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Wesley Johnson playing center on banged up Jets offensive line

Jets center Wesley Johnson subbing for Nick Mangold

Jets center Wesley Johnson subbing for Nick Mangold during second half of game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday Nov. 8, 2015. Credit: Lee S. Weissman / Lee S. Weissman

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Most NFL centers toil in relative anonymity, but not so for the Jets. Nick Mangold is among their most recognizable figures after 11 seasons and seven Pro Bowl selections, along with a trademark, flowing blond mane.

So when he is out, people notice, and it appears he will be again Sunday against the Dolphins. He is listed as doubtful, making it likely he will miss his second game in a row because of an ankle injury.

That does not mean he will not be involved in the game, though. His backup, Wesley Johnson, said Mangold has been a valued mentor, both in leading by example during the week and with direct feedback when Johnson is in the game.

When Johnson comes to the sideline, “we have a pretty hard-and-fast thumbs up or thumbs down, so having that helps a lot, too,” he said with a smile after practice Friday.

Is Mangold a tougher grader than the coaches? “Surprisingly, he’s supportive,” Johnson said. “He helps out a lot.”

This weekend Johnson will need all the support he can get as the banged-up Jets offensive line prepares to face a Dolphins front that includes star tackle Ndamukong Suh.

What does Johnson make of Suh?

“Suh is Suh,” he said. “I don’t really have to describe him. He’s one of the great defensive linemen in the league.”

Asked what makes Suh special, Johnson said, “Everything. He’s been a great player for a long time. Big, strong and fast. That normally works out well.”

Some also have called Suh “dirty.” Johnson refused to get dragged into that topic despite several attempts by reporters.

“Oh, everybody’s dirty a little bit,” he said. Even Johnson? “No, of course, not at all.”

Johnson said he might think about avoiding getting baited into retaliation “maybe a little bit, but again, it’s all about playing my game. It doesn’t matter who I’m playing. I can’t let that guy affect me.”

A fifth-round draft pick by the Steelers out of Vanderbilt in 2014, Johnson started one game for the Jets last year. Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey said he played well last Sunday in a 31-28 victory over the Browns.

“I think he’s got a chance to be a very good football player before it’s over with,” Gailey said. “I mean, he’s not Nick Mangold, but there’s not many of them out there that are. But he’s still improving and he played pretty good for where he is in his career.”

Said coach Todd Bowles, “We already knew he was smart, he was tough, leader on the field. He learned a lot from Mangold, and he’s been doing a good job for us.”

Mangold was far from alone among offensive linemen on the injury report. Brent Qvale (neck) is doubtful. Ryan Clady (shoulder), Breno Giacomini (shoulder) and Brandon Shell (shoulder) are questionable.

Guard Brian Winters is good to go, which is happy news for the Jets given he played well against Suh last season.

“I know those two had a big battle last year, they really did,” Gailey said. “I think they’re probably both looking forward to it again.”

Notes & quotes: DE Muhammad Wilkerson (ankle) practiced on a limited basis and is questionable. LB Darron Lee (ankle) and TE Kellen Davis (elbow) are out.


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