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NY Jets Spotlight: Ben Ijalana

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Ben Ijalana gets his first start at left tackle in the NFL, facing star defensive end Robert Quinn. This won't be easy.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Jets left tackle Ryan Clady has been placed on season ending injured reserve.  As a result Ben Ijalana will get his first start at left tackle against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.  It will be a big challenge against one of the best defensive lines in the NFL.

Ben Ijalana is a 27 year old, 6' 3", 320 pound offensive tackle. In limited NFL action he has mainly played right tackle.  Sunday will mark his first start at the more challenging left tackle position.  Ijalana was originally drafted by the Indianapolis Colts with the 49th overall selection in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft.

Ijalana is a local guy. His parents moved to America from Nigeria, and Ben was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey.   Ijalana attended high school in South Jersey and attended college at Villanova University.  After being drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in 2011 Ijalana played in four games in 2011 before tearing his ACL and being placed on injured reserve.  Ijalana rehabilitated the knee and attended the Colts' 2012 training camp, where he promptly tore his ACL again.  Ijalana spent the entire 2012 season on injured reserve.  He attended Colts camp in 2013 but was a late cut.  The Jets signed Ijalana off waivers on September 1, 2013, and Ijalana has been a Jet ever since.

Ijalana spent the 2013, 2014 and 2015 seasons with the Jets as a backup tackle.  In 2016, with Breno Giacomini recovering from a back injury and unable to play, Ijalana finally got his chance in the NFL.  Ijalana has played in all nine games of the 2016 season, mostly at right tackle, rotating with Brent Qvale.  Now Ijalana is being asked to fill in for the injured Ryan Clady at left tackle for the rest of the 2016 season.  It is a big challenge for Ijalana.

Left tackle traditionally is counted on to block the opposing team's best pass rusher. In Sunday's game against the Rams that may not be the case, as defensive tackle Aaron Donald is a one man wrecking crew in the interior line for the Rams. Nonetheless Sunday's game  represents a major challenge for Ijalana, as he will likely be matched up one on one against the Rams' star defensive end Robert Quinn most of the day. Quinn has been slowed by injuries much of the 2016 season, but he is getting healthy at a bad time for the Jets. Quinn has had as many as 19 sacks in a season and is a two time Pro Bowl, one time All Pro defensive end.  If Quinn is fully healthy he will present a huge problem for Ijalana.

Aaron Donald will likely be double teamed in the interior all game. That will likely leave Ijalana with little help to cope with Quinn on the outside.  If Ijalana comes up big and contains Quinn the Jets should be able to give the quarterback enough time to throw on Sunday.  If, however, Quinn dominates his matchup with Ijalana and is in the Jets backfield all day, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, on a shaky knee with limited mobility, is likely to continue his barrage of interceptions and fumbles against the excellent Rams front four.  Turnovers will be huge in this game in which both offenses struggle to put up points.  Ijalana containing Quinn would go a long way towards limiting the pressure on Fitzpatrick and hopefully allowing him to avoid turnovers.

Sunday presents an interesting opportunity for Ben Ijalana.  He has waited patiently for five years to get his chance to start in the NFL.  Now he has it, and his first start at left tackle he will be asked to contain one of the better edge rushers in the NFL.   Ben Ijalana, this is your time in the spotlight.  The stage is set, time for you to deliver the goods.  This is no easy assignment, but there is no better way to prove your worth to the Jets and earn a long term deal and perhaps a starting position in 2017 and beyond for a team without a lot of great options at tackle. Let's hope you shine bright and shut down Quinn against the Rams on Sunday.