If there is one position that keeps a Jets fan up at night, it would be right tackle.
Before the start of training camp, the Jets made a trade to bring in former first-round pick Jeff Otah from the Panthers to compete with Wayne Hunter at right tackle, acknowledging that they needed to upgrade at that spot. The deal ended up being rescinded when Otah failed to pass his physical twice within a week’s span leaving the Jets with the much maligned Hunter as the obvious starter. Last year, Hunter was the whipping boy of the fan base after enduring a horrid season, his first year in the league where he entered as a starter.
So question marks existed at right tackle, that is until after Friday night’s performance by Austin Howard in a 17-6 loss in Cincinnati. It was an overall solid showing by Howard, who was signed by the Jets last November off the Ravens practice squad. After looking outside their roster for a solution to their issue with Hunter, it might be Howard who is the best one to challenge at right tackle.
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“Anyone that can play the way he played is trying to tell you something and you have to find a way to get him out there,” head coach Rex Ryan said. “I don’t know if that’s competition, but you earn your playing time in this league. I think you’ve got to put him out there some time. I don’t know how many reps, or whatever.”
Ryan is uncertain if Howard will play at tackle or could even play on defense given his nastiness that he’s shown on the practice field. Either way, he’s making an impression.
Not a whole lot was expected of Howard, a product of Northern Iowa who, at 25 years old, has played in just four NFL games with one start. But at 6-foot-7 and 333 pounds, Howard has the type of size the Jets like at right tackle and he’s a good run blocker. He showed on Friday night with the second team offense that he has some of the tools needed to start in the NFL.
“Right now, that was the first preseason game. Nothing’s set in stone. As far as the season goes, right now, I’m not even looking to the season,” Howard said. “I’m just focusing on this preseason, getting better every game and kind of focus on things like technique and staying in the playbook and making sure that I can do whatever the coaches ask me to do.”
The one thing that aids Howard is that on the practice field he has been one of the most intense Jets players, going until the whistle or a drill is called to a stop. That type of attitude fits in well with Ryan’s “play like a Jet” mantra that he’s trying to re-instill into a team that was relatively soft a season ago.
“A guy is this big and comes off with a flat back, you see it on the practice field, but he is driving people and finishing,” Ryan said. “That’s what we’ve been talking about and I’m really encouraged by him.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.