As the Jets’ months-long issue along the offensive line moves into the mainstream, via a brief Hard Knocks segment, the team still has not turned to Mekhi Becton as a first-stringer during training camp.
After showing promise as a rookie, Becton saw extensive injury troubles and weight issues sidetrack his career. The 2020 first-round pick has not played since Week 1 of the 2021 season, but he lost around 50 pounds this offseason. Becton criticized the Jets’ coaching staff for moving him to right tackle last year, a switch he believes led to his knee reinjury. But the talented blocker is now believed to be onboard with playing on the right side. The Jets are trying Becton at right tackle Thursday, Rich Cimini of ESPN.com tweets, marking the first time that has taken place during this year’s camp.
The Jets still have not used Becton as a first-stringer this year. Despite Duane Brown remaining on Gang Green’s active/PUP list, Becton has worked behind Billy Turner and Max Mitchell at tackle. Even as the team’s depleted front has struggled in joint practices with the Panthers and Buccaneers, Saleh is waiting on giving Becton extended run.
“The biggest thing for Mekhi is to show that he can play a game without having to be spelled out,” Robert Saleh said, via the New York Post’s Brian Costello. “It’s unfair to the team to prepare a guy to start if you are not sure he can make it through a game. He is moving in the right direction.”
While Becton brings a much higher ceiling compared to Turner and Mitchell, his injury baggage is among the most extensive in recent NFL history. Missing nearly two full seasons, Becton also missed practice time earlier in camp and asked out of the Jets’ Hall of Fame Game. He did return to play 27 snaps against the Panthers last weekend, marking a good sign. The Jets may soon have no choice but to bump Becton into their starting lineup, given the state of their line. But Saleh continues to proceed cautiously.
As injuries mounted last season, the Jets shifted emerging guard Alijah Vera-Tucker to right tackle. The 2021 first-rounder suffered a season-ending triceps injury while at that position, but the team returned him to guard this offseason. The team is again considering Vera-Tucker at tackle, Saleh said (via Costello), though the third-year HC reminded that the team loves the USC alum at guard. Vera-Tucker has also missed recent time due to injury, along with the Jets’ other guard starter — Laken Tomlinson. Neither practiced against the Bucs on Wednesday.
Should the Jets try a “best five” scenario in Week 1, Cimini offers that Wes Schweitzer — who is competing with Connor McGovern at center — could be shifted to guard as Vera-Tucker slides back to right tackle. Although Schweitzer is competing at center, the ex-Atlanta and Washington starter has extensive guard experience. He started at right guard against Carolina last weekend. The Jets also have second-round rookie Joe Tippmann in the mix, rounding out a deep O-line interior on a team that has faced tackle questions for months.
While Saleh has said Vera-Tucker has All-Pro potential at guard, urgency to place a competent line in front of Aaron Rodgers may supersede the team’s long-term plan for the third-year blocker. As for Brown, Saleh said the team’s preferred left tackle option is moving closer to a return from offseason shoulder surgery.