Training Camp Preview: Offensive Line
As the New York Jets head into training camp, we take a closer look at some of the positional units. What’s there to look for from the offensive line?
For the first time in a decade, there’s going to be a new player manning the left tackle spot for the New York Jets. As everyone knows, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, decided to hang it up after 10 productive seasons in the NFL.
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But within 24 hours of the retirement news breaking, the Jets immediately executed their backup plan by acquiring the services of a former Pro Bowl offensive lineman in Ryan Clady. There’s huge durability concerns with Clady, but when healthy he has been one of the top tackles in football.
While the rest of the offensive line remains intact with the stable of Breno Giacomini, Brian Winters, James Carpenter and Nick Mangold. Speaking of Mangold, he is now the longest tenured player on the Jets and he’s coincidentally getting up there in age as well.
With the Ferguson news, it does beg the question for the other first round pick the Jets selected in that historic 2006 NFL Draft, how much longer does Mangold have? While only Mangold knows the answer to that question, it’s the Jets responsibility to find a backup plan for Mangold as soon as possible.
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Heading into training camp, the biggest question for the Jets’ offensive line is can Clady remain healthy?
It’s a legitimate question considering that Clady has only appeared in 18 out of the last possible 48 games.
Ferguson was the breath of consistency, but he had his moments of ineptitude against some of the higher quality pass rushers around the league.
The Jets are taking a very calculated risk here, no question, minimal risk in terms of the draft compensation forfeited, but the reward is potentially filling one of the most important positions on the field. Clady is reportedly a full-go for training camp, but expect the Jets nonetheless to take a cautious approach in terms of his repetitions throughout camp.
Another key question for the Jets is can Giacomini avoid being the weak link of this unit?
To put it bluntly, the Jets strongly considered biting the bullet with Giacomini’s contract this offseason and rolling the dice with a handful of developmental projects to replace him. That’s how poorly he has performed over his short tenure with the Jets, if his sub-par play continues, he could be yanked out of the lineup sooner rather than later.
The Jets traded back into the 2016 NFL Draft to select his apparent successor in Brandon Shell. He’s big and a bit raw, but the writing is on the wall for Giacomini, play up to expectations, or get out, that simple.
One of the main things we want to see during training camp is improvement of the worst positional group of the Jets, their offensive line depth. For instance, they have nine offensive linemen entering camp that have four years or less of professional experience.
Nov 12, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets center Nick Mangold (74) talking to New York Jets guard James Carpenter (77) in the first half at MetLife Stadium. The Bills defeated the Jets 22-17 Mandatory Credit: William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports
The Jets are really counting on several of these players to pickup the playbook quickly and to develop at the bottom of the roster. If these players are successful, the Jets can feel more comfortable with the inevitable departure of Mangold at some point in the not so distant future.
Looking at the depth chart, a healthy Clady is set to start at left tackle, while the underrated gem of the Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles era is left guard James Carpenter who was phenomenal last year on a very cheap deal.
Of course at center, the Jets can rely upon their veteran leader, Mangold, who will be suiting up for his 11th season in green and white. This is where the most uncertainty lies, on the right side of the Jets’ offensive line.
We’ve briefly spoke about Giacomini’s inconsistencies, while their right guard situation which has been in a bit of a flux between Willie Colon and Winters. With Winters entering a contract year he should be plenty motivated to work on his consistency in 2016.
The bar can often be set too high for certain players and they often fail to meet those expectations, but for Winters and Giacomini, let’s set the bar within grasp. All the Jets need from the Winters/Giacomini combination is normalcy, just play average football and the Jets should be able to survive.
When it comes to the main things to keep an eye on, we mentioned it in passing, but it’s extremely important for multiple guys to step up in the trenches. Brent Qvale dabbled at multiple positions last year and was the dark horse to start at right guard. Whether it be Kyle Friend, Dakota Dozier, Jarvis Harrison, maybe Ben Ijalana someone needs to seize their opportunity and run with it.
Giacomini has been awful, it’s been said, but it needs reiteration. Hopefully Qvale or maybe Shell can develop quicker than anticipated and steal the job away, it won’t take much.
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Finally, this positional group is the underrated engine that could, for this Jets’ offense to succeed in 2016. Whoever ends up at quarterback will need protection and perhaps that can be the difference more times than not between a completion and an interception.