Analysis  

 

New York Jets have O-line problems; can Jeff Otah still help?

Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press
Offensive tackle Jeff Otah is working his way back into shape after a failed physical knocked him out of the NFL.


 

The New York Jets' problems at offensive tackle were on full display on Saturday night. Wayne Hunter was repeatedly humbled by a New York Giants defensive line that turned him into a national punchline.

Just a few days later, Jets coach Rex Ryan insisted it would not be "an accurate statement" to say the Jets are in the market for a right tackle. The truth is, though, they have been for weeks.

Earlier in camp, in fact, the Jets tried to address the position executing a trade with the Carolina Panthers for offensive tackle Jeff Otah. But when Otah couldn't pass a physical, the trade was nullified.

The Jets and other tackle-needy teams haven't stopped hunting for help, though, and Otah is attempting to work his way back.

NFL.com located the former first-round pick training at LeCharles Bentley's O-Line Academy in Cleveland, trying to rebuild his career. After being traded to the Jets, sent back to Charlotte, then released, Otah has more to work on than just his weight and balky knees. He's trying to get his mind right, starting from scratch at Bentley's facility.

"I believe he's definitely going to be ready this season," Bentley said when asked if Otah will be able to play in 2012. "At what point in the season, I'm not sure. As a former player going through my own medical issues, it wasn't until I took a step back and let some of my own personal baggage go, with my particular situation, (that) my body really started to heal. And I think that's similar with Jeff."

That's where Otah is.

Jeremiah: Preseason Week 2 review
What did Daniel Jeremiah learn in Week 2 of the preseason? Robert Griffin III is human, but Calvin Johnson might not be. More ...

Humiliated by the wayward week that saw his career nearly go up in flames, the naturally gifted player was facing a crossroads -- and drove right to Cleveland.

"He has a workman-type mentality, which is what he needs right now," said Bentley, a former Pro Bowl offensive lineman who played for the New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns. "The willingness to fight; he has that."

Otah has rarely been lauded for his work ethic. He played in just four games over the past two seasons with the Panthers, earning a reputation as an injury-prone loafer. The supreme prowess that he showed in 2008 and 2009 has been long forgotten.

He seemed to struggle to grasp his situation. Before the Jets trade fell through, for instance, Otah predicted he would regain his health, saying that "everything will take care of itself."

It didn't. So Bentley is trying to help Otah, a 6-foot-6, 340-pound Pitt product who is still just 26 years old. The approach taken by the trainer and his medical staff has two facets: physical and mental.

"To go through what he's gone through, it wasn't exactly easy," Bentley said.

The physical part is intense, as Bentley described it. He is not kind, and he is not gentle. Otah has some medical issues to work around -- likely his knees -- but Bentley said Otah's been diligent about getting healthy.

Three meals per day are prepared for Otah at the facility, and he can't work out without eating breakfast first. Otah has changed his diet while increasing his conditioning level.

With a laugh, Bentley describes Otah as "a big, dense person." He has lost 12 pounds in two weeks, getting down to 340, though Bentley cautioned that Otah might start gaining weight back as he picks up muscle mass. Coaches might eventually want him lighter; Bentley believes Otah's best weight is at 330, which he should hit soon.

He does rehab for his knees, he gets massages, he lifts, he does Pilates, he runs and works himself into shape while following strict guidelines.

He must clock in every day. Bentley said Otah has been late just once, because of traffic. When they rest, they watch film of Otah from a few years ago. The footage, Bentley said, is slightly dissatisfying.

"As good as he was, he wasn't the best he's going to be," Bentley said. "And once he understands that, I think it really drives home the point that, 'I'm here for a purpose.' Jeff Otah needs time here to get himself, not just back into the league, but back being the best player he can be. When he's the best player he can be, he's going to be pretty damn special."

The mental part is not to be overlooked.

Otah arrived in the NFL with major expectations. Since then, it's all come apart. That last devastating week with the Jets was nearly too much.

"That's a lot to handle, a bitter pill to swallow for anybody," Bentley said. "To be literally two weeks removed from having his career hang in the balance, that's not easy for anybody to deal with. But to his credit, within 48 hours of him being released, he was here in Cleveland with me."

Throughout his career, Otah has struggled to play through nagging injuries. If it wasn't one thing, it was another. Perhaps he wasn't in the right frame of mind to deal with all of it. To help get him there, he and Bentley have what Bentley calls "pow-wows" every day. Just the two of them, they sit and talk. The counseling is part of the rebuilding.

"That builds the communication aspect of it," Bentley said. "He's gone through so much with the emotional aspect of this thing. You gotta learn how to trust. You understand the back-dealings in the NFL, and it damages guys. You gotta just talk and sometimes get things off your chest."

Freeing his mind, hitting the weights, Otah is hoping for another chance in the NFL. He still needs to lose five or 10 pounds. He should hit that mark in two weeks, but even then, he might not be ready to come back.

A few teams have already come calling, though, and Otah will likely get his opportunity eventually.

Could be with the Jets. Could be with someone else.

"He's not giving up," Bentley said.

Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @RapSheet.

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop

NFL News
CONTENT
15