|ESPN.com: NFL||[Print without images]|
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets will head to the Black Hole this weekend with a huge hole in the middle of their offensive line.
All-Pro center Nick Mangold underwent an MRI exam Monday morning, which revealed a high-ankle sprain, coach Rex Ryan confirmed. Out of respect for Mangold, who told the coaches he wants to play, Ryan refused to rule him out for Sunday in Oakland. But the Jets' coach acknowledged: "He's very iffy. I don't think it looks very good as far as him playing."
The Jets probably will make it official before leaving Friday for the West Coast.
Mangold is expected to miss at least two games, according to a source. The team is bracing for the possibility he could miss up to a month, another source said.
For the first time since Jan. 1, 2006, the Jets will play a game without Mangold at center. He has started 82 consecutive games, anchoring one of the best offensive lines in the league. With backup Rob Turner (broken leg) expected to miss several more weeks -- an injury from the preseason -- the Jets will turn to rookie Colin Baxter.
Baxter replaced Mangold late in the first quarter of Sunday's 32-3 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, and he wound up logging 42 plays -- his first NFL action. Baxter, whom the Jets acquired on waivers Sept. 4 from the San Diego Chargers, received a positive review from Ryan. He made only two mental errors and was guilty of one early snap, Ryan said.
But Mangold is widely regarded as the best center in the NFL, a three-time Pro Bowler -- the glue to the Jets' line. On Sunday, their running game petered out when he got hurt, which occurred when linebacker Daryl Smith rolled up the back of his right leg. Mangold will be missed, especially with their upcoming schedule (three straight road games) and the quality of nose tackles looming ahead.
After the hostile environment of Oakland, the Jets will face Haloti Ngata (Baltimore Ravens) and Vince Wilfork (New England Patriots) in back-to-back weeks.
Ryan said they have no plans to sign a veteran center, but if Baxter is overwhelmed in Oakland, the Jets probably will have a change of heart. They'd likely reach out to free agent Shaun O'Hara, formerly of the New York Giants.
"We'll find ways to get it done," Ryan said. "It's just what we do. That's the New York Jets. When you have that decal on your helmet, you have to step in and do the job."
The Jets have lost star players under Ryan -- nose tackle Kris Jenkins, in 2009 and 2010 -- but they always had a veteran or high draft pick ready to step in. Baxter was an undrafted free agent out of Arizona, signed by the Chargers.
During the lockout, Baxter passed the time by digging gravel and renovating his in-laws' backward in Scottsdale, Ariz. Now, instead of digging holes, he has to fill one.
Until Sunday, he'd never taken a snap from quarterback Mark Sanchez.
"Not until the two we had on the sideline," said Baxter, alluding to the quickie warm-up snaps that occurred when Mangold was injured.
This is going to be a taxing week for Baxter, who will spend extra time with line coach Bill Callahan. Players said they expect the offensive-line meetings will be more deliberate than usual, with Callahan explaining details that never had to be spelled out before because it was such an experienced group.
"We've all been playing with Nick for so long now, everything is easy," left guard Matt Slauson said. "Everybody knows exactly how his feet are going to go and how our feet are going to go. Colin has to step in and get all of that."
The line performed inconsistently before Mangold's injury, with career backup Wayne Hunter getting acclimated as the new right tackle. The change at center won't help matters, although they're facing an Oakland defense that struggled in a 38-35 loss to the Buffalo Bills. The Raiders allowed 8.7 yards per carry.
"I think Baxter did a great job (against the Jaguars), considering he was thrown in there," Ryan said. "I'm sure he was a little nervous. He was thrown to the wolves, but he played three quarters of the game ... I was proud of the way he jumped in there."
Baxter, who looks like a biker with his shoulder-length hair, didn't seem bothered by the sudden promotion and increased attention. Asked if he did anything differently Monday morning, knowing his professional life was about to change, he shook his head, no.
"I just came in and watched film," he said. "The biggest difference was that I was actually in the film."Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com.