Jets OL needs another makeover in '08

The Jets offensive line, the unit which team brass dedicated the first round of the 2006 draft to fix, needs to be fixed again.

Earlier this season I didn't expect, considering how terribly the Jets defense was playing, the offensive line to eventually be exposed as the weakest link on a weak team. But the performance against the Titans Dec. 23 confirmed it.

QB Chad Pennington was sacked a career-high six times under relentless pressure and the Jets running game was a non-factor. You read that right. Pennington, who makes quick decisions with the football, had never been sacked so many times in a single game during his eight year career.

The woeful performance vs. the Titans can be partly blamed on head coach Eric Mangini's poor decision to audition untested linemen against one of the league's best pass rushes. The line has had trouble all season long communicating before the snap to pick up blitzes (do you think Nick Mangold and D'Brickashaw Ferguson miss the brainy Pete Kendall?). That shortcoming was made worse in Tennessee by the rotation of inexperienced players.

Clint Oldenburg and Robert Turner were overwhelmed and understandably so. They deserve only part of the blame. Tackles Anthony Clement and D'Brickashaw Ferguson were physically beaten several times. While Clement, in his 10th season and 31 years old, doesn't figure in the Jets long-term future, Ferguson certainly does. He's not going anywhere.

"Brick" is simply a mediocre player. He may never become a rock which tackles selected fourth overall are supposed to be. Mangini disagrees.

"I've actually thought that Brick has made improvements throughout the course of the season," said Mangini. "One of the things I've liked with Brick is that he's changing up the way that he approaches the different pass rushers. It's very specific to that pass rusher. It's his ability to sometimes set a little bit lighter and a little bit deeper. Sometimes you want to quick¬set the guy so that he doesn't know what you're going to do."

How often has Ferguson dominated a top pass rusher? He gets dominated more than he dominates. Coach can spin it any way he wishes, but too many sacks and big hits have come from the quarterback's blind side.

Center Nick Mangold and G Brandon Moore are solid players, but as a unit the Jets offensive line is, on its best day, mediocre.

For weeks I had been somewhat befuddled by the offense's lack of production. No one predicted the Jets to score 30 points per game, but this? One touchdown per week?

The reason was right there before my eyes. The Jets offensive line cannot dominate opponents. It can't take over a game by consistently pushing back defensive fronts for Thomas Jones and providing air-tight pass protection. The Jets' offense has several holes, but the unit's inability to win big at the line of scrimmage may be the most critical reason why, to put it simply, the Jets can't dictate the terms to defenses.

So what should team brass do about it? GM Mike Tannenbaum and Mangini will likely have a top-5 pick in the draft. Considering they've already invested first-rounders in Ferguson and Mangold, it's unlikely they will use that pick on another lineman.

However, they may find good linemen in the late draft rounds. They may already have an answer among Oldenburg, Montgomery, or Robert Turner. No matter what course is taken, the Jets cannot bring back the same five. At minimum they need a new LG and RT.

The obsessive focus since training camp on Pennington and Kellen Clemens may have obscured in the minds of many fans the more important reason the Jets offense can't score. No team can take it to the next level without good blocking.

Let's return to the Titans game. The Jets took a field goal off the board for a chance to score a touchdown. Before Pennington's ensuing interception by LB Keith Bulluck, the Jets tried to run the ball on both 1st and 2nd downs. Both plays were stuffed.

Neither Pennington nor Clemens will excel in repeated 3rd-and-long situations or use play-action effectively when the running game isn't a factor. You want to see Clemens throw deep? First he'll need time to drop back seven steps.

Regardless of who starts at QB in '08, the Jets need to significantly improve the unit which will line up in front of him.

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