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Friday, July 19, 2013
Camp preview: Offensive line

By Rich Cimini

Jets
The Jets offensive line will work in some new pieces to protect Mark Sanchez this season.
Breaking down the Jets, position by position, as we head to training camp, which begins July 25:

Position: Offensive line

Projected starters: D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Brian Winters, Nick Mangold, Willie Colon, Austin Howard.

Projected reserves: Stephen Peterman, Vladimir Ducasse, Oday Aboushi, Dalton Freeman.

New faces: Winters, Colon, Peterman, Aboushi, Freeman, William Campbell.

The departed: Brandon Moore, Matt Slauson.

Player to watch: The Jets are very high on Winters, their third-round pick, and they expect him to push for a starting job. They're rebuilding at guard, so they might as well go with youth if the kid is up to the challenge. The one thing that could hurt his chances of being a Day 1 starter is that he has no experience at guard; he played left tackle at Kent State. But Winters is an intelligent player and he'll benefit from playing between two smart cookies, Mangold and Ferguson. If he doesn't start immediately, Winters figures to crack the lineup at some point.

Potential strength: Two of the top four players on the team reside on the offensive line -- Mangold and Ferguson, former GM Mike Tannenbaum's first two draft picks. They're the cornerstones. As long as Mangold and Ferguson are healthy, the line has a chance. Mangold has a lot of responsibility because he'll be breaking in two new guards. His play slipped a bit last season (he allowed three sacks, according to Pro Football Focus), so it'll be interesting to see if it was the start of a trend or just a blip on the screen. Howard was a pleasant surprise as a first-year starter, but he needs to become more consistent in pass protection (10 sacks).

Potential weakness: Chemistry could be an early issue. The last time the Jets went into a season with two new starters on the line was 2008, when Alan Faneca and Damien Woody joined the party. At that point, the line was a pillar of stability, but new GM John Idzik decided to shake it up, declining to re-sign Moore (still a productive player) and Slauson. The goal was to bring more athleticism to the unit. They accomplished that, but they sacrificed continuity.

Wild card: Colon could be one of the free-agent steals of the year -- or he could be an injury-plagued bust. With Colon, 30, it's all about staying healthy. The Steelers thought enough of him two years ago to sign him for $29 million over five years -- and everybody knows the Steelers don't spend foolishly. Since then, he has missed 20 games. When healthy last season, playing guard for the first time, Colon probably was the Steelers' best run blocker. On the downside, he committed 12 penalties. With his experience and run-blocking ability, Colon could be an asset to a line in transition. The Jets' fingers are crossed.