To the surprise of absolutely no one after he struggled most of last season and looked absolutely abysmal in the preseason, the New York Jets have made a change along their offensive front—benching ninth-year veteran Wayne Hunter in favor of third-year pro Austin Howard.
Here's a look at how this news affects the outlook for several players for Gang Green, including not so surprisingly the two beefeaters involved in the switch.
Offensive tackle Austin Howard is a journeyman offensive lineman who nearly ate his way right out of New York in the offseason, although to his credit the 25-year-old from Northern Iowa got the weight back off and has outplayed Wayne Hunter in training camp and the preseason.
Very good size, not a quick-twitch athlete, more of a mauler. Has some strength, but limited explosiveness. Has a feel for pass protection, but has average lateral quickness and recovery speed.
The Jets will no doubt also keep an eye on upcoming roster cuts and the free agent market, but the simple fact is that any offensive tackle with a pulse that can pass a physical is probably already on a roster.
It goes without saying that Wayne Hunter's stock is down, but man is it down.
This all goes back to the 2011 season, where Hunter struggled mightily, allowing 11 sacks and more quarterback hits than any other tackle in the National Football League according to Pro Football Focus via The New York Post.
Despite last year's horrific performance the Jets chose not to address the right tackle position in the 2012 NFL draft, with new offensive line coach telling reporters in May according to ESPN's Rich Cimini that "Until they ship [Hunter] out of this building or until they shoot me dead in my office, that son of a gun's going to be the starting right tackle, and he's going to play well."
However, things didn't get any better this year; and after allowing two and a half sacks and having another nullified by a penalty in the Jets' second preseason game against the New York Giants, head coach Rex Ryan had seen enough, something that didn't even surprise Hunter himself according to The New York Post's Brian Costello.
“Everybody knows, the whole [of] New York City knows that I’ve been struggling the last year, and the last game I didn’t do much better,” Hunter said. “So, I wasn’t surprised. I was waiting for it to be honest with you. I knew I was struggling. Everything was kind of going south for me.”
In fact, were it not for the fact that Hunter's $2.45 million salary for 2012 is guaranteed the 31-year-old might be out of a job altogether.
Quarterback Mark Sanchez and the New York jets offense has been sharply criticized of late with good reason, as through two preseason games the Jets were the only team in the National Football League that has failed to score a touchdown.
At least some of that offensive futility can be laid at the feet of an offensive line that has allowed 12 sacks in two contests, and with any luck the switch at right tackle will afford Sanchez a bit more time to survey the field and deliver the ball.
The "new and improved" offensive front will no doubt face a great deal of scrutiny in Sunday's preseason tilt with the Carolina Panthers, but Sanchez told Connor Orr of The Newark Star-Ledger that he can't allow that scrutiny to affect how he prepares for the game.
"I don’t think like that," he said. "I just don’t think in hypotheticals like that. All I can see is us doing well, and preparing well like we are, having a great practice again like we did today and staying positive through the whole thing and not worrying about it. The points will come."
The dismal performance of the New York Jets offensive front in the preseason hasn't just affected the passing game.
The Jets' running game has also suffered, gaining less than 100 yards a game and ranking 24th in the NFL.
Starting running back Shonn Greene is more plowhorse than thoroughbred—and the fourth-year pro needs his offensive line to open holes for him.
Their inability to do so has been reflected in Greene's stats in the preseason, as through two preseason games the former Iowa standout is averaging less than three yards a carry.
Hopefully the shakeup up front will help get Greene on track, and New York head coach Rex Ryan told Manish Mehta of The New York Daily News that he's comfortable with where Greene's game is right now.
“If it was up to Shonn, he would have carried it 30 times [against the Giants]," Ryan added. "I saw him kind of in that groove, so I feel really good about where Shonn is now.”
The switch at right tackle for the New York Jets will certainly be met with grunts of disdain by many players.
Of course, most of those players play for the defenses of other teams across the league.
Defensive end Mario Williams of the Buffalo Bills, who face the Jets in Week 1, won't get to experience the "matador" blocking technique that has become a staple of Wayne Hunter's game.
Linebacker Lamarr Woodley of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who square off against the Jets in Week 2, won't get to be politely asked by Hunter which one of Sanchez's kidneys he'd like to stomp on first.