By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — I can’t believe I’m devoting this space to yet more talk about Wayne Hunter. You’d think he was the straw that stirs the drink for the Jets and that they are doomed should he not unzip himself and step out a changed right tackle next season.
But since I’m in the spirit of always supporting and engaging my fellow fan, here goes nothing. Probably.
Hunter had by nearly every account a horrendous 2011 season. I’d be remiss if I didn’t pay homage to my colorful Twitter followers that came up with a plethora of nicknames for him. My personal favorites will go down in the annals of social media as both creative and uproariously funny, given the proper context.
First there’s the #turnstile. This is the Honda Civic or Volkswagen Golf of hashtags. It sells a lot and is by and large very reliable. Anyone who has ever jumped on board a New York City subway knows the requirements that come with such a moniker. Basically, for those of you who need visual aides, bodies come at him and he spins around them. Moving on.
Then there’s #revolvingdoor. It’s more of an SUV type of approach, powerful and will more than get you from Point A to B. It’s probably more apropos than #turnstile considering the sheer size of a spinning door, say to enter a building, like what we have here at the CBS Broadcast Center. Hunter, in case you haven’t noticed, is a rather large human.
Then there’s my personal favorite, #ezpass. But if I need to paint you a picture or come up with an automobile reference for that one, I pretty much give up.
Are any of these fair? Yes. Will they continue to be necessary? This is where I run into problems with people.
Like it or not, Hunter will be the Jets’ starting right tackle next season. The team and Hunter said as much on Thursday during a rather bizarre post-workout session that featured discussion of Tim Tebow’s dog, the fact that he’s never been to Hoboken, N.J. and an expose on how to efficiently use the word “great” more than two dozen times in front of your locker.
If not for Tebow, Hunter would have been the big story. He’s already planning on correcting all the problems he had last season. He’s basically in love with new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano and didn’t have much of a problem throwing former coordinator Brian Schottenheimer under the bus due to what was his apparently very complicated system.
Give this to Hunter: he talks a good game. Not in typical Jets fashion, mind you, but more like he’s fully aware of just how god-awful he was during the Jets’ basically forgettable 8-8 season.
It’s easy to treat Hunter like a pin cushion because he was that bad in 2011, but the Jets as a whole were pretty terrible. To single him out as the whipping boy was always and remains a failure to grasp the bigger picture.
The Jets abandoned what worked in 2009 and 2010 for a more wide-open offense, laying all their cards out on the table in the hope that quarterback Mark Sanchez would become Peyton Manning. Despite the types of statistics that would suggest Sanchez is on the upswing, rather than trending downward as every expert and the majority of fans seem to believe, this quarterback may never be the gunslinger everyone wants him to be. The problem with that thinking is it’s unnecessary for fans to have those types of expectations. They can win with him just being Mark Sanchez.
The Jets are and shall remain a smashmouth operation on offense. And I think they finally understand it, too.
What people tend to forget about Hunter is despite him never being a starter during his five NFL seasons prior to 2010, he stepped into precisely that role during the season that ended with the Jets losing for the second consecutive year in the AFC Championship game and was every bit as good as any of the team’s other offensive lineman, some of whom have become perennial Pro Bowlers. The Jets had one of the NFL’s best rushing offenses in 2010 and Sanchez was a much more efficient passer because he wasn’t asked to be something he wasn’t then and still isn’t today.
The old adage about linemen is very true: when you don’t hear about them they are doing their jobs. Hunter quietly did his job and then some two seasons ago and the only time you really heard about him was in the title game loss to Pittsburgh, which, to be fair, featured a first-half breakdown by the entire team, not just Hunter.
Why he regressed in 2011 is hard to put a finger on. He was often exploited, with the signature play courtesy of Von Miller in Denver, a couple of seconds that got the ball really rolling downhill in Hunter’s PR camp and led to the birth of several of the Twitter hashtags I highlighted above.
But just know this about Hunter: despite his many problems last season he was the guy who told diva wide receiver Santonio Holmes to zip it inside that infamous huddle during the Jets’ regular season-ending loss in Miami, a defeat that at the end of the day mattered little because even if they had won they still would have been eliminated from postseason contention due to another team taking care of its own business.
In my eyes, Hunter earned a lot of street cred that day. He basically exposed Holmes for being the selfish player he is. He didn’t really care that his own season had gone badly awry. From Hunter’s perspective and the team standpoint there was still work to be done and if Holmes didn’t like it, well, the name on the front of the jersey still meant a hell of a lot more than the name on the back.
The Jets badly need more players like this. They know it and the fans know it. The fact that Hunter has a lot to prove himself next season as a lineman is really immaterial to his value to the Jets because he gets what they are trying to do from a team-building outlook and appears ready to sell his soul to the devil to make sure he improves on the field.
I’m sure I haven’t convinced all of you, but just ask yourself what the alternative is to Hunter at right tackle. The Jets like him, probably for the reasons I’ve mentioned. But if you want to continue to blame Hunter for this and that, do me a favor and also point a finger at the Jets’ front office.
General Manager Mike Tannenbaum reportedly had his team roughly $8 million under the cap last season, but did nothing to fix the offensive line when it went off the rails. Tannenbaum is also hell bent on making sure the controversial 2010 second-round selection of Vladimir Ducasse eventually bears some kind of fruit. Despite all the fans’ prayers that the Jets address right tackle in free agency they made it clear at the beginning, in the middle and now at the end of the signing period that they were and are going to go with what they have.
I’ve stood by the assertion that Sanchez deserves every opportunity to continue to grow under Sparano, at least for a season or two. Now you can add Hunter to that exclusive group. They both have a body of work that suggests they can be more. It’s really about that time that the fans get in line with these two guys, because come hell or high water they are going to be here.
The time to complain is over. The time to embrace is now.
Because the Jets are never going to do what you want. They are just not capable of pleasing all of the people all of the time.
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