FLORHAM PARK — He’s only been here for three seasons, but Alijah Vera-Tucker has become the most important piece to the New York Jets offensive line.
Drafted in the first round in 2021, AVT was picked to be the team’s anchor at guard for the next decade while Mekhi Becton manned the blindside of Zach Wilson’s growth.
Things haven’t gone exactly according to plan though for AVT or the Jets. Becton missed the last two seasons with knee problems, Wilson has struggled mightily, and due to the injuries, AVT has had to move to the tackle position. While his exploits have best been used on the interior, he’s shown his prowess as tackle as well.
It’s a move that many thought he could make coming out of USC and has been a comfortable transition for the 24-year-old. Luckily, he was more than prepared for the move.
“On the interior, everything is kind of quick. You have to make a move fast. On the outside you have a little bit of time to think about what you are about to do, read your stance, and read the edge,” AVT told AMNY Wednesday. “That’s the name of the game. When you play team sports you have to be willing to sacrifice…we know coach will put the best five out there.”
Vera-Tucker made his first start of the season at right tackle against the New England Patriots last Sunday in the Jets’ 15-10 loss at home. During the game, the young offensive lineman gave up just one pressure while recording a pass-blocking grade of an elite 80.8 per Pro Football Focus. His 76.6 run-blocking rate is also considered to be elite.
His versatility has always been a huge commodity for this Jets team that has dealt with the injury bug over the years. No one appreciates what AVT can do more than the head coach though.
“AVT is a very special football player,” Saleh said. “You guys know how we feel about AVT, and what he did a year ago is unprecedented in football, so we’ve got full confidence…his versatility is very beneficial,” Robert Saleh said during training camp this year.
The Jets may love what AVT has put on tape, but they can’t love the direction the offense is going in though. Through three games to start their season, the offense has yet to put up over 200 yards in a single game. Their 14-points-per-game average is the worst in football.
“We’re not running the ball, passing it well, there’s just something after another,” explained the tackle. “For us, we have to fix the little things. It’s always the little things. It’s one block away from a 10-yard gain or whatever it is. Yes, we’ve been going against tough defenses but that shouldn’t change our attitude.”
Tension seemingly rose on Tuesday when ESPN’s own Rich Cimini spoke on a potential rift in the locker room on the “Flight Deck” podcast and how the coaching staff could be caught in the middle of that concern.
“On Tuesday morning, an off-day for players, I was told that this was a hot topic among players in the locker room. I get the sense, from what I’ve seen on the sideline and from what I’m hearing, that this team could be ready to implode,” Cimini said on the show.
Despite the potential for a volatile situation, Vera-Tucker was quick to have his coaches back and reaffirm that the locker room continues to be strong together.
“I don’t think he (Coach Saleh) needs to control the room. He’s brought in guys who are disciplined and mature enough…guys are still sticking with each other even though it hasn’t been ideal for us in these first three games.”
Controlling the locker room is one of the many concerns plaguing the Jets right now as they try and climb out of a 1-2 hole with the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs next on the schedule. Vera-Tucker is a player that the team can have a positive outlook on but the same can not be said for their current starting quarterback.
Since the Achilles injury to Aaron Rodgers, Zach Wilson has manned the helm for the last three weeks. In those weeks, he’s responsible for a lack of aggressive execution, and results that are a detriment to the team’s long-term goals.
Calls for Wilson’s job have already begun just after three weeks and while the coaching staff understands there needs to be improvement, Vera-Tucker is still confident that his quarterback can get the job done.
“It’s just the way he carries himself around the facility. The way he carries himself is impressive. Looking at last year we won those games with him as quarterback so we know we can get the job done.”
At 1-2, the Jets season is not over yet. They have a dynamic defense, a strong special teams unit, and an offense that has the people in place to take off at any given moment. The only thing seemingly in their way has been the deficiency at quarterback.
There may be some underlying issues, but the Jets are still firmly behind Wilson as the signal-caller. And usually when you have a top notch tackle like Vera-Tucker leading the way, what he says should go.