Positionless football: This is the NY Jets’ best starting OL combo

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Mekhi Becton, NY Jets, OL, Offensive Line

The New York Jets need to play some positionless football to craft their best offensive line combination In their Wednesday joint practice with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the New York Jets offensive line sputtered through another much-maligned performance. Aaron Rodgers was consistently “sacked” or forced to throw the ball away. Granted, Laken Tomlinson and Alijah Vera-Tucker […]

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By: Michael Nania

The New York Jets need to play some positionless football to craft their best offensive line combination

In their Wednesday joint practice with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the New York Jets offensive line sputtered through another much-maligned performance. Aaron Rodgers was consistently “sacked” or forced to throw the ball away.

Granted, Laken Tomlinson and Alijah Vera-Tucker were sidelined, but still, the unit’s lack of progress is becoming a major concern. It is the lone dark cloud hanging over a franchise that is enjoying sunshine and rainbows in just about every other area.

This comes one day after Robert Saleh was shown chastising the Jets’ offensive line on the latest episode of Hard Knocks. The rant occurred following the Jets’ first joint practice with the Carolina Panthers last week. Saleh essentially stated that none of the team’s talent at the skill positions will matter “until the big boys up front change who the f*** we are.”

If the Jets want to solve their offensive line problems, they need to get creative. And they might not have to add any new players to pull it off. There are in-house solutions available – if they are willing to go outside of the box.

“Positionless basketball” is a term that has blown up in the NBA over the past decade. Simply put, it’s the concept of putting your best five players on the floor without giving much regard to positions. Teams do not care about filling five distinct roles anymore. Good basketball players are good basketball players.

And good offensive linemen are good offensive linemen.

The Jets must adopt this philosophy if they want to find the best possible combination for their starting offensive line.

In my opinion, the Jets’ best starting-five using their current players – assuming Mekhi Becton is not an option at right tackle – would be this:

  • LT: Mekhi Becton
  • LG: Laken Tomlinson
  • C: Connor McGovern
  • RG: Joe Tippmann
  • RT: Alijah Vera-Tucker

There are a couple of unique decisions here. Allow me to dive into my reasoning.

My primary philosophy behind this lineup is simple: I believe the strength of the OL’s weakest link is what matters most.

With this lineup, the Jets would place five starter-quality players on the field. It ensures they do not have to deal with a backup-quality weak link dragging the entire unit down; whether it’s Billy Turner/Max Mitchell at RT or Wes Schweitzer at RG.

Forcing backup-quality players into the starting lineup just to adhere to strict positional labels is a foolish idea for the Jets in their current predicament. In my proposed lineup, the Jets’ worst starter would still be someone who is good enough to be starting. There are no liabilities from a talent standpoint.

But, of course, I did propose for multiple players – Joe Tippmann and Alijah Vera-Tucker – to change from the position they’ve primarily been playing all offseason. There are risks that come with this, but I believe it is the right move for the team and that both players would be able to handle it.

Yes, I believe AVT is at his best at RG and would love to keep him there. But the Jets’ non-AVT options at right tackle are unplayable. Turner and Mitchell are the main culprits for all of the hoopla you are hearing about the Jets’ offensive line. Neither of these guys can be starting if the Jets are serious about competing.

So, while AVT is a better RG than RT, he carries more value to this team as a RT than as a RG. The drop-off from AVT to the next guy is much bigger at RT than RG.

If Becton were considered an option at RT, he’d be the easy solution there, but he does not seem to be in the mix at that position just yet. Becton has not taken a single snap at RT in team drills or the preseason. It seems like he is a strict LT at the moment, although Saleh said today that Becton has been lining up at RT in walkthroughs and may start taking some live reps at RT soon, so we shall see. For the sake of this article, though, I’m trying to find the best solution without Becton at RT.

In that case, the Jets should kick AVT to RT. It’s the easiest way to solve the position that is hurting them the most right now. I would expect AVT to be less productive here than he would be at RG, but, again, I believe the best five-man unit has to feature AVT at RT.

That leaves us with a hole at RG. The easy solution would be Schweitzer. But now you have another backup-quality player in your starting lineup. Is a Schweitzer-AVT duo on the right side really better than an AVT-Mitchell/Turner duo? I’m not so sure. Schweitzer is probably slightly better at RG than Mitchell/Turner are at RT, but not by much. Couple that with AVT’s drop-off, and I don’t see a huge difference.

That’s where Tippmann comes in – or possibly McGovern, too.

Moving either Tippmann or McGovern to RG would make it worthwhile to kick AVT outside. This would mean the player replacing AVT at RG is someone who actually has starter-quality talent, rather than Schweitzer, who is a backup. Tippmann is a second-round pick who’s been lighting up the preseason while McGovern was generally viewed as a league-average starting center over the past few years.

I believe both Tippmann and McGovern could be very good at guard. Both players have experience at that position and project well to a change because of their skill sets and predicaments.

