In Week 15 of the 2010 NFL season, Wayne Hunter stepped into the starting lineup for the Jets to replace injured right tackle Damien Woody. It was a seamless transition at the time for Hunter, who had only two other starts in his seven-year career. His performance to close out the season and in the playoffs earned him a long-term contract last summer.
It has been all downhill since then.
Hunter was the weakest link of the offensive line last year, getting constantly beaten and targeted by the opposing pass rush. For Woody, the man whom Hunter replaced, it is a confidence issue that translated to Hunter giving up three sacks in Saturday night’s preseason loss to the Giants.
“A lot of times what happens -- you have a bad play and it’s a snowball effect. It’s like ‘Oh man.’ Offensive line is almost like a cornerback,” Woody told Metro. “When you have a bad play as a cornerback, you have to put it behind you. There’s nothing you can do about it, you have to move on. It’s something you definitely have to do.”
Performances like the dud against the Giants in preseason game No. 2 aren’t supposed to happen anymore with Hunter. The Jets spoke all offseason about his improvement and how he would benefit from being involved in team activities unlike last year when the labor negotiations cut into time that would have been vital for Hunter to learn his role as a starter. Woody, now an analyst at ESPN, knows that the player who filled in so admirably for him in 2010 can emerge in 2012 as a consistent part of the unit.
“He’s one of the most athletic guys I’ve ever been around. He’s one of the most athletic linemen in the league. I’ve seen it myself when I was playing with the Jets. The one thing I always told Wayne was to trust his athletic ability. He’s a big, tall, strong guy with great feet -- trust it. Sometimes he has a hard time trusting his athletic ability because he’s so athletic,” Woody said. “When I watch him sometimes it is as if he doesn’t want to make a mistake. You can’t play that way. You have to go out there and trust your athletic ability and that’s how you win your battles. That’s the bottom line. Are you going to get beat sometimes? Yeah. The best of the best get beat.”
Having missed portions of training camp due to back stiffness, Hunter did not play against the Bengals in the first game of preseason and then was thrown into the fire against the likes of Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul, two of the best pass rushers in the league.
A player struggling with confidence after becoming the target of Jets fans much of last season couldn’t have asked for a worse opponent to go up against for his first game action since last season.
While Hunter said after the game that his back “was OK” he was still clearly rusty and the Giants exposed him.
“Wayne wishes he could have done better; there’s no question about it. I tend to hold back because it’s still preseason and guys are working out the kinks. A lot of this comes from last year and Wayne was a big figure as far as -- well, fans are still angry about his performance from last year,” Woody said. “His performance last night, people see the same old stuff happening right now. It’s still the preseason and I’m not going too caught up in it and other people shouldn’t.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.