In his first game as the Jets’ starting right tackle, Austin Howard stood tall against the Panthers in a 17-12 preseason loss at MetLife Stadium, earning rave reviews from his teammates and looking every bit the part of a starter.
But while Howard did stand tall he didn’t stand wide, at least not as wide as he did two months ago.
The 6-foot-7 Howard tipped the scales at 331 pounds last Wednesday, nearly 30 pounds less than during June’s organized team activities (OTAs) when he was just shy of 360 pounds. He earned criticism from head coach Rex Ryan for his weight gain, leading the third-year player to do everything in his power to shed the weight. Howard told Metro he weighed 345 pounds two years ago as a rookie in Philadelphia, and then was up to 352 pounds last year with the Ravens. The steady weight gain continued and Howard’s practice form with the Jets was lackluster.
Ryan’s challenge resulted in a more agile right tackle who won the job over last year’s starter Wayne Hunter. As his weight went down, his reputation on the Jets began to grow.
He attended workouts with his girlfriend and completely changed his lifestyle.
“I started going to different types of classes with her at the gym and started mountain biking as well,” Howard told Metro. “I just bought a mountain bike actually so it’s been a change, a different approach to my workouts as well.”
The slimming of Howard’s waistline coincides with his ascent on the team, taking over for Hunter who started all 16 games for the Jets last year. A former college basketball player at Northern Iowa, Howard moves well for a player of his size and is rated as a tremendous run blocker. A strong showing in the Jets’ first preseason game, coupled with the team’s return to the run game and Hunter’s struggles, opened the door for Howard to win the starting job.
He shook up his normal workouts with training that was more functional in basis, translating more to the speed and tempo of a real game.
The weight loss didn’t hurt either as Howard was far more nimble on Sunday night than at any point during OTAs or minicamp.
“I am eating four to five small meals a day now, just making healthier choices, better choices. I bought a juicer too and I’m loving that,” Howard said with a laugh. “It just feels good. I didn’t need to carry all that weight. I’m feeling good right now and healthy, much better, and I feel in better shape on the field too.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.