Imagine having every one of your mistakes catalogued and criticized, every wrong step or errant arm movement becoming instant ammunition for your detractors.
Imagine your entire livelihood dangling precariously by a string, and having your tenuous standing with your employer be the standard topic of conversation for over a year.
A wise man once said "To err is human; to forgive, divine."
But clearly English poet Alexander Pope wasn’t talking about football.
Wayne's world is a difficult universe to exist within. Unlike the popular Revis Island, Wayne Hunter is alone on his own island, left to constantly answer questions about his turnstile blocking and his standing with the front office.
"It's always been on the line. It's not a surprise," he said of his starting job, following the Giants’ four (three, technically) sacks on Mark Sanchez Saturday night. "It's either I perform or they're going to find somebody else better."
Truth be told, Hunter brings the scrutiny on himself. Only for so long can fans watch the face of their franchise get pummeled in the pocket before they start to point fingers at their offensive line. And in the Jets’ case, the major breakdowns in recent memory have come on the right side.
After an up-and-down 2011 campaign, he was given a $2.45 million guaranteed contract, a move that, to most players, would signal management’s trust. But the Jets, who had Austin Howard already on the roster, brought in three more right tackles this offseason – another casual, but nevertheless overt message to Hunter. (Of those three free agent tackles, only Stephon Heyer remains on the team. RT Ray Willis was waived and recently retired and Jeff Otah … well, you know how that ended.)
Though Hunter allowed 8.5 sacks in 2011 (his first year as Damien Woody’s full-time replacement), he also received a game ball for his play against Dolphins OLB Cameron Wake in Week 6. There were other good games sprinkled in over the course of last season – at a time when other members of the offensive line struggled without Nick Mangold (Week 2 ankle injury).
But there also have been disastrous games and disastrous plays for Hunter. And Saturday night’s 26-3 loss to the Giants in the MetLife Bowl was just the latest example. He was involved on four of seven Giants’ sacks, but he caught a break when one was nullified because of a false start penalty. However, the damage – to Sanchez – already had been done.
The Jets starting quarterback has taken the team's 12 total preseason sacks in stride, even making a joke about the beatings his body has taken since 2011.
“That’s why I put on a little weight,” he said with a smile.
Sanchez said the relationship he has with his offensive linemen is “a two-way street” – he (rightly or wrongly) trusts them to protect him, while they in turn trust him to steer the offense. And that confidence won’t waver after one horrible preseason game for Hunter, he said.
“It starts with your attitude,” Sanchez explained. “Tomorrow, get in there, get your lift, watch the film, be prepared for practice on Monday, start looking at some Carolina film and correct your mistakes from this week.
“It’s just an attitude thing. You get hit, you fall down, you get back up and you do it all over again. Like I said before, I really do have faith in those guys up front. I know we can play better than that. I know we can block these four-man rush looks and these are the kind of guys that will study, hold themselves accountable and play well.”
Left guard Matt Slauson said the preseason always is difficult because teams don’t game plan for one another. The Jets “barely spent any time looking at what the Giants do,” he said, and as a result, players were left to work on their own techniques and “finish the best you can.”
But the Giants didn’t game plan either – and they had no problems going on 1-on-1 with the Jets O-line.
Left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, on the other hand, likes the fact that the Jets haven’t game-planned for either Cincinnati or the Giants because it allows them to keep their priorities straight: Week 1 vs. Buffalo.
“If we win every single preseason game, it’s not going to count toward our record,” the Freeport native said. “And if Buffalo is our first real test, then we need to prepare for Buffalo.”
But while the offense – and particular it's line – work out its kinks, Sanchez is paying the price.
“Obviously, you want to beat the Giants because we share this house with them,” Slauson said Saturday night. “So it’s always nice to get a win against them. But you have to take it for what it’s worth. You’ve got to watch the film and see the areas we have to improve. A lot of guys played really well tonight, but there’s also some things that everybody can do to improve.”
Hopefully for the Jets, he performs better in his second preseason game -- this time, against the Panthers in front of the home MetLife Stadium crowd.
“Like I keep telling you guys, it’s going to get better from here,” said the right tackle, who missed several practices and the Cincy preseason game because of back tightness. Hunter said after Saturday's game that his back still is tight, but refused to use it as an excuse.
“Nothing else I can do.”
So on Sunday, Hunter will sit down and soak in every minute of film. He’ll pore over all the footage – every missed block, every broken tackle. But he’ll also take note of the good things he did.
As a full-time starter last year, Hunter took every loss and every sack he allowed personal. But this year, he refuses to make that mistake.
“It hasn’t been weighing on me,” he said of his 2011 season. “I’ve learned to kind of get past that by now. It’s a new season, it’s preseason. What else am I going to say? I’ve got to get better or else they’re going to find someone else. It’s the name of the game.
“…I can’t (take it personally). Cause that’s where I messed up last year. I took it too personal. The fact of the matter is that it was a preseason (game). I can hang my hat on that. I’ve got to take my hat down because I’ve got stuff to work on. It’s a preseason game, I’m not going to look into it too much. But I’m going to look at the film and really critique myself, sit down with Guge, because I’ve got flaws I need to work on. Obviously.”