FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers has been the primary attraction at New York Jets camp this summer.
Fans and media — and the “Hard Knocks” film crew — have flocked to the team’s facility during the past month to watch the four-time NFL MVP work with his new wide receivers, tight ends and running backs. And things have gone rather smoothly.
Except for the big boys up front.
The Jets’ offensive line has struggled with consistency and injuries during camp, to the point it’s still mostly uncertain who’ll be blocking in front of Rodgers when the regular season kicks off against Buffalo on Sept. 11 in front of a national audience.
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“It’s a work in progress,” Rodgers said this week.
That’s putting it lightly.
Heading into the Jets’ third preseason game Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, there are question marks at almost every spot on the offensive line.
“It’s just becoming a unit,” coach Robert Saleh said. “I don’t think anyone in here is panicked.”
But Saleh was shown on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” after the team’s joint practice with the Carolina Panthers last week expressing frustration with the up-and-mostly down play of the unit that also struggled mightily last season.
“We’re going to continue to work to find our best five,” Saleh said. “It would have been great to have it done by the end of last week, but it’s not the case and we’re just going to keep working until we find the best five.”
During the team’s joint practice Wednesday with the Buccaneers, Rodgers would have been sacked at least six times and faced constant pressure. Still, he insisted his concern about the offensive line is “pretty low.”
He pointed out it’s still only mid-August. So there’s time — but not a lot.
“I was thinking maybe we’d start to figure some stuff out,” Rodgers said. “Obviously, it hasn’t happened yet. There are jobs up for grabs, so that’s the beauty of camp, but also the struggle. In talking with a couple of guys, we just need some continuity, I think at some point, so guys can feel comfortable playing together.
“Maybe that’s the end of next week, maybe it’s the week that we have in between the season and the last preseason game, but jobs are up for grabs.”
Laken Tomlinson would appear to have the gig at left guard for the second straight year, but he has missed a few days with a leg ailment.
Connor McGovern seems to have a slight edge over rookie Joe Tippmann and vet Wes Schweitzer at center — but that’s still a competition.
Alijah Vera-Tucker is slated in at right guard, but he’s dealing with an ankle injury that has sidelined him a few practices. There has also been talk he could slide over to one of the tackle spots if needed because of his versatility.
Duane Brown is expected to be the left tackle, but the 37-year-old O-lineman remains on the physically unable to perform list while continuing to recover from offseason shoulder surgery.
“He’s getting a lot closer,” Saleh said.
Then, there’s right tackle, where Max Mitchell, Billy Turner and others have worked this summer. Even Mekhi Becton, who has been mostly a left tackle but missed most of the last two seasons with knee injuries, has started to see some snaps there. And Becton, who’s still building confidence in his surgically repaired right knee, could ultimately be the answer there.
“We’re not necessarily telling him the job’s his,” offensive line coach Keith Carter said, “but we are definitely encouraging him like, ‘Hey, man, let’s go. When you’re ready to put the pedal to the metal, man, go compete.’”
Again, no panic yet. But Rodgers and the Jets want to know as soon as possible who the starters will be.
While New York has become a fashionable Super Bowl pick for some, the Jets’ offensive line will play a big factor in whether that even comes close to being a possibility.
“I don’t get concerned heavily about things that I don’t have a huge role in yet,” Rodgers said. “Now that might change at some point. I might say, ‘Hey, I need the five who are going to be in there, to be in there with me for a solid week.’
“But I don’t think we’re at that point yet because I don’t think there’s five guys that have earned those spots.”