Jets Take Hits at Offensive Guard After ‘Nagging Injuries’ & Absences

Alex Lewis

Getty New York Jets offensive linemen Connor McGovern (#60), Mehki Becton (#77) and Alex Lewis (#71) take the practice field at training camp on July 30, 2021.

The New York Jets have remained relatively healthy during training camp in most areas outside of the offensive line.

It all began with veteran right tackle George Fant, who was forced to spend the initial week and a half of training camp on the Reserve/COVID-19 list after testing positive for the virus. Fortunately, Fant is fine and has since rejoined the roster, but only at the expense of more OL depth.

In the roster exchange, general manager Joe Douglas shifted left guard Alex Lewis to the Exempt/Left Squad list, creating a curious mystery for Jets fans. Especially when you consider that the team just lost tackle/guard prospect Cameron Clark, who’s out indefinitely after a neck injury, and rookie Alijah Vera-Tucker, who’s out with a minor pectoral injury.

The growing list of nagging injuries and prolonged absences have left Gang Green very thin on the interior, particularly at left guard. Dan Feeney is currently the main option next to Mekhi Becton, with Greg Van Roten and UDFA Tristen Hoge on the right side.

Versatile center/guard backups Corey Levin and Jimmy Murray are also in the mix.

Head coach Robert Saleh spoke on the issues at guard during a press conference on August 5, 2021. “The O-line has taken a little bit of a hit in terms of nagging injuries, there’s nothing long-term but to have the amount of guys [go down], you never want it to all happen at one position but it’s getting thin pretty quick,” the Jets HC admitted.

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What’s Going on With Lewis?

Let’s break this unit down piece-by-piece, starting with Lewis. First off, what the heck is the Exempt/Left Squad list and why is he on it?

According to Tyler Greenawalt of USA Today SportsJetsWire, “The exempt/left squad designation allows a team to open a roster spot for a player without outright cutting him or putting him on an injury list. Other teams have used this in the past for players contemplating retirement.”

New York Post beat reporter Brian Costello agreed that retirement could be a possibility for Lewis, adding that the guard suffered a “head injury” in Thursday’s practice prior to this roster move.

Costello also noted Lewis’ locker room issues in 2020, writing that the guard “lashed out at teammates and coaches” over lack of effort and losses. The beat reporter mentioned that he considered walking away from football last season during the midst of the chaos, which included a social media feud with former New York Daily News reporter Manish Mehta.

The beat reporter wrote: “Some people blamed former head coach Adam Gase for Lewis’ unhappiness, but sources said the issues ran deeper than that, and this absence would seem to support that.”

Lewis recently had a child and agreed to a pay cut to remain with the Jets this offseason, two more details that could be factoring into whatever decision he’s been wrestling with. The franchise has yet to comment on his recent absence.

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Updates on AVT & Clark

When the media asked Saleh if Vera-Tucker would play in the scrimmage on August 7, he responded; “You know, he’s getting better and we’re going to continue just evaluating him, but that’s still up in the air.”

Whether or not the promising first-round pick takes the field tonight, his injury doesn’t seem like something that will keep him out for long. Clark’s situation was far more concerning.

The 2020 draft pick’s neck injury happened in the blink of an eye on Tuesday, August 3, and was “scary” by all accounts. Fortunately, there was no long-term damage to his spinal cord, per Rich Cimini.

Coach Saleh voiced his relief during his August 4th presser. “Joe and myself, we had a chance to go visit him last night too and he’s in great spirits… obviously a big sigh of relief,” he stated.

When asked about Clark’s timetable for return, however, Saleh’s answer was more cautious. “We’re not there yet,” the Jets HC repeated three times before settling on no further elaboration.

It’s a tough situation for a prospect that is fighting for a roster spot entering his first real training camp after a rookie offseason plagued by injuries and the pandemic.

A follow-up from a reporter inquired on whether or not Fant is an option at guard with Morgan Moses on the roster, but Saleh shut that idea down pretty quickly. “Not right now, it’s not even part of the thought process for him to give him every opportunity he can to go win that right tackle spot,” he replied.

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