Line in Flux
The New York Football Jets 2016 offseason brought some changes on both sides of the ball for a team that just missed the playoffs finishing 10-6 in 2015. Offensively, the team finished 10th in Total Offense and 11th in Points Per Game a season ago. Amidst their highest offensive output since 2010, the Offensive Line play was poor, ranked 26th overall by Pro Football Focus’s end of year ranking with one of the oldest units in the league, averaging 28.2 years old per lineman.
As training camp is well under way out at the team’s practice facility out in Florham park, lets look at the state of this offensive line heading into the 2016 season.
With the Offensive Line set to be another year old in 2016, GM Mike Maccagnan and his staff looked to bring in somewhat of youth movement to help this aging unit.
That all changed though as prior to the draft, on April 8th, former Pro-Bowl LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson announced he was retiring after a 10-year career with the team. The former Jets first round pick (4th overall) in 2006 draft, Ferguson was a staple at the Left Tackle position for the team, as he did not miss a game, playing in all 160 games for the Jets over the last 10 seasons.
With Ferguson retiring, all it took was two days for Maccagnan and his staff to find Ferguson’s replacement. The Jets reached a deal with the Denver Broncos for the Former 4-Time Pro Bowl LT Ryan Clady and a 2016 7th Round Pick for the Jets 2016 Fifth Round Pick.
The former Pro-Bowler is coming off sitting out the entire 2015 season after suffering a Torn ACL in May 2015 during OTA’s. Cleared Medically to play since April, Clady has been a regular in the team’s OTAs and projects to be the starter at Left Tackle on opening day against the Bengals as he enters his age-30 season. Clady is looking to re-establish himself as one of the Best Left Tackle’s in the league and hopes to improve an offensive line that was clearly lacking in 2015, ranked 22nd in pass protection and 25th in run protection according to Pro Football Focus.
Heading across the field to the Right Tackle position is where a lot of questions still remain unanswered.
The incumbent, RT Breno Giacomini is heading into his second season with the team, but a back injury during offseason OTA’s currently has him on the Active/PUP List. Giacomini’s injury status is week to week at this point. After such a down season in 2015, Giacomini was not guaranteed the starter’s post as the Jets looked fill the need at right tackle from within during training camp.
Currently on their roster (as of August 17th), 6th-year Tackle out of Villanova Ben Ijalana who was slated to be Clady’s backup prior to Giacomini’s injury, 3rd-year LT out of Nebraska Brent Qvale who was on the practice squad in 2014 before making the team in 2015, and 2nd-year G out Texas A&M Jarvis Harrison who was on the practice squad in 2015, before resigning with the Jets this offseason.
As training camp progresses, Ijalana has stood out from the rest both in experience and in play moving across the field from Left Tackle to Right Tackle. Originally drafted in the Second Round (49th Overall) by the Colts in 2011, after they traded up to get him, he suffered a torn ACL his rookie season and a knee injury prior to his second season, before he was cut. Once believed to be injury-prone, it is not Ijalana’s health that has kept him from the field, but instead Ferguson’s consistent play. Ijalana had only had seen 1 offensive snap in his 3 seasons with the Jets so far.
Entering this season at the Age of 27, look for Ijalana to really push for Giacomini for that starting spot to open the season. With Giacomini’s health still up in the air and not improving over the last month, Ijalana currently sits atop the team’s depth chart at the position. Ijalana looks to use the lesson’s learned from working behind such a professional in Ferguson, day in day out, to make something of his career that seemed all, but derailed 4 seasons ago.
Rounding out the rest of the offensive line are three returning starters in LG James Carpenter, Center Nick Mangold, and RG Brian Winters.
Carpenter was the highest rated of the group especially for his run blocking in 2015 after coming over from the Seattle Seahawks prior to last season. Look for Carpenter success to continue as he also enter his age-27 season.
The staple of this offensive line has been Center Nick Mangold, since the day he was drafted in 2006. Mangold has gone on to have 7 Pro-Bowl seasons and be one of the best centers in football over the last decade. Amidst some of his past accomplishments, Mangold’s play in 2015 declined drastically from the season before especially in run blocking. Entering his 11th season in the league, amidst his declining play, Mangold’s blocking calls are crucial to any success the Jets look to have on offense in 2016. Look for Mangold to have somewhat of career renaissance this season with another training camp together with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Right Guard Brian Winters, is coming off a career year after starting 10 games last season. Winters looked towards the off-season to continue to improve under Chan Gailey’s offense and is all but locked in as the starter at the Right Guard position for the Jets in 2016.
Things may change after roster cuts are made, but this Jets Offensive Line has a chance to be slightly above average if they can replicate their near clean bill of health that their aging offensive line had last season with 3 of their 5 having started and played in every game and there were only a combined 7 missed starts as a unit in 2015.
The average age of this unit is about the same as a year ago at 28 years old when the Jets open at home against the Bengals, but it is their depth which is most worrisome.
Looking at the backups across the board were as follows;
At Left Tackle is T Brandon Shell, 2016 5th Round pick out of South Carolina slated to back up Ryan Clady.
At Left Guard it is G Dakota Dozier, an Undrafted free agent G out of Furman behind James Carpenter.
At Center it is either 3rd-year Guard out of Vanderbilt Wesley Johnson who was on the practice squad in 2015 or 2016 Undrafted Free Agent Center in Kyle Friend battling it out for the spot behind Nick Mangold.
On the right side of this line, the depth is even poorer.
At Right Guard, 2015 Chargers Practice Squad Player in G Craig Watts, who was an Undrafted Free Agent out of West Texas A&M in 2014, is backing up Winters who is entering his first season as a full-time starter at Right Guard.
Then at Right Tackle, which was the weakest part of this porous offensive line a year ago, is a healthy Brent Qvale, former 2015 practice squad player and a potentially injured RT in Breno Giacomini as the backups for the inexperienced potential starter in Ben Ijalana.
If this unit doesn’t replicate the level of health they had in 2015 for this season though, this offense is going nowhere fast. But, that could change if the GM Maccagnan and his staff seek outside help, especially for depth, before the season opens in September.