Like many New York Jets fans and players, center Connor McGovern should try and forget the 2020 season ever happened.
The offensive line was an utter disaster last year and the former Denver Broncos lineman definitely shouldered his portion of the blame.
Now, just one offseason later — in a new O-line friendly scheme with fresh faces around him — things seem to be looking up for McGovern.
Jets beat reporter Connor Hughes of The Athletic wrote that the Jets offensive line “looked solid” during the spring session, noting that they gave Zach Wilson plenty of time to make decisions. Obviously, NFL players have yet to put the pads on in 2021 but this is still a sign of progress for Gang Green.
He also told readers that “McGovern and [Greg] Van Roten, who had good summers, seem to be benefitting the most” from Mike LaFleur’s new offensive system.
What a difference a year can make, especially when that year involves as many enhancements as the Jets have had since Adam Gase’s departure.
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Tutelage of John Benton
LaFleur gets all the attention as the offensive coordinator but this blocking unit is more reliant on John Benton. The veteran O-line coach and first-year run game coordinator for the Jets is a wise successful staff member with many years of NFL experience under his belt.
He came over with LaFleur and head coach Robert Saleh from the San Francisco 49ers, who improved their rushing attack mightily under Benton’s tenure.
Now it’s the Jets turn, as Benton told the Jets media his offensive lines are designed to “attack the defense,” which keeps the opposition on their heels.
McGovern is already taking a shine to this run-first approach, being that the majority of his struggles came on the pass block last season with six sacks allowed.
If you can push the ball upfield on the ground and ram it down the throat of the defense, it will naturally counteract a team’s ability to rush the quarterback by taking away the blitz and keeping edge rushers off-balance.
This style fits the strengths of the Jets center. He is athletic and strong when clearing out rushing lanes or moving laterally out wide as a solid drive and space blocker.
On the flip side, his greatest weakness tends to be his ability to hold up against powerful bull-rushers. The wide-zone scheme is about working in unison and blocking laterally as one across the face of a defense, meaning McGovern won’t have to worry about as many individual assignments.
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Supporting Cast Makes All the Difference
The other dramatic change besides coaching and playcalling will be the surrounding pieces on this offensive line.
In football, the O-line tends to feed off one another like a domino effect. It can become a brick wall when everyone’s enjoying the success of a few anchors, but when things go badly the whole unit often crashes down like an avalanche.
The Jets went into freefall in 2020, and none of the five starters were good enough to wrench them free of it.
Mekhi Becton was the star of the group, but he was also a rookie dealing with various injury issues. George Fant was the team leader type, but he was lacking in skill.
Then there was McGovern, Alex Lewis and Greg Van Roten, who were all playing together on the interior for the first time without the help of a legitimate training camp (due to the pandemic).
The mitigating circumstances make it easier to understand why this unit was so atrocious a year ago.
The Effect of Competence
See what happens when you hire an intelligent general manager that brings in a wise coaching staff and talented players? You become a competent organization.
During a recent interview with Ethan Greenberg, McGovern spoke on the new vibe at Florham Park this spring: “There’s a new energy around, a great energy… this year we get to actually go out and have some fun with the guys and bring the off the field fun part back to football.”
The Jets center was also asked about all the newest members of the NYJ O-line. He responded: “Definitely some new faces but they fit in very well. This is one of the best rooms I’ve been around personality-wise.”
McGovern added that they “actually have some time to build that cohesion, friendship and trust.”
He also called his rookie quarterback a “professional” and his head coach “all go,” explaining that Saleh is high-energy at all times.
“I’d expect this year to be pretty special,” McGovern told Greenberg, “this offensive line is built for this scheme.”