Tippmann practiced at LG today with Tomlinson sidelined, and he played a little RG in college. As he irons out the mental aspects of the center position that could be tough for a rookie, he could ease in at guard with less mental stress.

Tippmann’s mobility from a guard alignment would be lethal on screens, and the agility he shows on outside-zone plays would be maximized at guard. In pass protection, Tippmann’s size and length should allow him to hold up in one-on-one situations against the stud pass-rushing 3-techniques he will face.

As for McGovern, he played RG in college and for the first two seasons of his NFL career. While it’s at center where he broke out in Denver to fetch a lucrative three-year, $27 million deal from the Jets, I believe McGovern’s previous three seasons showed that he might be better off at guard.

McGovern is a physically gifted athlete but it’s the mental aspects of the center position that seemed to be the main limitation in his game over his first three years with the Jets. Whether it’s stunts, blitzes, setting protections, or helping out his teammates, McGovern has been prone to baffling mental lapses in pass protection. This is likely the primary reason for his lack of demand in free agency this year.

So, McGovern also seems like a great fit for a move to guard. McGovern’s physical gifts can shine and his struggles with some of the mental responsibilities of the center position would be minimized.

While I listed McGovern as the center and Tippmann as the RG in my lineup proposal, I see the two players as interchangeable. The Jets can choose between Tippmann or McGovern as to who they’d prefer for each spot. They watch both players in practice every day, so they would be able to make a more educated decision on it than I can.

I’d lean toward McGovern being the favorite considering he’s the veteran and has already been taking most of the reps with Rodgers, but I could also see Tippmann playing center and McGovern moving to guard considering McGovern has far more guard experience than Tippmann and might be more prepared for a switch.

That’s up to the team. Either way, the bottom line is that deploying both McGovern and Tippmann in the starting lineup is the best way to craft a balanced five-man unit. To me, this is a far better option than A) moving AVT to RT but maintaining the weak-link problem by replacing AVT at RG with Schweitzer or B) rolling with a liability at RT because you want to pigeonhole AVT at RG.

The Jets’ goal should be to make sure their weakest link is as strong as possible. Put the five most talented players out there. They do not have to put up with Turner, Mitchell, or Schweitzer.

AVT’s versatility is a gift. Maximize it. He can easily solve the chronic RT problem. From there, it is certainly a minor leap of faith to trust either McGovern or Tippmann with a switch to guard, but it’s nothing either player is incapable of – and, again, it beats the alternative of starting a backup in front of Aaron Rodgers.

The Jets have invested a lot of capital into this offensive line. They have five players worthy of starting spots in Becton, Tomlinson, McGovern, Tippmann, and AVT. Start them all.

Yes, some of them would have to move from their best possible position, but these are talented guys who have the versatility to move around. Take advantage of that. Don’t sacrifice the greater good of the unit in favor of ensuring the most comfortable situation for each individual.

Finally, let’s address my decision to choose Becton over Duane Brown at LT.

Despite persisting concerns about his durability, Becton continues to be the Jets’ most impressive tackle by a longshot, and probably their most impressive lineman outside of AVT and Tippmann. While imperfect, he seems to be playing pretty well, both in his preseason appearances and in practice.

Nobody knows whether Becton can last a full season. The odds do not seem great. But the Jets might as well try to find out. His ceiling is infinitely higher than that of a 38-year-old Brown. Put him out there and let him give it a shot. Don’t let his potential waste away on the bench.

Not to mention, Becton has at least been out there learning his new offense and getting used to his new quarterback. Brown has not been on the field all offseason. Sure, he’s an extremely seasoned veteran who should pick things up easily, but there is certainly a degree of risk to starting a LT in Week 1 who has never practiced with his current QB or in his current offensive scheme (to this point – we’ll see if he can get back soon).

Plus, if Becton’s durability is such a concern, he isn’t the player you want as your primary backup tackle, anyway. Brown is a better option to fall back on if Becton gets hurt than vice versa.

This is especially true with Brown still recovering from shoulder surgery. He hasn’t even returned to practice yet. Giving Brown as much time to recover as possible would be the smartest move. This way, in the event Becton gets injured at some point during the season, Brown will have had extra time to heal and fully prepare himself to stay healthy for however long the Jets need him.

If you force Brown out there too quickly after he returns, his injury risk will be heightened early in the season. Now, if Brown gets hurt early, you’re already one Becton injury away from being in complete panic mode at LT. Instead of risking this scenario, I would much prefer to see the Jets try to squeeze everything they can out of Becton while giving Brown maximum time to heal up behind him.

So, there you have it. In my view, this is the best lineup the Jets can roll out against the Buffalo Bills in Week 1:

  • LT: Mekhi Becton
  • LG: Laken Tomlinson
  • C: Connor McGovern/Joe Tippmann
  • RG: Connor McGovern/Joe Tippmann
  • RT: Alijah Vera-Tucker

It seems like everyone has a different take on this. What is your ideal starting five for the Jets offensive line?

Next Article: Grading every rep from NY Jets’ first-team OL vs. Panthers 

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