Jets bench struggling Wayne Hunter

Updated: August 25, 2012, 7:53 AM ET
By Kieran Darcy | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets have a new starting right tackle.

Two days after saying Wayne Hunter would remain the starter in the team's third preseason game, coach Rex Ryan announced that Austin Howard will take Hunter's spot against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday night.

"The more I went back and looked at where we're at as a football team, and getting feedback from coaches, and knowing the history of Wayne's success that Wayne had basically as a sixth man, I've decided that that's the way we're gonna go," Ryan said. "I'm gonna put Wayne in that role, where really he excelled. And that's being a guy that basically fits at -- whether it's a tackle, guard, tight end, all that kind of stuff. So I'm gonna move Wayne back to that role.

"We're gonna give Austin Howard a shot to be with this first group. I thought he earned that right. He played extremely well against Cincinnati, did OK against the Giants, but really played well against Cincinnati, and this is what I wanna do. I'm gonna put him in that situation, and we'll see how he does this week."

Hunter, 31, has been the subject of heavy criticism after struggling last season, his first full year as a starter. He missed time this preseason with a back injury, and then gave up 2½ sacks against the Giants in the team's second preseason game on Saturday.

"I want to help this team any way I can. And right now it's not at right tackle," Hunter said. "I've had struggles -- everyone's seen them. It's just moving me back to a position where I excel, and did really well."

"Everyone knows, all of New York City knows, that I've been struggling -- last year, and the last game I didn't do much better. So I wasn't surprised. I was waiting for it, to be honest with you. I knew I was struggling, I knew everything was kind of going south for me, but at the same time I still wanted to help the team in any way possible. I love the Jets, I love this organization."

The Jets said Thursday they have no intention of trading Hunter. His 2012 salary of $2.45 million is guaranteed.

Howard, 25, was signed by the Jets off the Baltimore Ravens' practice squad last November. He has played in just four NFL regular-season games, all in 2010 for the Philadelphia Eagles, who signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Northern Iowa.

"I feel good. I feel fortunate for this opportunity," said Howard, who took all the first-team reps at right tackle during Thursday's practice. "It's a blessing. And it's just a matter of continuing to get better, and going out there and doing as I'm asked by the coaches."

"We trust coach's decision," quarterback Mark Sanchez said. "I've got faith in both of those guys. I know both of them can play well. I know Austin's really working hard. I know Wayne knows that swing-tackle position better than anybody, and he's comfortable in that position."

Ryan says he's "thinking we're OK" when asked if the team's in the market for a starting right tackle. And general manager Mike Tannenbaum, when asked if the team was in talks to acquire a right tackle, told ESPN's Sal Paolantonio in a text: "Nothing imminent. Looking at in house solutions."

Ryan, however, wouldn't commit to Howard being the opening day starter when the Jets play the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 9.

"In all fairness, you are always evaluating your team," Ryan said. "For me to sit here and say absolutely this is going to happen? If Jonathan Ogden called me up and said, 'Rex, I'd like to come back,' Jonathan Ogden is our starting right tackle. That would be a story."

Ogden was an 11-time Pro Bowl selection for Baltimore who retired after the 2007 season.

New York traded for former Carolina first-round draft pick Jeff Otah before training camp, but he failed his physical and was returned to the Panthers.

Also Thursday, Ryan said the Jets don't plan to use their Wildcat formation with Tim Tebow at all during the preseason. They have used Tebow only in a conventional-style offense so far in games, and as the personal punt protector on special teams. Ryan anticipates Sanchez playing into the third quarter against Carolina on Sunday night, with Tebow playing the rest of the way.

Information from ESPN's Sal Paolantonio and The Associated Press was used in this report.

Kieran Darcy is an ESPNNewYork.com staff writer. He joined ESPN in August 2000 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where he played four years of JV basketball.
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