For the New York Jets, the transition from Pro Bowl right tackle Damien Woody to journeyman Wayne Hunter has been a pretty rocky one.
Woody retired in the offseason after a superb three-year stay in New York, leaving his understudy in Hunter as the next man up.
The Jets showed their faith in Hunter after he filled in admirably last season when Woody was unable to play through serious leg injuries.
However, it was a huge risk relying on the 30-year-old Hunter to be a starter, especially since he had never done it before in his career.
Early in the year, it was starting to look like the Jets plan had blown up in their faces. Hunter was awful early on, seemingly lost out there, in both pass protection and run blocking.
The Jets had no choice but to trust that he would turn it around, even as the rest of the offensive line began to implode following the loss of All-Pro center Nick Mangold to an injury and the loss of top reserve Rob Turner for the season.
Without Mangold, among other factors, the entire offensive line began to regress. The unit hit rockbottom against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 4, when they were simply dominated every snap by the aggressive Raven defense.
I’ve spent the season keeping a watchful eye on the Jets offensive line, and after well-warranted criticism, it’s time for guys like Wayne Hunter to get credit for the improvement.
Hunter has gotten better every week since his dismal performance in Week 1. He was awful in Week 1, slightly better in Week 2, and slightly better in Week 3. Now, he was still subpar in all three of those games, but he was trending the right way.
Ever since Week 4, when his linemates were getting decimated by the Ravens, Hunter has been far from a liability. He was actually their best offensive lineman in the Baltimore game (though that’s not saying much) and he’s continued to get better each and every week.
In Week 5 against New England, Hunter kept the Patriots defensive line in check, as the entire offensive line saw a dramatic improvement with the return of Nick Mangold from his high ankle sprain.
Against Miami, the entire line surrendered just four total pressures the entire game, and Pro Football Focus praised Hunter’s play against Pro Bowl pass rusher Cameron Wake, who was completely shut down by Hunter one-on-one.
Wake was rated as one of the worst pass rushers in the entire NFL for the weekend of Week 6, and a lot of that is courtesy of the same right tackle Wake ate alive in their previous meeting last December.
Wayne Hunter is not going to make the Pro Bowl anytime soon. Or ever. But he has proven in short order that he is not the worst right tackle in the league, not by a long shot.
Hunter has become a legitimate factor in an offensive line that appears to finally be gelling now that everyone is relatively healthy and playing every snap together.
I was very hard on Hunter early this season, saying that he needed to step his game up, and fast. Well, consider this my tip of the cap to the big man at right tackle who’s done exactly that.
If he continues to get better every week, Jets fans can rest easy about the weak link of a strong offensive line. The Jets knew they were taking a risk, but they believed in Wayne Hunter. I’m starting to believe in him too.