The New York Jets have seen their offensive line play decline in recent seasons, and things don’t look to be getting better after losing tackle Austin Howard in free agency. The Jets have a lot of question marks on the line this summer, and they are hoping they will find some answers in training camp. Right now, this is what the Jets’ depth chart could look on the line.
Starters: LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson, LG Brian Winters, C Nick Mangold, RG Willie Colon, RT Breno Giacomini
Reserves: OT Ben Ijalana, G/T Dakota Dozier, T/G Oday Aboushi, G/C Caleb Schlauderaff
There isn’t any doubt about who will be starting for the Jets on the line. Ferguson and Mangold have been the team’s anchors since they were drafted in the first round in 2006, and nothing has changed. Ferguson showed some signs of slipping last season, particularly against speed rushers, and the Jets badly need him to rebound. Mangold remains one of the best centers in the NFL, but at age 30 no one is sure how much longer that will last.
The Jets signed Giacomini to replace Howard, and he will provide strong run blocking and average pass protection on the right side. Giacomini is a downgrade from Howard, but the financials made much more sense for the Jets. He is solid, but nothing special. Winters took over the starting role early in his rookie season, and he struggled badly. Winters is competent in the run game, but his disastrous performance in pass protection cost the Jets quite a bit. He must take huge strides this year if the Jets are to fix their offensive line.
Most observers thought the Jets would try to add a veteran to take over the right guard position, but they chose instead to re-sign Willie Colon. Colon is a strong run blocker and locker room leader, but he is extremely injury prone. The Jets have already been bitten, as Colon is having knee surgery. He should be healthy by the regular season, but if he’s not, the Jets’ depth is highly questionable.
Aboushi and Dozier are the two safest bets to make the team as reserves. Aboushi is a tackle, but he has stepped in for Colon at right guard in OTAs. Aboushi didn’t dress for a single game as a rookie last season, so he is a totally unknown quantity. Dozier was a fourth round pick this season, and he is converting from tackle to guard. He is probably Colon’s long term replacement, but he is nowhere near ready to see the field this season.
Ijalana should make the team as a swing tackle. He is a former second round pick with plenty of talent, but also plenty of injury issues. Still, he remains a decent backup option. On the interior, Schlauderaff’s ability to play both guard and center should be what gets him on the roster ahead of William Campbell and Dalton Freeman.
Campbell, Freeman, and Markus Zucevics are the three other players in camp that have the best chance of making the team. All are young players that that Jets like, but if the team carries nine offensive linemen then it is unlikely there will be room for any of them. Additionally, don’t be surprised if the Jets add some veteran depth at tackle and/or guard, which could force one of the other young players to the practice squad.
The Jets’ offensive line has quickly become very shaky, and they have to be concerned. The Jets need Ferguson to return to form, Mangold to stay at the top of his game, Winters to improve, Colon to stay healthy and Giacomini to be a viable replacement for Howard. That is a lot to ask for, and they probably won’t get all those things. Making matters worse are the huge question marks surrounding their depth, as the Jets are mostly using inexperienced players in reserve roles.
With the other concerns on their offense, the Jets need their offensive line to deliver consistent play. If that happens, the improved skill positions could be enough to boost the Jets’ offense to respectable levels and even a playoff berth. If the line struggles, however, things could get ugly quickly.