The Wayne Hunter saga continues for the Jets. A day after outspoken coach Rex Ryan tip-toed around a question of whether or not the struggling Hunter will be the starting right tackle in the regular-season opener against Buffalo, Hunter attended team meetings but was not in attendance at the Jets’ Family Night practice at MetLife Stadium Tuesday night.
“We had a conversation and it was a personal thing and that’s where it will remain,” Ryan said. “(Hunter’s missing practice) was excused. That’s really all I’m going to say.”
Third-year tackle Austin Howard filled in for Hunter at right tackle on the first-team offense. Howard was unavailable for comment.
Ryan said he expects Hunter to return to practice Wednesday and get first-team reps during Sunday's game against Carolina. The fourth-year coach was non-committal to Hunter being the Jets starting right tackle for the season opener when asked directly on Monday.
“I’m going to say this: We’re committing to putting a good team on the field,” Ryan said Monday. “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.”
Hunter received some support from fellow lineman Nick Mangold. The seventh-year All-Pro center said Hunter’s struggles are things all players experience.
“Wayne’s a heck of a fighter and he’ll keep on fighting and we’re expecting big things out of him,” Mangold said. “He’s got all the ability in the world and he knows what he’s doing. At times things happen. They happen with all of us. Unfortunately for tackles you see it a little bit more than us on the inside. It’s something that we all make mistakes and we all get through it and we all keep battling and that’s what he’s going to do.”
Ryan addressed a tweet from Chris Mortensen in which the ESPN analyst said the Jets are looking into free agents or trades in order to replace Hunter. In the tweet Mortensen said the Jets are “no longer in denial” regarding Hunter at right tackle.
“One thing we’ll always look at is if there’s a player out there that we feel can help our football team, then we’ll explore that possibility. With that being said, I’m not saying that we’re looking at a right tackle or we’re looking at whatever,” Ryan said. “Right now to say we’re in the market for s starting tackle, I don’t believe that to be an accurate statement.”