The New York Jets made big changes this offseason, just not the necessary ones.
How do I know that? Because Wayne Hunter is still the starting right tackle.
The Jets know it, too.
Never mind that the name of the offensive tackle they targeted via trade was Jeff Otah, the former first-round pick for the Carolina Panthers. The Jets pursued a tackle who has played four games in the past two years and has endured surgeries on both knees in that time. The potential was there, but he couldn't even pass a physical given a week and two tries to do so.
The Jets were so confident in Hunter, they went after that guy?
Perhaps a man with two bad knees is better than a turnstile. If the Jets' preseason game against the New York Giants is any indication, that may be the case.
Hunter's 2012 preseason got started right where the 2011 season left off. He gave up 11 sacks last year and was involved in all three sacks on Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez in the first half.
But Hunter doesn't avoid blame. An average right tackle would have given Sanchez the time he needed in the pocket. He had just 2.4 seconds in the pocket before Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul got to him.
Hunter's initial backpedal is good; he gets both feet firmly planted on the set for the pass block.
Immediately upon continuing his backpedal, though, he's caught off guard when JPP catches him on one foot.
And what happens then? Hunter gets pushed over...
...and Sanchez gets bulled over.
This is an utter lack of fundamentals on Hunter's part. He's pushed around because he doesn't plant both feet and drive into the defender. He can't allow himself to be caught off balance, especially by one of the best defensive ends in the league.
Hunter had barely begun to explore the limits of his poor technique. He was involved in the other two sacks of Sanchez on Saturday night, as well.
No surprise, he was highlighted on the Giants' second sack of Sanchez, too.
Once again, Hunter's set is sound. He's light of foot but keeps both feet on the ground. But he lets Giants defensive end Justin Tuck race around the edge.
That's what Hunter wanted to accomplish—at least, that's what he says.
"It was good first live action for me against a good defense. It's good film for me to watch and see what way to improve," Hunter said after the game, per Metro. "I didn't want to give up the pressure inside. That happened. It's a good defense. It's something I can really watch film and learn from."
But look at the highlighted area: It's three Jets offensive linemen—center Nick Mangold, guard Brandon Moore and Hunter—against two Giants defensive linemen. Hunter could have afforded to allow Tuck to cut back inside, where he would have had to deal with Moore.
Tuck's pressure forced Sanchez to move up in the pocket and allowed defensive end Osi Umenyiora to bring him down.
And the third sack? Hunter just got outmanned, right? He just got pushed back by Jason Pierre-Paul, straight into Sanchez's lap.
There are two problems with that theory.
The first is that JPP isn't known for his bull rush; he shouldn't be able to manhandle a man 30 pounds heavier than he is. The second is that, while the "outmanned" claim is right in theory, Hunter's poor technique is once again exposed when he allows Pierre-Paul to get inside his pads.
Some people might want to critique Sanchez for hanging on to the ball too long, but on the three sacks, Hunter allowed his man to get in the backfield in between 2.4 and 2.6 seconds each time.
It's mental lapses and fundamental lapses like this that result in so many sacks.
And it could result in Hunter losing his starting job.
Rex won't commit to Wayne Hunter as the starter. Dances around question. #nyj— Brian Costello (@BrianCoz) August 20, 2012
The worst part is, Hunter may be the Jets' best option at right tackle.
Are they going to start rookie free agent Austin Howard? He got the starting nod against the Cincinnati Bengals when Hunter was still out of action, and although he didn't exactly put his stamp on the starting right tackle spot, he wasn't a slouch. At least, not quite the slouch that Hunter has been recently.
Perhaps veteran tackle Stephon Heyer is the man for the job; he started 16 games for the Redskins in 2009, but couldn't avoid speculation that he'd be cut the very next season (via csnwashington.com).
It might have been nice to see what third-year linemen Vlad Ducasse could give the Jets at tackle, but the Jets put a stop to that idea in saying he wouldn't be playing tackle this year.
That being said, hoping for Ducasse to be anything more than what Hunter has brought to the table may be a pipe dream. Ducasse has struggled in the limited action he's seen in his career thus far, but he had earned a vote of confidence from Rex Ryan for a solid offseason program before losing the battle with guard Matt Slauson for the starting left guard job.
Or perhaps the Jets could shuffle things around, and move Slauson back to right tackle, where he had been lining up in camp before the battle at left guard began in the first place.
There are clearly alternatives that the Jets must explore. They can't afford for Hunter to start the season.
The drama has surrounded quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow, but unless Hunter dramatically improves, it won't matter who's back there—he'll be running for his life.
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