Wayne Hunter Among Many New York Jets Excited About Tony Sparano and His Offensive Scheme

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You don’t have to tell Wayne Hunter that he stunk last year in his first year as a starter, in his ninth NFL season.

The New York Jets offensive lineman is well aware that his up-and-down play at right tackle made him the weak link on a normally stout offensive line that took a step back overall as a unit in 2011.

“I had good games, I had great games, but I also had some bad games,” Hunter said. “Being the new piece in the puzzle with the O-line, I didn’t pick up where [Damien Woody] left off.”

Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum was noncommittal about handing Hunter the starting right tackle job, even after the Jets did not select a single offensive tackle in the 2012 NFL Draft.

“There are a number of young players on our offensive line that we’re excited to see,” Tannenbaum said. “Having Wayne Hunter back for another year, he’ll still be competing for a position here.”

“We’ve got three young guys we like in Caleb [Schlauderaff], Austin [Howard] and Vlad [Ducasse],” said Tannenbaum, “so we’ll see how that goes.”

Hunter, on the other hand, is very confident about his ability and his starting job, regardless of the competition he’ll face in camp.

“I’m the starting right tackle, that’s as simple as it is,” Hunter said. “Whatever happens come opening day, during the season, so be it, but I am the starting right tackle now and that’s all that matters to me.”

“My focus this year is to get better and I’m going to get better. I’m the starting right tackle and that hasn’t changed whether people like it or not.”

It’s hard not to love his confidence, but after his performance last season, how can anybody who watched him be as confident? I sure know where fellow Rant Sports writer Chris Gamble stands, that’s for sure.

“I was the weakest link last year,” Hunter admitted. “This year it’s a whole different mentality. I played like a rookie last year and this year I’m playing like a nine-year veteran.”

Believe it or not, I don’t think it’s too farfetched to expect Hunter, or whoever ends up starting at right tackle in 2012, to improve upon the right tackle play from last season.

One of the Jets’ biggest upgrades this offseason was the jettisoning of former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, and the hiring of former Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano in his place.

I had been a longtime Schottenheimer critic over his six seasons in New York, and although Sparano was not my first choice to replace him, I could not be more thrilled to have Sparano at the helm.

Listening to some of the comments from the Jets’ offensive players, I don’t think I’m alone in that thinking.

“[Sparano]’s to the point. He’s a no-nonsense guy,” said quarterback Mark Sanchez. “He’s exactly what we need and we’re excited about his arrival. He’s really pushing us.”

Receiver Santonio Holmes indicated that it was “a little difficult to understand the language in Schottenheimer’s offense” and that Sparano’s scheme is similar to one he used to play under with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

For Hunter, who former Jets offensive line coach Bill Callahan raved about in the past for his pure athleticism and physicality, Schottenheimer’s scheme was often too complex and had him thinking too much last season.

“It was a shock mentally for me,” Hunter said. “Everyone knows physically I can get the job done, they’ve seen me get the job done. It was a shock as far as being that number 1 guy consistently, and consistency was my problem.”

Although it’s only May, Hunter already likes what he’s seen from Sparano and new offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo.

“I like [Sparano]. I like him, it’s night and day from Schotty but I think it’s a good change,” Hunter said. “In an attitude way, just the presence he brings is night and day but change is always good I think.”

For what it’s worth, Hunter also indicated that his public spat with Holmes in the wake of the Jets’ disappointing Week 17 loss to the Dolphins is water under the bridge, and both men are focusing on moving forward.

“We came up to each other and I told him ‘clean slate,’ and he’s been great,” Hunter said. “Tone has been great. … He’s been a team player, and it’s been a good change.”

As bad as Hunter played at times last season, it’s not as if the Jets really gave him a ton of support, either.

He was more often than not left out on an island against the league’s top pass rushers, without much help from extra blockers or anything along those lines.

Sparano is not stubborn enough to recognize a problem and try to let it work itself out. If he sees the right tackle struggling, he’s going to do something about it, something Schottenheimer puzzlingly never did.

The New Orleans Saints and New York Giants, as an example, suffered through bad tackle play last season as well. Worse, believe it or not, than Hunter.

Yet, those teams schemed around it with extra blockers and protection adjustments. Of course, when you have elite quarterback play, you can get away with it more, but the point remains the same.

Additionally, the Jets also had instability with the rest of their line, as Nick Mangold, Brandon Moore and Matt Slauson all played through injuries and D’Brickashaw Ferguson had an off-year as well.

Wayne Hunter’s not going to miraculously transform into a great right tackle. But there’s no reason to think he can’t be competent after what amounted to a worst-case-scenario type season last year.

It stands to reason that this year, with a better offensive scheme, and hopefully healthy players alongside him, Hunter can hold his own at right tackle.

He’s clearly got the right attitude about it, which is an important first step. Now, it’s time to back up that bravado with results.


Follow me on Twitter @metsjetsnets88  / Contact me at metsjetsnets88@gmail.com


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