The old NFL axiom is that if a team has two quarterbacks, it has none. Well, in the case of the New York Jets, they at least have the quarterback situation handled, but they still don’t know what to make of their right tackle dilemma.
Regular starter Breno Giacomini was placed on the reserve/Physically Unable to Perform list (PUP) due to a back injury, which means the Jets won’t have his services for at least the first six weeks of the season.
Giacomini’s absence means the Jets will have to patch up that hole, and decide on how to do so. They’ve been platooning backups Ben Ijalana and Brent Qvale throughout the summer, with neither one able to separate from the other. There’s even talk that Gang Green is prepared to use both tackles on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, rotating on any given play.
The Jets did such a phenomenal job last season in keeping quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick upright by yielding the second-fewest sacks in the league, so it’s going to be interesting to see if the change in personnel – and chemistry – will hinder the offense.
The Bengals are a perennial playoff contender with a stacked roster and one of the game’s best defenses, top to bottom. It’s a given they’ll try and attack the Jets’ right side of the offense and see if either Ijalana or Qvale are up to the task.
Head coach Todd Bowles has yet to show his hand regarding the starting right tackle spot, which means Jets fans likely won’t find out the starter right until the 1 p.m. opening kickoff.
He slyly answered “it’s possible” when asked if there’s a chance of an alternating play strategy between the duo, since neither has distinctly grabbed the reins.
Giacomini is a trusted veteran and one of the best locker room guys, according to teammates, so it comes as no surprise that he’s been a great mentor to the competing tandem during his absence. But with 65 career starts under his belt, including his time with the Seattle Seahawks during its 2013 Super Bowl-winning run, no amount of crash-course tutoring can account for what the Bengals will have in store for the Jets.
While many Gang Green fans might feel a little uneasy, Bowles sounds confident that either – or both – will get the job done on Sunday and beyond.
“I still don’t have an answer [because] I saw good in both of them, [and] I saw bad in both of them,” said Bowles. “I saw some things that they can work on. We’ll alternate them during the week and we’ll probably go right up until game day [with the rotation].”
Bowles’s confidence in Ijalana and Qvale likely come from necessity and a hope to believe than actual assurance. Never one to tip his hand or show his true emotions, Bowles allowed that the reason the Jets didn’t just simply acquire a right tackle was because there weren’t any options better than the one they had.
“Right tackles don’t fall off trees. You’re not going to claim [via waivers] a starting right tackle in this league. They’re like quarterbacks,” Bowles said, noting almost 20 years of experience of seeing a dearth in top-flight tackles.
So, until Giacomini fully heals, the Jets will be rolling the dice on two untested players. Ijalana has played in just seven games in five seasons, serving mainly as a backup left tackle and playing mostly on special teams. It was always hard to truly evaluate the Villanova product since he was D’Brickashaw Ferguson’s understudy and the recently retired tackle never missed a game or practice in his career. Whatever Ijalana sees on Sunday will likely be a new experience, as the Bengals will be certain to run games and stunts on him.
Qvale is entering his second full season and is equally a neophyte, as he’s only started just one game – and that was as an extra, or “jumbo,” tight end.
Whatever Bowles has planned, Fitzpatrick said he’s going into the opener with full confidence in whoever starts and won’t even be thinking about any kind of rotation, if that’s what the coaches decide.
“We’ve got to put five linemen out there, regardless, so whatever five they’re going to be, we’re going to trust they’re going to be the right ones,” Fitzpatrick said. “Both of those guys have been working really hard and have done a good job. We’ll see how it ends up going, but that’s not anything that is of concern to me.”
The bearded one may be putting on a brave face. But for Jets fans, Sunday could be a terrible way to start the season if their hirsute signal caller is often on his back due to front-side protection issues.
Gang Green notes:
- Ask any lineman, coach, or executive, and one of the first words that come out of their mouths is “continuity,” when asked how an offensive line can be successful. And by executing a rotation, the Jets would be seriously messing with that concept. A hidden side affect could be how right guard Brian Winters performs, because it’s the adjacent guard that needs to be the most in-synch with his tackle. If the rotation throws off the chemistry, then the whole line gets off-kiltered.
- The Jets announced that rookie Jalen Marshall will be the primary return specialist against the Bengals.