FLORHAM PARK — Aaron Rodgers may not be overly concerned about the status of the New York Jets offensive line but it’s hard to ignore the recent struggles from the first-team group.
Whether it’s incorrect assignments or poor play, the combination of Max Mitchell and Billy Turner have not been capable of playing consistent football at the tackle position the last few practices. It made Wednesday’s response from the fanbase even more apparent.
“We want Becton. We want Becton.”
It’s getting hard to argue against the fanbase either. While Mekhi Becton has continued to thrive on the second-team offense, the first-team has been unable to move the ball consistently. With injuries to Laken Tomlinson and Alijah Vera-Tucker also knocking out the depth of the roster on the interior, it’s left a clear and obvious sign that the team is behind schedule when talking about the entire position group.
“I’ve said before, ideally would have wanted it done yesterday, but we’re not quite there yet, so we’re still rotating guys, trying to find the best five,” Jets head coach Robert Saleh has said of his group.
But part of the team’s apparent struggles have been the fact that some of their most talented players at the position have still not run with the starting lineup. Becton is the obvious example of this. The first-round pick has played very well during practice and seems to be on the cusp of cracking into the starting lineup.
So what is the holdup? If the Jets are looking to start their best starting five, why isn’t one of the obvious choices getting reps?
The answer, according to Saleh, is far more complex.
“The biggest thing for Mekhi is to show that he can play a game without having to be spelled out and take a break and all that stuff, so it is unfair for the team to prepare a guy to start if you are not sure if he can make it through a game, so he is moving in the right direction,” the coach explained.
Of course, Saleh’s response comes at a time where the two starting tackles the Jets are currently throwing out, have not played in a full 16-17 games since the 2019 season (Mitchell only played in six games last year). The fact that the rules for Becton are different for two of the current starters is interesting the longer the Jets continue to struggle as a group along the offensive line.
Becton, for his part, has not appeared in an NFL game in over two years and is continuing to recover from knee surgery last season. But he’s also been the only tackle that has consistently won at the position over the last two weeks.
That has led to the Jets coaching staff potentially looking at preparing him for the right side of the offensive line.
“He (Becton) gets all of his reps on the right side during walk through and all that, so he is being worked that way, so we are hoping to get him some right tackle reps here, some live ones, starting tomorrow,” Saleh stated.
Whether the Jets stay true to their plan to prepare Becton for the right side of the offensive line remains to be seen. The former first-round pick has become more receptive to the position change in recent weeks than originally thought, but it all comes back to getting reps with the first-team of the offense – something even Rodgers is looking to have done very soon.
“At some point I might say I need the five who are going to be in there to be in there with me for a solid week. But I don’t think we’re at that point yet because I don’t think there are five guys that have earned those spots … I’m going to have some patience with that,” the future Hall-of-Fame quarterback said following Wednesday’s joint work with Tampa Bay.
Rodgers may have more patience than the fanbase is willing to have with their offensive line, but the reality is that the group is the one weak spot on a roster full of All-Pro and Pro Bowl talents. If New York can’t figure it out by the time the 2023 regular season kicks off, it could be the group that keeps them from championship contention.
And the longer the Jets wait to put their “best five” on the field, the longer the questions will persist. The team may be dealing with injuries at the position, but that isn’t the excuse for everyone in the group.