line feel like eons ago.
The line has been a point of constant frustration in recent years and general manager Joe Douglas has prioritized fixing the position, using two first-round picks in the past two years on linemen. The Jets feel good about the current group they have, but a key for them may be how much the line can stay together on the field in the next six weeks before the season opens on Sept. 12 at Carolina.
In each of the past two seasons, it felt like the offensive line was doomed before the season even started because of a lack of time together. Two years ago, Douglas added Ryan Kalil at center during training camp and he could not get ready in time to take snaps in the preseason games. That, plus other injuries, led to the line playing together for the first time in the season opener. Last year, the pandemic caused a truncated training camp and no preseason games. So, again the line, which had four new starters, did not play together until the season opened at Buffalo.
The communication issues showed themselves early in both seasons, with teams having great success against the Jets using blitzes, line stunts and twists that led to constant pressure on Sam Darnold and no running game.
The Jets line has again undergone some changes this offseason. Douglas drafted Alijah Vera-Tucker in the first round to be the starting left guard and signed Morgan Moses in June to be the likely starter at right tackle. Mekhi Becton, Connor McGovern and Greg Van Roten return as starters from last year, but it is critical for the starting five to get as many reps together as possible in training camp and in preseason games.
“That’s huge,” McGovern said. “Every offensive line I’ve been around that can stay as one unit and healthy as long as possible is definitely more successful. The nice thing about that is you build your identity and once you have that identity it’s easier to plug a guy in to that identity because they have an expectation of what they need to do. It’s a lot harder when there’s a ton of rotating early because guys are going down and you never truly build that identity of what the ones do.”
Jets head coach Robert Saleh hopes the line can develop a chemistry that will allow them to have non-verbal communication when the season arrives.
“Those guys have to have communication constantly,” Saleh said. “That continuity to be able to speak to one another without speaking to one another to give off any tips. A guard and tackle combination block and being able to look at each other and know exactly what you have to get done, so that way you’re not calling out exactly what you’re doing and tipping yourself off. All that comes into play, and understanding how they pass off in protection, games and stunts and pressures and all that. So to answer your question [on how critical preseason reps are], absolutely, it’s very important.”
The Jets are counting on improved offensive line play under new position coach John Benton. It has been well documented that the Jets are going to use a wide-zone running scheme with plenty of play-action passes off of it. That scheme needs athletic linemen who can move laterally.
“This offensive line is definitely built for the outside zone run game,” McGovern said. “We’ve got a bunch of athletic dudes out there. That’s the family tree this offense comes from. For me especially, that’s what I like. That’s kind of been my bread and butter and what fits my strengths best.”
The Jets have had 17 different starting offensive line combinations in the past two years as success was hard to come by. It is hard to build continuity with that kind of revolving door at the position. For the Jets offense to have any success this year, they have to stop that O-line shuffle, starting in training camp.