Jets' Offensive Line a Work in Progress
A great quarterback like Brett Favre can bring your team into the playoffs and more. Thomas Jones is a steady, if unspectacular, 1,000-yard running back. Wideouts Jerricho Cotchery and Laveraneus Coles both can produce big plays. But without a strong offensive line, the machine doesn't move forward.
That's why Jets' general manager Mike Tannenbaum addressed the position during the offseason and changed the entire outlook of an underachieving area. Signing the likes of Alan Faneca - the top player on the open market - and Damien Woody brought veteran leadership and a newfound sense of confidence to an offense that was in dire need of a shot in the arm.
In the season opening 20-14 win at Miami, the Jets rushed for 112 yards as a team 101 for Jones, which included the eventual game-winning 6-yard touchdown run. "It feels good as an offensive line," said guard Brandon Moore. "Thomas breaks his arm tackles, makes a cut here or runs over somebody there and you're getting positive yards."
Former first round draft pick D'Brickashaw Ferguson is expected to benefit the most after Jones with the additions around him. The veteran Faneca will line up between the two youngest members, Ferguson and center Nick Mangold. "I think he has made tremendous strides," Jets head coach Eric Mangini said about his left tackle. "He won the offseason award for his strength and conditioning group. He was in the weight room early after the season.
"Those veteran guys that we have there with Brandon (Moore), Alan (Faneca) and Damien (Woody), it always helps to have guys like that with younger guys."
A week later in the 19-10 home loss to New England, the unit was criticized for not only being unable to open holes (three straight running plays from inside the 5-yard line; Jets had to settle for a field goal), but shoddy pass protection, as well. Although they only gave up two sacks in the game, Favre was rushed on numerous throws and took a 20-yard loss in the fourth quarter when Adalius Thomas pulled him and Leon Washington down simultaneously.
"Their front seven is as good as anyone's in football," said Favre.
Mangini's confidence in the five up front dictated the playbook. "We were at about six yards per carry at that point," he said, referring to the Patriots' second quarter goal-line stand. "I believe in our offensive line. I believe in our running backs. I believe we can get tough yards. I don't question them or our ability to do that in the future."
Controlling the line of scrimmage is something not lost of the men paid to do the job. "We ought to be able to punch it in. We didn't get it done," Woody, the guard/center turned tackle, said of the first-and-goal situation. Faneca added, "I am an offensive lineman. We want to pound it in."
Although Woody said that the line was "jelling" and that "everything is coming along," it is something that may take some time, especially with the late addition of Favre in August. They all need to learn each other's ways and the five should be working together like fingers on a hand. Learning a new system - or even a position in Woody's case - will not happen overnight.
No one said life in the trenches would be easy.