Commentary

Jets haven't got time for the Wayne

GM Tannenbaum needs to swing a deal to replace Hunter at right tackle -- now

Updated: August 19, 2012, 10:01 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

The New York Jets' right-tackle situation brings back memories of the wide-receiver situation in 2009. They broke camp with Chansi Stuckey as a starter by default, but after four games of watching Stuckey stuck to defenders, they made a bold move and traded for Braylon Edwards.

GM Mike Tannenbaum needs to pull a Braylon move at right tackle. The season begins in three weeks, and it begins with a daunting challenge -- Mario Williams, the Buffalo Bills' $100 million defensive stud. When Williams sees the cut-ups of Wayne Hunter against Jason Pierre-Paul, he might make like JPP, circa 2009, and reel off a dozen or so back flips.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
William Perlman/The Star-Ledger/US PresswireWayne Hunter (78) wasn't able to protect Mark Sanchez on Saturday.

Tannenbaum was uncharacteristically passive in the offseason, seemingly hoping the problem would fix itself. He took a flyer on Jeff Otah before training camp, and that didn't work out because of a failed physical. Now he has to revert to Trader Mike mode, because there's no way he can go into the season -- or deep into the season -- with Hunter as his right tackle.

On Saturday night, before becoming infamous for tossing teammate Prince Amukamara into a cold tub, Pierre-Paul basically did the same to Hunter, beating him for two sacks in the first half. Hunter also surrendered a half-sack to Justin Tuck, and only a phantom offsides call on Osi Umenyiora saved Hunter from the embarrassment of another sack by Tuck.

"I really have one more game, and all the practices, to get this figured out," said Hunter, standing up to waves of reporters after the game.

You'd like to give Hunter the benefit of the doubt because he missed the opener and a handful of practices with a stiff lower back, but this was the story last season, too, when he struggled through a personal nightmare.

Surprisingly, the Jets stuck with him, thinking new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, who made his bones as a line coach, could re-invent Hunter. It's not working. The coaches have talked up Austin Howard as a viable challenger, but if they really believed he was the answer, he would've worked with the starters against the Giants.

Now they have one more preseason game (the starters don't play the finale) to get it fixed. The Jets are the only team that hasn't scored a touchdown, having gone 24 possessions (a total of 108 plays) without reaching the end zone -- and the one of the reasons is the offensive line.

This is what it has come to: Santonio Holmes, considered Public Enemy No. 1 at the end of last season, is being hailed as a quasi-savior. Wait'll 'Tone gets back. He missed the first two games with a rib injury, no doubt restricting the offense, but this isn't Calvin Johnson we're talking about.

The spin from the team is that they didn't game-plan the first two opponents, and that Sparano purposely kept it basic, not wanting to give away any secrets. Of course, that doesn't preclude a team from, you know, scoring.

Sparano took the vanilla approach to the extreme, providing little help for Hunter. For the most part, the Jets stayed with a five-man protection -- no tight ends, no backs -- but they still couldn't prevent the Giants' four-man rush from getting to Mark Sanchez. His health should've superseded any pre-determined plan. They were lucky he didn't get hurt.

Presumably, Sparano would've made those adjustments if it had been a regular-season game. As Rex Ryan said, "It's hard to throw when you're flat on your back."

There were some positives on offense. Shonn Greene produced five runs of at least five yards, but the Jets couldn't develop any rhythm. And, of course, they went 0-for-3 in short-yardage situations, which made Ryan want to throw up.

Guard Matt Slauson said they found a couple of running plays that worked nicely against the Giants' front, claiming, "We could've run some plays all night, but you don't necessarily run what works, because you want to see everything in the preseason."

The Jets didn't run any Wildcat plays, so Sparano still has that bullet in his revolver. Unless it's the magic bullet, they'll still have to run a conventional offense and it will be chuck-and-duck unless they solidify right tackle.

Can Tannenbaum find an upgrade? It's a long shot. As one AFC personnel executive said Sunday, "Who's cutting a decent offensive tackle? They're a commodity."

The current free-agent market includes former Giant Kareem McKenzie and former Green Bay Packer Chad Clifton, who has drawn some interest from other teams. But Clifton is a left tackle, not right, with durability issues.

Maybe they place a call to the St. Louis Rams to ask about former No. 1 pick Jason Smith, who is riding the bench. He has been a bust, but he was the No. 2 overall pick in 2009, so there must be something there.

Tannenbaum prides himself on being a problem solver. He has a problem he helped create, and he needs to start solving.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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