FLORHAM PARK, NJ - AUGUST 07: Wayne Hunter #78 of the New York Jets walks off the field after practice at NY Jets Practice Facility on August 7, 2011 in Florham Park, New Jersey. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
It is a simple question and one probably worth discussing since Hunter has been beaten badly in pass protection consistently during the first two games of the season. The Jets might be 2-0, but Mark Sanchez is not going to survive the season if he keeps taking shots like he did in the first two weeks.
I am against benching Hunter, though. I have a few reasons for it. The first reason is that there is nobody better to take his place. A guy might be bad, but he should be in the lineup if everybody else is worse. There is a reason he is starting.
The replacement would probably be Vladimir Ducasse. Ducasse looked even worse at times in the preseason in pass protection than Hunter has been, and Ducasse was playing against backups a lot, not the NFL sack king, DeMarcus Ware, and a good pass rusher like Matt Roth. He looked particularly slow dropping back against edge rushers at tackle. Ducasse seemed to improve as preseason progressed. He got some good push in the run game. He did not look like he would hold up at all at tackle right now in pass protection. He also had a false start problem.
You might say it cannot get any worse. It can. As bad as Hunter has been, Ducasse is liable to get beaten on even more plays, resulting in more shots on Sanchez. Hunter is not getting whipped on every single play, just a large percentage. Ducasse may well get beaten on even more passing plays. You might argue Ducasse is a better run blocker. That is true, but it does not address the problem of Sanchez taking too many big hits. Say what you will. The Jets wanted Ducasse to win the job. There is no way they want a second rounder in his second year on the bench not contributing. If he could do a good job as a starter, he probably would be starting already. Preseason is not the best judge, but if a guy is struggling against backups at times, he will probably have a really tough time against starters.
The pickings are slim in free agency. Pretty much everybody good is locked up. Forget about Damien Woody. August was the time to bring him in. The Jets did not think he could help. He is out of football shape and reports are that he has already started dropping weight.
You might disagree, but I think patience is the right course. Part of it is because I watched Hunter play two even worse games last year against Houston and Miami than he has played in 2011. He rebounded to play much better in his five starts. In those starts, he did not allow a sack. He allowed 1.6 attempts to be impacted by a pressure or a hit. That is not all world, but it is passable for a tackle not protecting the blind side. It was a vast improvement over what he did before.
How did the Jets get him rolling? I think back to Week 15 at Pittsburgh. Wayne was coming off a disastrous game against the Dolphins where Cameron Wake toyed with him. Things looked bleak going against Lamarr Woodley. Hunter held up. The reason he did was he got plenty of help. Brian Schottenheimer kept either Robert Turner or Ben Hartsock in to pass protect on over half the passes the Jets threw that day.
Hunter could not have been playing with a high confidence level entering that game. He picked up his play from that point. His technique was more consistent the rest of the way. A week later, Hunter had little help against the Bears and was excellent. Julius Peppers even gave Hunter credit in the postgame interview, denying speculation a bad field might have cut down on his traction.
Hunter is a mess right now. Just watching him, his footwork appears out of whack. He is getting crossed up, losing leverage, and getting beaten to the spot. He is never going to exhibit the power Damien Woody showed at the position. His game is more based on athleticism, which requires good technique. After he built a little confidence last year, he seemed to get things going. He will never be a top five tackle, but the Jets ran for 100 yards at Pittsburgh with him starting on the line last season. The team did not give him a new contract because the front office is stupid. He showed good things at the end of last year.
We are now right back where we were after that Week 14 Miami game. Brian Schottenheimer is once again going to have to do things to build Hunter's confidence. That means tight ends lining up next to him and chipping the outside rusher. It means backs staying in and shading to his side. It means quick hitting plays so the protection does not need to hold. It means screens and draws right to slow down the pass rush. It especially means a lot of Matthew Mulligan staying in to pass protect and even maybe a little Ducasse on six man lines to extend the edge.
The drawbacks are obvious. Taking a receiver out of the passing play makes it easier for coverage, which has an extra guy to dedicate to somebody else. It takes some things off the table. The reason the Jets paid their receivers is because these guys are supposed to be good enough to make up for these disadvantages. This drawback is less of a hit than an injured Mark Sanchez would be.