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Wayne Hunter looms as weak spot for New York Jets


NFL Total Access" continues with its "32 teams in 32 days" series. We decided to score some brownie points by writing an accompanying post each night. We'll focus on one goal that each team needs to accomplish before Week 1.

Heading into the NFL draft, many considered it a foregone conclusion the New York Jets would invest in an early pick to push or replace Wayne Hunter, the right tackle who can conceivably change his name to The Beleaguered Wayne Hunter at this point.

But as each round ticked by, no Hunter Slayer emerged. The Jets waited 203 picks before landing Baylor guard Robert T. Griffin, a raw prospect who won't provide a push at this time.

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Rex Ryan once called Hunter "the best backup tackle in the league," but his transition to the starting lineup suggests "backup tackle" could be his ceiling. He gave up 8.5 sacks and 11 penalties, along with 32 QB hits, numbers that still make Mark Sanchez sore.

Hunter was emblematic of the struggles of the Jets' line. According to ESPN's Rich Cimini, the Jets' pass protection fell from allowing one sack for every 19.8 dropbacks to allowing one for every 14.7 in 2011. Jets running backs averaged 3.8 yards per carry this season versus 4.4 in 2010. A year after averaging 148.4 yards per game on the ground, the team hit that mark just twice last season.

Hunter isn't solely to blame for that decline, though he might have been the domino that knocked the rest of the unit down. But if you believe in the high-stakes proclamations of positional coaches, don't expect Hunter to lose his grip on the starting job just yet.

"Until they ship him out of here or shoot me dead in my office, the guy's the starting right tackle," offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo told The Associated Press.

Strong words. But the Jets don't have a lot of options as presently constituted. Former second-round pick Vlad Ducasse is supposed to be Hunter's understudy, but could be on his last legs in the organization. Journeymen and untested prospects sit behind Ducasse.

Add it up, and the Jets have put themselves in a position where they will again depend on Hunter. Using the offseason to push him to a higher level is of utmost importance.


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