Here we go again: Jets lack of health on O-Line endangers 2023 season

New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh.
New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh.
AP Photo/Steven Senne

Just when you feel the New York Jets have turned a corner on their season, the football gods remind them of their place. 

New York’s lack of injury luck in 2023 has been staggering. They lost their recently acquired franchise quarterback after just four plays into the new season, their starting left tackle after two games, and now their All-Pro caliber offensive lineman after just five contests. 

“For AVT (Alijah Vera-Tucker), unfortunately, the MRI did show that he tore his Achilles. He’s out for the year…the second year in a row. We’re all kind of surprised because he played a play on it and walked into the locker room on his power but it was a blow. He battled all offseason from the injury a year ago, and to have this happen again is just unfortunate,” head coach Robert Saleh said on Monday afternoon. 

The loss of Vera-Tucker is a massive blow to a group that was improving over the last two weeks. New York ran for over 230 yards in their 31-21 win over the Broncos on Sunday while recording over seven yards a carry. In his place, the Jets can expect to turn to second-year tackle Max Mitchell to try and salvage the group. 

Alijah Vera-Tucker anchors Jets
The New York Jets have been pleased with the performance and versatility of first-round O-Lineman Alijah Vera-TuckerNew York Jets

It doesn’t help that another injury could be on the horizon either. 

While Saleh confirmed that he was fine after the game, the coach did acknowledge that left tackle Mekhi Becton was dealing with pain from the knee he had surgery on last season. Saleh gave Becton credit for “gutting it out” on Sunday, but the left tackle had to leave the game (and then return twice) due to pain in his knee. For a player who misses every Wednesday practice as part of his rehab plan, this is not the best news to have entering the middle part of the NFL schedule. 

Regardless of the potential concern for Becton, the Jets now have to try and find a way to work with what they have along the offensive line. While he did struggle during training camp, Mitchell looked strong in five starts last season for New York and has the confidence of the team that he can go in and perform at a high level.

“I thought he did a decent job yesterday. He’s going to give you everything he’s got. He’s someone we have full faith in,” said Saleh of Mitchell. 

As bad as the health of the O-Line looks right now, there are some positive signs to look forward to. Duane Brown is expected to come off IR by Week 8 and could provide an immediate answer to the tackle problems currently plaguing the group. Whether Gang Green moves Brown or Becton to right tackle after his return remains to be seen. Rookie Carter Warren, another player the team is high on, could provide some help in terms of depth. 

Jets tackle Mekhi Becton speaks to the media at the NFL football team's practice facility.
Jets tackle Mekhi Becton speaks to the media at the NFL football team’s practice facility.AP Photo/Adam Hunger

Some free agents could help the immediate future of the team. La’el Collins is recovering from a torn ACL last season but is a player who has plenty of positive upside at his position. With all his experience from the right side, the Jets could use that depth right now. Ja’Wuan James is another player Gang Green could consider as well. He is older than Collins but has plenty of big-game experience. 

The Jets are at a crossroads for their season right now. They have played well enough over the last two weeks to remain aggressive in trying to end their decade-long playoff drought, but every time they seemingly take a step, a crushing injury pushes them five steps back. 

New York Jets offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, front center, who was fired from the head coaching job of the Denver Broncos last year, celebrates as he leaves the field with offensive tackle Mekhi Becton after defeating the Broncos in an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Yes, their depth is better than last year to protect the offensive line and the offense in general, but the team has already lost three key starters on a group that needed to be healthy to stay competitive. It will be up to this makeshift offensive line to keep the Jets afloat without some of their best players. 

As positive as a win Sunday was it’s simply another sign that whenever the team is seemingly turning a corner, the football gods are behind them to knock them down a peg. 

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