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Where's Wayne? Jets tackle Wayne Hunter not in attendance for 'Family Night' practice

Wayne Hunter walks off the field after practice

Wayne Hunter walks off the field after practice at the Jets' practice facility in Florham Park, N.J. Credit: Getty Images, 2011

All eyes should have been on Wayne Hunter, but the Jets right tackle was nowhere to be found.

The timing of the offensive lineman's absence from last night's "Family Night" practice at MetLife Stadium seemed curious, given coach Rex Ryan's refusal to commit to Hunter as his starting right tackle for Week 1. But, according to the team, Hunter's absence was due to "personal reasons" and he was excused.

Despite Ryan's apparent lack of confidence in the incumbent right tackle, the coach shot down rumors that the Jets are searching for Hunter's replacement. ESPN's Chris Mortensen tweeted Tuesday that the Jets are in the market for a right tackle and are "no longer in denial."

But Ryan shot down that claim. Sort of.

"In all due respect, Chris has not been a part of any discussions I've had with Mike Tannenbaum," Ryan said with a chuckle. "I don't know where his source comes from or whatever."

Though Ryan went on to explain that the Jets will explore any and all options to improve the team, he added that he's "pretty happy" with his roster and not necessarily looking for an upgrade on Hunter. "To say that we're in the market for a starting tackle, I don't believe that to be an accurate statement," Ryan said.

Backup Austin Howard filled in for Hunter Tuesday, taking first-team reps at right tackle and rookie Robert T. Griffin (a third-teamer) took second-team reps with Tim Tebow at quarterback. Hunter is expected to return to practice Wednesday and take first-team reps in Sunday's preseason game against the Panthers.

Ryan said he sat down with Hunter Tuesday, but wouldn't divulge details of their conversation. "It was a personal thing and that's the way it'll remain," the coach said.

He later bristled when pressed further about their sit-down. "Again guys, that's personal," Ryan said. "I'm not going to get into what's between Wayne and I. I'll just say he was in for meetings and I was OK with him missing practice.

" . . . We support each other and that's the way it'll always be."

Nick Mangold echoed those sentiments. The Jets' All-Pro center said he "very much so" has faith in his linemate's ability and has already offered encouragement as best he can.

"There's a fence that you want to straddle," Mangold said. "You don't want to be too much on one side. It really dictates on the player and what they need. And that's what we do as an offensive line. We support each other and we make sure that we're all working to get better."

Notes & quotes: QB Mark Sanchez went 12-for-23 with two interceptions (Yeremiah Bell, Darrelle Revis) and three "sacks." QB Tim Tebow went 5-for-9 with three "sacks." . . . WR Santonio Holmes (rib, back) again wore a red non-contact jersey and participated in individual and position drills. He was held out of one-on-one wide receiver/defensive back drills and the team period, but Ryan is hopeful he will play Sunday . . . LB Calvin Pace was absent because he needed a wisdom tooth pulled. He is expected to return Wednesday . . . The kicking competition remains in a dead heat. On Tuesday, Josh Brown 4-for-4 (including a 55-yarder) and Nick Folk hit 3-of-4, missing from 46 yards. "Both these guys are nailing it," Ryan said. "Both of them will kick in this league this year." . . . The NFL decided not to suspend DT Kenrick Ellis following his split jail sentence. "I'm really excited about how Kenrick's playing," Ryan said. "And I'm glad to hear that."

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