After having spent much of the last year blaming right tackle Wayne Hunter for their woes, Jets fans have to find a new whipping boy.
On Thursday morning, head coach Rex Ryan announced that Hunter is no longer the team’s starting right tackle and that Austin Howard will be given a shot at the job.
Last season, in his first full year as a starter, Hunter was criticized by fans and media for his pass protection. Then on Saturday night during a preseason loss to the Giants, Hunter gave up three sacks and was again booed by the crowd at MetLife Stadium. Ryan underscored that he expected Hunter to be his starter for Week 1 against Buffalo on Wednesday.
A day later, he said Hunter will be holding down a spot on the sidelines.
“Again, he’s played 10 years and I know he’s been heavily criticized. Was he perfect as a starting tackle? No, but you know what? Nobody is perfect,” Ryan said. “I’m saying this, I know the success that he had and the success he had when I got here the first two years in this role can be really helpful for this team. That’s what I’ve decided to do. We’re going to get Austin Howard a shot to be with this first group.”
Howard is in his third year in the NFL and has always been viewed as a bit of a project. He has played in just four games, and started one, between two years with Philadelphia and one in Baltimore.
With such a limited resume, Howard remains a bit of a mystery and it remains to be seen if he anchors the right side of the line any better than Hunter.
“Any opportunity to go out there and perform and go out there with the ones is a blessing,” Howard said. “It’s just a matter to go out there, take advantage of the opportunity and continue to get better.”
The new role for Hunter is reminiscent of the first two years under Ryan. Hunter was very much a utility player. His athleticism was used as a back-up tackle and guard and he also was the jumbo tight end. On occasion, Hunter would be called in on defense for goal-line snaps.
“I got to work my way up again,” Hunter said. “As it is right now, I want to help the team anyway possible and right now I can help the team best being that jumbo tight end that I was before and being the sixth man.”
No one was surprised by the move, least of all Hunter.
“No, it wasn’t a surprise. Everyone knows — all of New York City knows — I’ve been struggling the past year and that last game I didn’t do much better. I wasn’t surprised. I was waiting for it to be honest with you,” Hunter said. “I knew I was struggling. I knew everything was kind of going south for me, but at the same time I wanted to help the team any way possible. I love the Jets. I love this organization. Again, moving to this position is the best thing for me right now, I guess.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.