FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- In the past year, Wayne Hunter has spoken confidently about his ability, denying any fear of losing his job as the Jets' right tackle. But all the while, he knew his days as a starter were numbered.
On Thursday, he officially ran out of time.
Jets coach Rex Ryan announced that Hunter's backup, Austin Howard, will be the new starting right tackle against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday and that Hunter will return to his former role as a jumbo tight end.
Ryan broke the news to Hunter Thursday morning, five days after the 31-year-old tackle allowed 21/2 sacks in Saturday's preseason loss to the Giants.
"The more I went back and looked at where we're at as a football team and getting feedback from coaches and knowing the history of Wayne and the success that Wayne had, basically as a 'sixth man,' I've decided that's the way we're going to go," Ryan said.
Despite glaring signs that Hunter was ill-equipped to handle the starting job, the Jets stayed the course -- until Thursday. The news didn't come as a shock to Hunter.
"Everyone knows," he said, adding that the team's decision wasn't based solely on his performance against the Giants. "Whole New York City knows that I've been struggling the last year. And in the last game, didn't do much better. I wasn't surprised. I was waiting for it, to be honest with you.
" . . . But at the same time, I still wanted to help the team in any way possible. I love the Jets, I love this organization. So again, moving into this position is the best thing for me right now."
Before taking over the position after Damien Woody's release in 2011, Hunter had been used as an extra blocking tight end. It was a "valuable role" in which he "excelled," Ryan said.
Although Hunter would have preferred to fight for his job one last time, he agreed he's better suited to fill his old role.
"If I don't show signs of improvement when the bullets are flying, you've got to make a choice," said Hunter, who is due to earn a guaranteed $2.45 million this season. " . . . It's coming down to the wire. The Bills are around the corner. They've got to do something, and right now, the best move for me is to move me to a spot where I was dominant and I was comfortable and I was confident. At the jumbo tight end spot."
Strangely enough, Hunter seemed somewhat relieved. Though he has become "numb" to the media scrutiny, he no longer has to consistently justify his status as a starter, nor does he have to worry about the Jets getting rid of him. They confirmed Thursday that they have no intention of trading him.
Ryan clarified that he doesn't think the Jets are "in the market" for a starting right tackle because he doesn't think they'll find someone better than their current options. He also said he made a mistake by declaring Hunter a starter in the offseason. As a result, he's taking a wait-and-see approach with Howard.
"When he came in, I think he turned some heads," he said. "But to sit back and say we're going to put all our eggs in one basket, we had to see it first."
Howard said he sees Sunday's game simply as "an opportunity" and isn't looking ahead to the regular season.
"I haven't even looked at tomorrow yet," he said. "We still have to get through today's film and learn today and focus on tomorrow."
Notes & quotes: Coincidentally, Woody watched Thursday's practice with two of his kids . . . Fullback Josh Baker suffered a stinger on his right side after taking a hard hit during special-teams drills. He said he is OK . . . Mark Sanchez went 4-for-7 and Tim Tebow was 2-for-3 with a "sack'' (Garrett McIntyre) . . . General manager Mike Tannenbaum believes the Jets have enough offensive weapons to be successful. Tannenbaum said on WFAN's Boomer and Carton show that there's "no question about it. I believe in these coaches and I believe in these players . . . Again, in the middle of August, does it look perfect? No. But Rex and I embrace the hard work and I think you will be interested in the offense."