At this point, the Jets have no choice but to believe in Colin Baxter.
With center Nick Mangold now officially out for Sunday’s road game in Oakland due to a high ankle sprain – and backup Rob Turner already out for the season -- the rookie lineman will have to help protect quarterback Mark Sanchez and clear lanes for the Jets ground-and-pound game.
Rex Ryan said the team will do “a few different things protection-wise” to ease Baxter’s transition, “but at the end of the day, he has to do the things outside of the building and I think he’s doing that.”
"He’s clearly studying and he knows what it takes,” said the coach, who added that Baxter shares Turner’s toughness and competitive drive. “The great thing about him is the young man was preparing to play and that’s what you have to do as a pro. He’s a young man, but he was ready, and that’s why when he was thrown in there for three quarters, he was able to hold up and do a decent job. This one is going to be a huge challenge for him, but I think he is going to be up to it.”
Mangold himself said the rookie from Arizona has settled in well in just a short time.
“He learned a lot from the last game and we’ve been working hard this week, hoping that we didn’t have to use it but glad we put the work in,” said the center, who hopes to play next week against the Ravens.
Mangold, whose 82 consecutive game streak will come to an end Sunday, said the reason the Jets offensive line has been so successful over the years is because of line coach Bill Callahan.
“Cally has always put us in the best position to do great,” said Mangold. “...(We) take great pride in even though we might lose one we still maintain a high standard so I expect a good game out of him.”
Fellow lineman Wayne Hunter told me he didn’t offer any encouraging words to Baxter this week because he didn’t need to.
“He’s felt comfortable as the week went on,” said Hunter. “His calls have been on point. His technique has been getting better and his own confidence in building him up.”
If there’s anyone who understands what Baxter’s going through, it’s Hunter.
The 30-year-old right tackle has had his share of struggles replacing Damien Woody, both last year and this season.
“When Woody went down and I came in, all eyes were on me,” said Hunter. “And I knew it. And you know mentally as a backup you’ve got to be able to be a starter in the league. It’s tough, especially for him as a center because our offense is so complex when it comes to centers making calls and such. But with the type of week we had, he actually looked pretty good.”