As far as Jets right tackle Wayne Hunter is concerned, he’s finally earning his keep and it is all thanks to fellow offensive lineman D’Brickashaw Ferguson.
Hunter had just two starts in his previous seven NFL seasons, but he was rewarded during the offseason with the starting right tackle position and a four-year, $13 million dollar contract.
In his first two games, Hunter had a rough start, including consistently being beaten by Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware. That’s when Hunter turned to Ferguson, a former first-round pick, for advice.
“After Week 2, I had another rough one and I was really beginning to doubt myself, doubt if I could do it. The fans, the media, were all on me, so I went up to ‘Brick’ and asked him for advice,” Hunter told Metro. “We had a two-hour meeting and it was great. He went through a lot of the things I went through. He was a former first-round pick, a top pick and he had a couple rocky first seasons here. I only had a rough few games. It put it all in perspective.
“I realized I needed to move on, get my mind focused and start focusing in on what I knew I could bring to this team.”
Hunter drew on the sit down with Ferguson to help him turn the corner. He knew he had the talent to play the position. Guard Matt Slauson calls Hunter the “most athletic lineman on our team, and maybe the league,” but there were still doubts. For a player who, despite entering his eighth year in the league was very much still a raw, developing product, it was a lot for him to handle.
Now, there was pressure – and it was pressure he could all to clearly feel. Like pressure he had never felt at any other point of his career.
“To be honest, I felt more pressure in that Week 1 game then I ever did in my career, and that includes the AFC Championship Game or any time during the playoffs,” Hunter said. “I had gotten this contract. I had gotten the starting job I wanted, but now people also expected me to play and perform at a certain level. I wasn’t sure I could do that. It all weighed on me.”
His talk with Ferguson alleviated that pressure and Hunter likened himself to a rookie needing to make adjustments and learn. Instead of cracking under the pressure and criticism, he began to quietly work and piece together a good series of practices before Week 3. Despite his renewed mindset, doubts persisted.
He remembers a conversation he had with offensive line coach Bill Callahan in the days leading up to the Week 3 game in Oakland.
“I just expressed my concerns that I needed to get this thing right, that I needed to play better because if it didn’t it might just snowball and become game after game after game,” Hunter said. “Bill said to me that he never doubted in me as a player, that he believed in my abilities to perform. That meant a lot to me.”
Hunter went out and performed well despite the Jets loss. The next two weeks, despite Jets losses, Hunter put in solid showings. It has been uphill stuff from the first-year starter ever since.
“It was his first season starting. He’s not a rookie per se, but he had things to learn like a rookie might have to,” right guard Brandon Moore told Metro. “We never lost our confidence in him though; we learned what he could do in the playoffs and how he can perform. Every day in practice, we see how athletic he is, how much effort he put in. He had nothing to prove to us.”
Now the media isn’t clamoring with headlines pinning blame on Hunter.
“I feel like the past few weeks, I’m performing the way I want to, the way I should. I am justifying themoney, the contractthat they’ve given me,” Hunter said. “After that rough start, I wasn’t sure but I think I’ve turned that corner and that, finally, I’m backing up that contract.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.