Rookie mini-camp took place last week, coaches and players, new and old are back in their facilities, and football fans all over the country are eagerly anticipating the start of the 2012-2013 NFL season. But some fans in New York are left wondering “how did my beloved Jets forget to upgrade at right tackle”. They brought in a wildcat quarterback, a safety, drafted what is hoped to be a legitimate pass rusher, and a game changing receiver, but does any of that matter without an improved offensive line?
For me there is really only one worthwhile question to ask. “Can the New York Jets win a Super Bowl with Wayne Hunter starting at right tackle”?
Obviously it is a little unfair to pin the hopes of millions of fans and a franchise chasing the elusive prize futilely for four decades on one single position, but it seems that is what it has come to.
The Jets went into this off-season with so many needs, it just wasn’t realistic to think they would fill all those holes. It became pretty clear during free agency and confirmed on draft weekend that replacing or even creating competition at right tackle was not a priority. Most likely motivated by their limited cap space, the draft not providing a bounty of offensive line talent, and a great portion of their team salary already tied to Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson, they focused on other areas.
So it’s now the job of Rex Ryan, new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, and new offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo to both develop Wayne Hunter as a blocker and develop schemes that allow him to be successful. I think the current coaching staff is capable of doing that very thing. Sparano is an ex-offensive line coach and like many offensive coaches elevated to head coach, as he was with the Miami Dolphins, he isn’t credited with creating huge offensive stats or the wildcat notwithstanding, creating new and flashy offensive styles. Sparano greatest gift may just be player development. But perhaps the most important thing to consider is the offensive line is a microcosm of the football team, it’s about the cohesiveness of five players, not their individual talent. There is no more prideful unit of professional athletes than those that make up an offensive line. With Mangold as the anchor, Hunter isn’t on an island. With what we all hope is a renewed focus of the team as a whole, nobody wants to be the weak link. If Hunter works hard on technique, focus, and footwork, those collective improvements combined with a second year of five players together on the offensive line should be enough to propel the effectiveness of the line to new heights. I am certain the idea of keeping this unit together played a pivotal role in how they approached their off-season acquisitions. There may be no substitute for the growth and improvement of an offensive line as a unit than the experience of playing together.
But perhaps the biggest argument for defending what they didn’t do, is looking closely at what they did accomplish. Most of us have read all about the free agents and draft picks , so I won’t bore you with another Quinton Coples, Julius Peppers comparison. However, the prospect of having a guy capable of 12 sacks, and a receiver in Stephen Hill who could make an immediate impact for a quarterback desperate for confidence could pay huge dividends. While safety LaRon Landry is not necessarily the cover safety the Jets lack, he is a physical football player. He fits the Rex Ryan defense and with the physical tight ends the Patriots have, he won’t be the type to jump on their back for a ride. What could be more valuable than minimizing Rob Gronkowski’s yards after catch?
Overall it appears New York Jet fans are pretty happy with The Jets off-season activities. While the tackle situation has been a topic, perhaps nobody should be happier than Wayne Hunter that the Jets brought in Tim Tebow. That is worth mentioning mostly because I am contractually obligated to mention Tebow in every article I write for www.JetNation.com, but also because it has kept Hunter from being the biggest story this off-season. I also chose not to mention Vladimir Ducasse, a name mentioned when discussing an upgrade at right tackle, for two reasons. I don’t think Ducasse fits into any future Jet plans and I am committed to the idea that keeping the existing line intact was the primary factor in standing pat.
So can the Jets win a Super Bowl with Wayne Hunter starting at right tackle? Perhaps you first have to believe they can win a Super Bowl with their upcoming 53 man roster. I am not prepared at this point on the calendar to commit to such a statement. But if the Jets are truly prepared, in all facets, to compete for the Lombardi Trophy, Wayne Hunter will not single handedly prevent the dreams of so many to finally be realized.