As the New York Jets continue to seek clarity on the offensive line, an intriguing battle for snaps has emerged between two veterans.
Addressing the offensive line is the football equivalent of having a salad: no one wants to do it.
Everyone would rather have a tasty cheeseburger with a side of fries, downing it with a cold beverage…i.e. add a flashy skill player, one whose antics can become a staple in the pregame hype videos played on stadium videoboards. But, at the end of the day, the consumer knows deep down that adding a blocker or keeping up on their fruits and vegetables will lead to its long-term survival and prosperity.
The New York Jets indulged themselves for far too long. Prior to taking Mekhi Becton with the 11th overall choice of the 2020 draft…passing on several elite receiving talents…they had gone nearly a decade without choosing an offensive lineman within the first 64 picks (dating back to second-round tackle Vlad Ducasse in 2010). While the first round was mostly dedicated to defensive washouts (Kyle Wilson, Quinton Coples, Dee Milliner, Darron Lee), some of their second round choices saw them miss out on future NFL protection staples. Cody Whitehair went to Chicago seven picks pick after the infamous Christian Hackenberg selection in 2016. Aerial busts Stephen Hill and Devin Smith were respectively chosen ahead of Kelechi Osemele and Rob Havenstein.
The Joe Douglas era has seen the general manager attempt to atone for that negligence. Even if his moves haven’t fully panned out (i.e. convincing Ryan Kalil out of retirement, trading for Alex Lewis), the mere action was refreshing from a New York standpoint. Becton’s breakout, a rare silver lining of the woebegone 2020 campaign, was perhaps the first example of Douglas’ blocking blueprint yielding visible, on-field results.
“You guys know how I feel about the offensive line: it’s hard to have a good team without one,” Douglas said of the line during the 2020 Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, per Ralph Vacchiano of SNY. Few would know of the importance of winning a good trench battle better than Douglas, a two-time all-state blocker at Lee-Davis (now Mechanicsville) High School in Virginia before embarking on a lengthy college career at Richmond.
Jets offensive line needs help. New GM Joe Douglas is just the man to fix it. Eagles had one of the strongest OL in the the NFL. He's also played the position as a four year starter at Tackle for University of Richmond. pic.twitter.com/KepMhlrxe7
— JETS Do It (@do_jets) July 23, 2019
At the time of those comments, the Jets were looking to protect Sam Darnold as he entered his third year as the team’s franchise quarterback. Now, they’re fortifying their wall as the professional debut of last spring’s second overall pick Zach Wilson looms. Bolstering the line could also help awaken a run game that hasn’t finished in the NFL’s upper half since 2016.
The Jets continued their renovations on the blindside when they traded up with Minnesota to take guard Alijah Vera-Tucker out of USC with the 14th choice. Vera-Tucker has dealt with a pectoral issue that will keep him out of Saturday’s preseason opener against the New York Giants (7:30 p.m. ET, WNBC), but should be ready for the Jets’ visit to Green Bay next week.
In the meantime, the right side of the unit faces an intriguing battle, one that has only intensified with the release of the Jets’ first depth chart earlier this week. While the opening positions are mostly solidified, one top slot stood out: not one, but two names resided in the right tackle’s role: George Fant and Morgan Moses.
It’s a battle of depth, a war of experience, one that serves as a strong monument to Douglas’ goals in the trenches.
Some assumed that Moses would automatically gain primary right tackle duties when he joined the as a late signing in July. The third-round pick from the 2014 draft (chosen 17 picks after the Jets took star-crossed tight end Jace Amaro out of Texas Tech) had established himself as one of the more reliable outside blockers during a seven-year career in Washington. He is a blocker who has stayed healthy, someone who had made himself a staple (he had been in the team’s starting lineup in each of the last 96 games) on a playoff team (Washington ended a four-year playoff drought with an NFC East division title last season). Such consistency, at least that of a veteran variety, hadn’t been seen in New York since D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold saw their final snaps.
Even though they are competing for the same job, George Fant and Morgan Moses working with each other here to help each other. pic.twitter.com/s4FSnhtetX
— Dan Leberfeld (@jetswhispers) August 11, 2021
Yet, he wasn’t going into Florham Park assuming anything and that feeling hasn’t subsided as game day approaches. In fact, he welcomes and has appreciated the ongoing battle between him and Fant.
“Competition is everything for me,” Moses said this week, per Dennis Waszak of the Associated Press. “Nothing is given. Everything that I’ve worked for in this league since I’ve been in the league, I’ve earned. And that’s how I want it to be. I feel like if things are given to you, we take it lightly. I’m here to get myself better and try to make this team and make the offensive line better.”
Training camp has served as a solid reintroduction for Fant, who was part of Douglas’ blocking splurge during the 2020 offseason. The group endured an up-and-down endeavor as a whole but Fant showed he had lasting power in New York. His teammates voted him an offensive captain and appeared on 829 snaps with the group.
The Jets could’ve saved about $7 million if Fant was released this offseason, but they kept him aboard even with Moses in tow. His self-confidence was apparent in a reflection of the 2020 season published by team reporter Ethan Greenberg.
“I proved to myself and I feel like I proved to everybody else that I deserve to be in the league, (that I) deserve to be a starter in this league, and that I could play at a high level consistently,” Fant said in Greenberg’s report. “There are more things I want to work on, but I feel like that’s the number one thing. I needed that for myself, the confidence in myself and hopefully put that confidence in the team as well.”
In team notes, head coach Robert Saleh said that starters would play “a quarter, couple series” in Saturday’s metropolitan showdown. Right tackle reps will likely be split between Moses and Fant. Saleh said after Thursday’s practice that their matchup, equally sprinkled with intensity and professionalism, has been one of the most enjoyable parts of his first metropolitan training camp.
“It’s competitive, they’re two professionals,” Saleh said in further notes from the Jets. “I’m actually enjoying the fact that those two talk all the time about technique and they’re helping one another out, I think it’s pretty cool. They exemplify professionalism and it’s been fun to watch.”
The competitive respect between Fant and Moses has up with Saleh’s theme of respect, one that shockingly drew ire and annoyance on Fox Sports’ Speak For Yourself. The blockers’ battle has served as a perfect counterargument to the idea that the Jets have “no fire”, as analyst and former NFL defensive lineman Marcellus Wiley declared.
Instead, the two are making each other better for not only Saturday’s exhibition opener, but for a crucial 2021 season as a whole. Fant, signed one for one more season after 2021 while Moses is on a one-year deal, knows that the competition can also make him a better blocker for the future. If it makes him better immediately, the Jets’ new era of offense, headlined by youngsters like Wilson, Elijah Moore, and Michael Carter, can get off to a strong start, one full of confidence for the road ahead.
“It’s a great opportunity to add depth to the team,” Fant said at the onset of training camp, per video provided by the Jets. “He’s a really good player, a great veteran to add to our room…That’s what this game’s all about. That’s what the NFL’s all about: you’re competing at all times.”
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags