There were not a lot of bright spots on the offensive line for the New York Jets this past season, but one player in particular really stepped his game up. Austin Howard, signed during preseason after the whole Wayne Hunter debacle, started all 16 games for the Jets in the 2012 season and really showed well.
After the 2011 season and half of the 2012 preseason, it was pretty evident that Jet fans, along with Jet personnel, were growing tired of Hunter’s inability to block a pass rusher. Hunter allowed 11 sacks during the 2011 season, most of them coming in critical situations. His failure to protect Mark Sanchez from defensive ends earned him “goat” honors on the offensive line, and was a big reason as to why the offense was so ineffective. Hunter did not only just give up sacks, but he also was responsible for 11 penalties in the 2011 season, a lot of those coming in critical moments as well.
The Jets knew they had to make a change, and after giving up two and a half sacks in the first preseason game in 2012, the Jets benched Hunter and started Howard, who held his own and played fairly well. Shortly after, in the coming days the Jets announced the trade of Hunter to the St. Louis Rams in exchange for Jason Smith, the former number two overall pick in 2009. Smith went on to play well for the Jets for the remainder of the season, however it was Howard who broke out as the clear starting right tackle for the year. In the first regular season game vs. the Buffalo Bills, Howard made all-pro defensive end Mario Williams look non-existent as the Jets whooped the Bills 48-28.
Since then, Howard did allow 13.5 sacks, more than Hunter had allowed the previous year, but it seemed as if the sacks weren’t as prominent as Hunter’s allowed. Whether it was the timing, or spacing of the sacks, it seemed that Hunter was just not the right man for the job. Howard, however, only committed 3 penalties for 20 yards, which was a huge upgrade from Hunter’s 11 penalties the previous season.
Howard may have given up the most amount of sacks of the offensive line in the 2012 season, but believe it or not, he was a bright spot on the team. He was a huge upgrade from Hunter, and he is still young. With only three years played in the league, and 16 out of his 19 career played games coming from starting all regular season games for the Jets in 2012, there’s no doubt that he can improve. A little improvement from Howard, combined with improvements from the other lineman, will put the Jets in a very good spot as far as offensive lineman go for the 2013 season.