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How Big of a Concern Is Right Tackle?

When people talk about needs the Jets have, you mostly hear about the defensive side of the ball. This was particularly true before the NFL Draft. I find this interesting. Surely there are spots to fill, but the defense is probably going to be really good as a result of the guys we know are returning and the fact Rex Ryan is running it. Nobody seems to focus on the right tackle position, which is murky at best. The Jets lost a fantastic starter in Damien Woody. This could be a serious issue.

Right now it looks like Vladimir Ducasse is the guy the team wants to start. Ducasse looked lost during preseason last year. When he got extended action at right guard Week 17 against the Bills, he looked much better. He seemed to understand his assignments more fully. A year working with Bill Callahan improved him. Playing well inside against Bills scrubs is one thing. Protecting the edge against Cameron Wake is quite another.

Wayne Hunter might be another guy to get a look. Lost with all of the marquee guys hitting the market, however, is the fact Wayne is a free agent. There is no guarantee he will be back. Some team might have been impressed with his natural athleticism and play in Damien Woody's place in 2010 and be willing to give him an offer the Jets will not match.

Even if the Jets do get him back, Hunter would not necessarily be a sure thing. He has never started for a full season. He improved as he got more reps in 2010 and became more comfortable working with the first team. Even so, he really only played one game where his play was off the charts. That was against the Bears. He was very good the week before against the Steelers, but he also got a lot of help in that one. He was abused earlier in the year against Mario Williams and Cameron Wake. Both are obviously tough matchups, but they also are the kind of matchups a right tackle in the NFL faces.

Let us give Hunter the benefit of the doubt as a pass protector, though. What about run blocking? The Jets ran to great effect behind Damien Woody. Hunter's run blocking fell well short. In games Woody started, the Jets ran for an average of 5.1 yards per carry including postseason when running either behind or outside right tackle. They ran for 3.3 per carry with Hunter in the same situations. You might argue that three of Hunter's five starts came against Pittsburgh and Chicago, top run defenses. You would be right. However, the advantage the Jets had with Woody in the lineup was confidence he could match up with the elite. You need guys who can thrive against the best. On top of this, during that Week 17 game against Buffalo's subpar scrubs, the Jets only ran for 4.1 per carry behind or outside Hunter, a full yard below the average with Woody. The infamous fourth and goal stuff  of LaDainian Tomlinson in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game was a run behind Hunter when Wayne got no push. (All numbers obtained crunching data from Pro Football Focus)

This is not intended to rip Warrior Wayne. I like Wayne Hunter. I hope he comes back. He is a good backup. It is nice to have subs who can play adequately. He might even be an adequate starter if given the chance.

The issue at hand is that the Jets were getting Pro Bowl caliber play out of Woody last year. The right tackle position right now seems dependent on either Vladimir Ducasse improving tremendously, which is possible, or Wayne Hunter manning the position. The Jets did beat the 14-2 Patriots in Foxborough with Hunter at tackle, but the dropoff from Woody was exposed in a big game against an elite defense. I have faith in the front office, but the right tackle spot is more of a worry than people are letting on in my book.