Veterans like Kelvin Beachum and James Carpenter acted as momentary stop-gaps for the franchise as general manager Mike Maccagnan chose to disregard the position entirely in his drafts.
From 2015-18, the Jets did not select a single offensive lineman before round five in a draft. In fact, he only spent two picks on O-line during that span in total, fifth-rounders Jarvis Harrison and Brandon Shell. Harrison never played a single snap with the Jets, Shell became a sub-par right tackle.
Finally, in 2019, Maccagnan spent a third-round pick on offensive tackle Chuma Edoga. The USC product is still with the Jets in a reserve role.
The complete negligence for this positional group handicapped the Jets offense severely during the past two coaching tenures. Owner Christopher Johnson attempted to correct this when he brought in former Richmond offensive lineman Joe Douglas to be the next GM.
Another change had to be made as well, aside from player personnel. This coaching staff had to improve in order to develop the talent that’s on the roster. Insert head coach Robert Saleh, but also insert veteran offensive line coach John Benton.
Who Is Coach Benton?
The Jets’ new offensive line coach will also serve as the run-game coordinator for this offense under Mike LaFleur.
With him comes a long and prosperous history in this league. Benton got his first NFL posting with the Los Angeles Rams, but he first joined the “Shanahan coaching tree” when he worked with Gary Kubiak and the Houston Texans from 2006-13.
After a few years with the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars, Benton linked up with Kyle Shanahan and LaFleur in San Francisco in 2017.
While addressing the media on June 16, 2021, Benton said that he decided to come to New York because it “looked like a great opportunity” for him. He also noted that the added responsibility as the run-game coordinator “was important to [him].”
Benton & LaFleur’s Scheme Can Help Take the Edge Off
This coaching staff transformed the San Francisco 49ers’ offense into a dominant rushing attack. From 2017-19, the Niners went from 21st in the NFL in rush yards to the second-ranked run game in football behind the Baltimore Ravens.
The Jets could use a similar transformation, as they ranked 23rd in total rush yards in 2020.
The run game doesn’t just help move the football, it helps open up the passing attack via play-action. It can also relieve a lot of pass-blocking stress for offensive linemen.
Benton explained why his system is “O-line friendly,” saying: “On mixed-downs, first and second down, we’re not in dropback mode near as much as maybe some other offenses… We’re going to run the ball in play-action which is much more linemen friendly.”
He added that the run game forces his linemen to “attack the defense,” instead of having it the other way around.
When asked about the Jets’ struggles in the past, specifically against opposing pass-rushers, Benton offered some knowledge based on his experience in the league: “It is one of those things, blitzes and line-stunts or twists tend to be a thing [where] if you show weakness for them, you’re going to get a lot more of them and if you show you handle them well, you don’t see hardly any of them.”
Based on Benton’s responses, the plan for the offensive line seems to be playing proactively rather than reactively. Keep the defense on their heels, going backward not forward.
Jets’ Feature Young Playmakers on O-line
You don’t usually hear the term playmaker when referring to the offensive line, but I’m going to use it here because that’s exactly what Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker can do. Their physicality can open up defenses and make plays.
Benton spoke on the two star-linemen, saying that Vera-Tucker has been everything the staff thought he would be athletically speaking. He also said that AVT has checked all the boxes that he’s been able to check so far, in terms of learning the playbook and techniques.
As for Becton, the coach started by saying he’s “very high on Mekhi.” Benton seemed unconcerned with the left tackle’s plantar fasciitis, noting that he’s “working his tail off every day” in meetings and the film room.
The O-line coach also voiced that he’s “fine with” Becton’s weight, joking that “big and heavy [aren’t] necessarily mutually exclusive.” Overall, Benton thinks that “the sky’s the limit” for the massive bruiser of a tackle.
The main question mark on the offensive line is still the right guard slot, which currently starts veteran Greg Van Roten.
The guard addressed the media on June 15, 2021, and had an optimistic outlook on the new season: “You hire Saleh and you just feel like that weight is lifted and hope has come back into your building. Right now everyone’s undefeated and everyone has the same shot of making the Super Bowl so that’s all you can ask for is a fresh start in this league and there’s no one happier than the Jets to have that opportunity to start page one, okay let’s write this year’s chapter now.”
As I published this article, news dropped that the Jets are now considered THE favorites to sign Morgan Moses.
More information to come, but a move like this would only aid Benton in his task.