Rex Ryan could have made his faith in Wayne Hunter known.
But he chose not to.
Asked point-blank if Hunter will be the Jets starting right tackle against Buffalo in the regular-season opener, Ryan wouldn’t commit. At least not to Hunter.
“I’m going to say this, we’re committing to putting a good football team on the field,” the coach said, evading the question. “And competition -- not just at the right tackle spot, but there’s competition throughout. We’re loaded in some spots and the competition is elevating people’s play. I think that’s a great thing.
“But to sit back and say, ‘This guy’s definitely the starter.' I’m not ready to do that. Maybe with Darrelle Revis, Brandon Moore or Nick Mangold."
No one can blame Ryan for his delicate tap dance around the subject. But after he spent several minutes expressing confidence in his struggling offense, it was clear just how unhappy he is with Hunter.
The Jets coach wouldn’t rule out giving backup right tackle Austin Howard some first-team snaps in Sunday’s game against Carolina – a big sign considering it’s the final dress rehearsal for the starters before the team’s Sept. 9 opener against Buffalo. The Jets' coaching staff has been high on Howard, but both Ryan and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano have said he needs to be more consistent.
“Yeah, we’ll see,” Ryan said of putting Howard with the first-team offense. “I think he’s had his moments in camp where you really are impressed with him. But then there’s some other things where he’s got to pick his game up as well. But we’ll see how it goes later this week.”
Ryan also left the door open on the Jets’ looking elsewhere for a right tackle. Asked if the starting job would come down to either Hunter or Howard, the coach said: “I’m not going to paint myself in a corner because things happen.”
Save for a few All Pro players, Ryan isn’t prepared to name anyone on this team a “slam dunk” or a “100 percent” sure bet. “I like to see guys compete and earn their jobs out there,” he said.
Hunter looked completely overmatched on 1-on-1 battles against Pierre-Paul and fellow Giants defensive end Justin Tuck. Hunter consistently was tossed aside by the Giants’ dominant D-line, en route to three official sacks on Mark Sanchez in two quarters of play. But despite Ryan’s refusal to commit to Hunter as a starter, the coach wouldn’t let his right tackle shoulder the blame alone.
“We talk about Wayne Hunter, where he got beat by [Jason] Pierre-Paul. He’s not the only one in the league who’s going to get beat by Pierre-Paul,” Ryan said in Hunter’s defense. “That is one heck of a football player. Now with that said, could his fundamentals be better? Of course. Absolutely. And that’s what I’m stressing to him. But we’ve got to get back to playing technique and fundamentals. It’s not just him, but it’s across the board. We’ve got to get better at our techniques. And when you get beat, you’ve got to rely on those even more.”
“…It’s not just Wayne Hunter. All of us across the board have got to pick our game up. Were there some glaring mistakes? Well when you’re isolated one-on-one – sometimes against one of the premier pass rushers in the game, it becomes clear when you make mistakes. He did some good things in the game as well. But some of his mistakes were pretty evident. I just think if we get back to our fundamentals, I think we’ll be fine.”