Three Ways the New York Jets Can Minimize the Role of Wayne Hunter
He's only played in one preseason game to this point, but Wayne "Turnstile" Hunter continued to live up to his nickname Saturday night against the New York Giants.
While his poor technique and his obvious incapability to use his 320-pound frame to block any defensive pass rush are crucial detriments to his game, perhaps confidence is Hunter's biggest problem.
After a tumultuous 2011 season, Hunter was scapegoated for the Jets offensive-line problems, constantly but deservedly being attacked by every media outlet in New York.
“It’s always been on the line, it’s not a surprise," Hunter said about his starting role. "Either I perform or they’ll find someone who is better. My main focus is just watching the tape and seeing how I can get better.”
By failing to upgrade the position in the offseason and by letting Hunter continue to start, the Jets would be writing a death sentence for Mark Sanchez. It's amazing Sanchez survived the season last year, this year he might not be so lucky if his right tackle continues to be bullied around.
While no alternative at this point is great, there are some options that the Jets can pursue in an effort to minimize Hunter's role with the team.
Option 1: Start Austin Howard at Right Tackle
There is no better time to see what the third-year tackle out of Northern Iowa can do. Weighing in at 330 pounds and standing 6'7'', Austin Howard is a physical beast and has impressed his coaches with his play during practice and in the first two preseason games.
Filling in for Hunter against the Bengals, Howard started at right tackle with the first team and finished the day playing left tackle with the second team. He held his own and perhaps most importantly, kept Mark Sanchez from being run over within two seconds' time.
Howard is young and is still learning to play at the NFL level, but I would still rather see the Jets at least give him a chance come time for the regular season.
Option 2: Sign a veteran
Months ago, I wrote an article about several players the Jets should pursue that would cost them very little. One of those players, former Jet Kareem McKenzie, is still available.
While McKenzie is a shell of what he once was, he is still a capable offensive lineman with plenty of experience, not to mention a leader and two-time Super Bowl champion. McKenzie would be an instant upgrade over Hunter and could help somewhat stabilize the Jets offensive-line woes.
If not McKenzie, another option would be former Packer Chad Clifton. Clifton is a seasoned veteran who was a staple of the Packers offensive line for years, but back issues have derailed his career.
He played in just six games last year and failed his physical back in May, prompting the Packers to release him.
Both guys are at the tail ends of their careers, but even still, they are low-cost options for the Jets, who are in desperate need of offensive-line help. As long as they're healthy, it's worth giving both players a look.
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Option 3: Bring in a blocking tight end
Certainly not the best option, but an option nonetheless. It's no secret that starting tight end Dustin Keller does very little in the blocking department. Even if he did, though, it would only further limit the Jets receiving options in passing situations.
The blocking tight end really only helps in running situations and play-action formations for this Jets team.
The way they are currently constituted truly limits what they can do offensively, but at least by bringing in someone who can help Hunter block, should they continue to start him, they can limit the damage done by linemen who line up on the right side of the line.
One name that comes to mind is former Tennessee Titan Bo Scaife. Scaife spent the entire 2011 season on injured reserve with the Cincinnati Bengals, and is currently looking for a team.
While Scaife isn't the best blocker, he's probably better than any other tight end the Jets have on the roster. Scaife has also proved to be a reliable receiver in years past, and if his role is defined as a blocking tight end, he may find success in play-action formations.
As of right now, the trade market is pretty much bone dry when it comes to offensive linemen. Most teams are fairly reluctant to give up a capable offensive lineman right before the season as long as they are breathing. Unless someone falls out of favor with their current team, don't count on many options being available.
At this point, signing Kareem McKenzie seems like the best option, but starting Austin Howard wouldn't be the worst choice, either.
If Mike Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan really believe in this team, then they absolutely cannot go into this season with Hunter starting at right tackle. It contradicts a formula for winning football games, and if the Jets are going to have any chance at success this season, something has to change.
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