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Palladino: Bye-Bye, Hunter; Jets May Have Answer In Howard

By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

It's hard to use the word impressive in most any talk about the Jets' preseason offense. But there is one exception.

Right tackle.

They obviously found the solution to that vexing problem Sunday night in the person of Austin Howard, a big guy who got his chance against the Panthers and made the most of it. And to show just how much they thought of Howard's performance, they didn't even bother demoting incumbent Wayne Hunter.

They traded him. Got rid of him. To the Rams, for St. Louis' own busted OT draft choice Jason Smith.

The way Howard played, there's no need for him to worry about Smith, like Hunter a former starter, resurrecting himself and taking his job away. Howard, it appears, could be the piece that brings it all together up front.

That other stuff, like the ongoing search for a first preseason touchdown, or Mark Sanchez' struggles with accuracy, or the breath-holding every time Tim Tebow brings his arm into a throwing position, may all be in the past now. As anyone who follows football knows, it all starts with the offensive front, and scoring and effectiveness come in direct proportion to the performance level of the line.

It only happens if all five guys are playing at optimum level.

They did that Sunday. And for 2 ½ quarters of that 17-12 loss, it wasn't "Turnstile" Hunter running the blocking on the right edge. It was Howard, a 333-pound bear of a journeyman who first handled Charles Johnson, the Panthers' sack leader from last season, and then good-looking second-year player Greg Hardy.

Did a good job, too. He didn't let up a sack, and when was the last time a Jets right tackle did that? Even better, he played every offensive down in the game, even with the second unit, plus six special teams snaps. He finished the evening with team-high 75 snaps, which according to the Jets' website, was 17 more snaps than the team's second-busiest player, TE Dedrick Epps.

That shows durability and endurance. Imagine combining those qualities with actual workmanship. No wonder Rex Ryan was glowing over him.

In the former Eagle, Ryan may just have found himself his right tackle. So he sent Hunter packing westward, understandably so. It was the only move to make, as the deposed starter was deemed unfit even for a backup role. Quite simply, Ryan had had his fill of watching defensive ends run past him in straight lines to the quarterback.

That hardly a cruel slap toward Hunter. He had his chance. He was given more than a fair shot to grow into the job. It just never happened, despite the coaching staff throwing statements of confidence (all unfounded, apparently) his way throughout the offseason. So it was time for the Jets to bid him farewell now that they have a better right tackle alternative in Howard.

The only real surprise was that they received a veteran in return. It's likely Smith will make a solid backup, at least.

As for Howard, he might do just fine. He's eager, modest, and a hard worker. And he just shut down one of the most expensive defensive ends in the league in Johnson. Give him some help in chipping fullback John Conner once in a while, and Ryan might just have himself a quality player there.

If Howard can indeed handle the job, that touchdown problem will go away. Keep Sanchez upright and he'll throw you a few TD passes. Block a little for the mobile Tebow, and that yet-to-be-unveiled Wildcat can produce points.

The ball, as they say, is in Howard's court now. But the feeling here is that the Jets have found their new right tackle.

For the old one, maybe the change of scenery will do him good.

Jets fans, do you think Howard is the answer? Be heard in the comments below...


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