The New York Jets have finally put an end to the saga and controversy surrounding offensive tackle Wayne Hunter. Gang Green shipped Hunter to the St. Louis Rams, reuniting him with former Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. The trade sends offensive tackle Jason Smith, a former second overall pick in the 2009 draft, to New York. Smith and Hunter have fallen on hard times and will look to put aside their past to focus on the future.
Hunter played his way out of the starting job in preseason. His play began to slip late in 2011 and caused an on the field verbal confrontation with Santonio Holmes in Gang Green's regular season finale against the Miami Dolphins. Since then, Hunter has never regained his form and admitted that his confidence was broken early this preseason.
Recently, Hunter was benched in favor of Austin Howard at right tackle. Given his new role, Howard flourished and gave Jets fans a new hope in what has become a Shakespearean drama at offensive line.
In just his first start, Howard made an impact with the team. He did not allow any sacks against either Sanchez or Tebow and hardly ever was the cause of pressure on either quarterback. Howard was pitted against Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson, widely considered to be the best player at his position on the Panthers roster. Alone in isolation coverage, Howard showed great lateral quickness and herculean strength which kept the Panthers defender at bay.
"I feel that we're going to be good," said Howard of his offensive line. "We're getting better every day. It's just going to progress."
Howard also received help from his teammates. On the first drive, fullback John Conner blasted Charles Johnson in support of Howard. Later in the game, Howard was used in tandem with Brandon Moore to block Antwan Applewhite.
"I didn't hear the coaches yelling at him, so he must have done pretty good," quipped Moore.
Despite the great play by Howard, the Jets failed for the third game in a row to reach the end zone. Still, Rex Ryan won't allow his players to get discouraged. Howard feels it will only be a matter of time before the offense starts to click and they will be firing on all cylinders.
"We want to win every game," declared Howard. "Like I said, we're focusing on getting better for the season. Right now, it's preseason. We won't win every game. We're just going to try to continue to build on what we have and continue to get better."