Camp Countdown '09: Offensive Line
There is no question that the heart and soul of the Jets offense lies in the play of their offensive line. The Jets have committed a great deal of money to this unit, with the starting five players making up nearly 25% of the Jets active roster cap charges in 2009. The Jets want to run the football and this is a group that is near the top of the NFL at run blocking. The addition of LG Alan Faneca and RT Damien Woody had a major impact on the Jets running game in 2008, turning them from one of the worst units in the NFL to one of the best, leading their backs to an impressive 11.2% more yards per carry than their opponents typically allowed. C Nick Mangold is tremendous at the point of attack and RG Brandon Moore has always been capable when surrounded by good talent. For the Jets to be a success these four players have to continue to provide the openings for the ground game.
When it comes to pass protection there are some questions regarding the line. Left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson is one of the better tackles in the league and Mangold is also an excellent pass blocker, but the other three starters all have their bouts with poor play. As a whole this unit was average last year and while QB Brett Favre could perhaps be blamed for some sacks due to his always looking to make a play, he also saved the group quite a few times. In general, when the team gave up sacks they gave up fast ones not allowing the QB to even breath before he got hit. This will likely be accentuated even moreso in 2009 with an inexperienced QB behind center. With a year of playing together its reasonable to assume they will do a better job, but Faneca and Woody are both a year older and on the downside of their careers.
A major concern for the offensive line is depth as there is not one proven player behind the starting five. The most experience goes to Tackle Wayne Hunter who has played in all of 17 games over a five year period. Robert Turner has seen action in 14 games in his two year career and is the teams most versatile player. He can pitch in at both guard and tackle and has even lined up a few times as a tight end. He is most likely the primary backup. The Jets drafted Matt Slauson out of Nebraska, but there is no guarantee he even makes the roster. Nate Garner was given the axe last season despite being selected in the draft. Other than those three the team is filled with practice squad players and undrafted rookies.
The Jets will need their line to stay healthy if they want to contend. They could possibly deal with one injury and shuffle Turner into the starting five, but two injuries would be a nightmare. There is absolutely no way to replace Mangold or Ferguson this year. If there is one player to watch this year it’s Woody. He is the player most prone to breaking down and also the one player who has gone through a period of simply being ineffective in the NFL. Woody made the Jets run game click last season, but it may be asking a lot to make it happen again this year. Look for the Jets to carry seven or eight linemen when they break camp and to constantly be monitoring that waiver wire for reinforcements.