Sunday, July 25, 2010

Position Overview: Offensive Line

Since D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold were both drafted in the 2006 NFL draft, the Jets' offensive line has slowly risen from one of the worst units in the NFL to one of the best. When Alan Faneca and Damien Woody were added in 2008, the unit helped Thomas Jones set Gang Green's single-season rushing touchdown record with 13. Last season, they were even better, with Jones breaking his own record with 14 touchdowns. The pass blocking was also above average, keeping Mark Sanchez upright most of the year.

It appeared as if the line would have a third straight year returning everyone, until the draft when the Jets unexpectedly released Faneca. The highly regarded veteran was the weakest link on the line, particularly in pass blocking, but with the Jets still on the hook for $5.25 million in dead money, it was surprising. 2nd round draft pick Vladimir Ducasse is expected to beat out 2nd year man Matt Slauson for the vacated left guard spot.

Ducasse is a mauler from a small FCS school who will be offensive line coach Bill Callahan's pet project. He has the size, strength, and raw skill to be a great player, and it will be up to Callahan to help Ducasse harness those abilities right away. If he can, the Jets won't miss a beat up front.

It helps having two of the best players at their positions in Mangold and Ferguson. Widely considered the best center in the NFL, Mangold has made it clear he wants a new contract. While he's upset the Jets haven't made a big push to resign him, he has stated he will not be a distraction, so expect him to maintain his elite play. Ferguson was less vocal about wanting a new deal, but the Jets locked him up first to a long-term contract. The former 4th overall pick deservedly made his first Pro Bowl last season and has gotten better every season.

The other two players on the right side of the line are much less heralded but similarly effective. Right guard Brandon Moore may just be the best run blocker on the team. New York nearly let him go last season, but Moore was a key part of the league's leading rushing attack. The Jets loved to run behind him and Woody last season, and that shouldn't change this year with both linemen returning.

At 32 years old, Woody is the line's oldest member, but he's not old enough to be too concerned about a major drop-off in play. Barring injuries or an unexpected lack of performance from left guard, this line should remain one of the best in the league. The Jets have been extremely lucky avoiding injuries to their offensive line in previous seasons, and they are banking on that to continue this season if they hope to have success offensively.

In case of an injury, most of the Jets' offensive line depth is unproven largely because the starters never get hurt. Robert Turner and Wayne Hunter have the most experience, subbing in on goalline packages as extra tight ends. Slauson was drafted last year as versatile depth, but he's rarely played outside of preseason and practice.

If all goes according to plan this year, those three will rarely see the field again. The way the Jets like to play offense requires the offensive line to dominate the line of scrimmage. With more raw talent at the skill positions, the Jets now have more firepower to get big plays and not require long drives all the time to score points. But until proven otherwise, the offensive line is the best unit on the Jets' offense and there's little reason to think differently.

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