Brian Winters struggled as a rookie -- and that's putting it kindly. He allowed a league-high 10 sacks for guards and ranked 77th out of 81 guards in the league, according to ProFootballFocus. What people forget is that Winters, a tackle in college, was new to the position and missed most of training camp with an ankle injury.
That is all in the past. Now that he has experience as an interior lineman, Winters is looking forward to big things this season. He expects "to have an oustanding year," he said Wednesday after the New York Jets' next-to-last offseason team activity practice. "I want to be a guy they can rely on, be a reliable source and just have a dominating year."
The Jets remain high on Winters, whom they drafted in the third round. He probably would have been a Week 1 starter last season, but the injury set him back, forcing them to play Vladimir Ducasse at left guard for the first four games. Winters was the weak link in a veteran line, but much like fellow rookies Geno Smith and Dee Milliner, he improved over the final few games.
"There were some ups and downs, but it was a big learning experience for me," Winters said. "I really enjoyed it, the opportunity to play. As the season went on, I got better and better each game. It's going to continue to improve and it's going to go up from here."
It's a big change, going from tackle to guard. You see players make that transition later in their careers, when they no longer have the quickness and agility to block speed rushers on the edge. But at least those guys have experience in the pro game, allowing for a relatively seamless slide inside. Winters had no experience to fall back on, quickly learning about life in the proverbial phone booth.
"The fight is right at your face," Winters said.
Things develop quickly on the inside, and the guys you're blocking are a lot bigger than on the edge. There is a cerebral aspect to it as well. Guards must be aware of slide-protection schemes and where their help is coming from. Winters expects to be better equipped to handle the nuances than he did as a wide-eyed rookie.
On Wednesday, the media saw Winters for the first time at right guard. With starter Willie Colon (knee/biceps) sidelined until training camp, the Jets have been trying different people at the position. The first shot went to Oday Aboushi. That apparently didn't go too well. This week, he was moved to left guard, where his play has picked up, according to coach Rex Ryan.
This is contingency planning by the Jets, and that is smart. If Colon goes down again -- let's face it, his durability is an issue -- they could move Winters to right guard, with Aboushi coming off the bench at left guard. There are no experienced backups on the bench, and that is a concern. No matter how it shakes out, Winters will be in the lineup, looking for redemption.