FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Trust played a big part in Robert Saleh naming George Fant the Jets’ starting left tackle over Mekhi Becton for this season.
Fant, who manned the position last season after Becton fractured his kneecap in Week 1, was a rock on the offensive line, protecting Zach Wilson’s blind side. Saleh said the “consistency” Fant displayed gave him the conviction that he will be able to do it again.
“Trust — to do his job, to protect the quarterback, to get lined up, to [work as hard as possible] play in and play out,” Saleh said after Friday’s practice. “That’s the biggest thing. That’s all you want out of a player. That’s the first thing you want out of your players is trust.”
It starts there for Saleh, but Fant has other traits that made him the choice this year.
“He is athletic,” Saleh said. “He can do a lot of different things, and he can do all the different things that we want him to do. He went out in that left tackle spot and he didn’t give up much in pressure and was good in the run game. So that’s what opened up the discussion.”
Fant said he felt “a lot of good things” knowing that the Jets’ coaches have that faith in him.
“Just to have the vote of confidence from the team,” Fant said. “Excited to get back out there at left tackle. Really exciting season with a lot of young guys. I’m excited to be there.”
This is what Fant wanted. A former basketball player at Western Kentucky, he started playing football in his fifth year in college. Left tackle is where he’s most comfortable, and he believed he deserved a chance to keep his job after how he played last season.
Saleh initially said Becton and Fant would compete in training camp for the left tackle spot, then decided there would be no competition. Becton is moving to right tackle.
When asked if he was surprised, Fant said, “My job is to play football at a high level no matter where. I was just excited to hear it, though.”
Fant, 30, also wants a new contract. He is in the final season of a three-year, $27.3 million deal the Jets gave him in 2020. The Jets certainly value Fant and would like to work out an extension with him, but he said he’s leaving that up to his representatives.
“I’m staying out of it, man,” Fant said. “My job is to play football at a high level and that’s what I’m going to do.”
If they can’t reach a deal before the season, Fant could demand more money on the open market, especially if he has another good season at a premium position in the NFL. Left tackles get paid far more than right tackles.
“I just want to be taken care of,” he said. “That’s about it.”
Right now, Fant is focused on getting healthy. He hasn’t participated in the team portions of practice as he continues his return from knee surgery. Fant has been taking part in walk-throughs, installs and individual drills, though, and Saleh hopes he can join in team sessions next week.
The Jets are optimistic that their offensive line will be a strength. They signed Pro Bowl left guard Laken Tomlinson to play next to Fant. The right side features Becton and second-year guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, who is moving over from the left side. Center Connor McGovern returns for his third season.
Fant said he and Tomlinson are building chemistry in the walk-throughs and film room. He said he’s watched a lot of film of Tomlinson and already has an understanding of how he plays.
As for Becton, Fant said he has helped him and will continue to do so in any way possible as he moves to a new position. Fant also said he and Becton are cool and that there’s nothing for them to discuss regarding Saleh’s decision.
“We’re all grown men,” Fant said. “We don’t got to do that, bro. It’s a business. It’s a job. Just like how he said, he just wants to be on the field. That’s everybody on the offensive line’s dream: to play a whole season and get through a whole season clean. That’s all he’s worried about. That’s all I’m worried about. We just want to win some games.”