Jets center Nick Mangold has a high ankle sprain which could keep him off the field for the Week 3 game in Oakland. No worry, the Jets have Colin Baxter.

Wait, who?

Baxter is the great unknown of the offensive line and could be the difference between a 3-0 record or the Jets’ first loss of the season. Baxter, who made 49 straight starts at the University of Arizona and was considered one of the better centers in the nation during his senior season last year, wasn’t selected in the NFL Draft and was cut by San Diego on Sept. 3.

He was picked up by the Jets the next day and two weeks later made his first NFL appearance.

 

Now, after coming into the first quarter of Sunday’s 32-3 win over the Jaguars, Baxter is suddenly a starting center in the NFL — at least for one week. And he is called on to replace a Pro-Bowl player and one of the best at his position in the league in Mangold. That is no small task for a player who went undrafted six months ago and was cut less than three weeks past.

“I’ve got to do a lot this week. I’ve been doing a lot out there with coach [Bill Callahan] after practice, working on sets and technique,” Baxter said. “I’m in there with [injured lineman] Rob [Turner] after meetings, going over books and going over it at home, here, the hotel.”

Spending time with Turner, who broke his right leg in the Jets first preseason game and is expected to be back by next month at the earliest, is perhaps ideal. Turner has been helping the team break down film during his injury and the versatile offensive lineman was penciled in as Mangold’s backup prior to his injury. Turner is a great mentor for Baxter as a cerebral player who has manned nearly every spot on the offensive line, including tight end.

There was nothing awful about the rookie’s performance against Jacksonville, but there were errors.

“There were some good things, there were some bad things — a couple of mental errors that I can’t have, that I’ll get cleaned up,” Baxter said. “A few technical things that I can get cleaned up, as well.”

Even though the Raiders are 1-1 after conceding a lead to the Bills on Sunday afternoon, this is still a team that has five sacks to start the season and can get to quarterback Mark Sanchez. Baxter has big shoes to fill on Sunday in a hostile environment as the Jets kick start a brutal road trip that then takes them to Baltimore and New England.

Baxter said he will be in Mangold’s ear this week and the rest of the team is rallying around a player who is still finding his way around the Jets locker room.

“Guys have to step up. We’re losing a valuable part of our offensive line, a guy that knows pretty much everything, makes all the calls, makes things a lot easier for Mark and the rest of the guys up front and we just definitely have to be on our P’s and Q’s now,” wide receiver Santonio Holmes said. “We have to make sure we get our young guy in the lab and get him everything he needs to know.”



Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer for team news all season long.

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