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Jets’ Guard Picture Still Coming into Focus

Posted Jun 13, 2014

Rex Says of Many Candidates in the Mix: ‘We're Letting Those Guys Compete’

Even the most biased of fans would have trouble defending the stance that guard is one of the more exciting positions in football. In all but the rarest occasions, a guard doesn’t touch the ball, he’s not tackling the opponent and he surely is not tallying any points for your fantasy team.

Yet of all the position battles brewing for the Green & White, few are more intriguing than the one at guard.

It’s extremely early — we’re still six weeks away from the start of training camp — but five players appear to be the most likely candidates for the two starting spots.

First and foremost is ninth-year veteran Willie Colon, who joined the Jets via free agency in 2013 and started all 16 games between Nick Mangold and Austin Howard on the right side of the line before re-signing this past offseason.

“I would assume that Willie will be a starter,” head coach Rex Ryan said Wednesday.

However, Colon suffered a knee injury in the early portion of OTAs that required him to undergo an arthroscopic procedure and remains out indefinitely.

Still, “It’s a long time before we play,” Ryan said, and Colon will run with the ones as soon as the trainers clear him.

That would leave one starting spot for a quartet of recent draft picks: 2013 third-rounder Brian Winters, 2014 fourth-rounder Dakota Dozier, 2013 fifth-rounder Oday Aboushi and 2013 sixth-rounder Will Campbell.

Winters took over for Vladimir Ducasse at left guard in Week 5 last season and never relinquished his starting gig. Now in his second NFL season, Winters told me, “I understand the whole game and how it unfolds, so that’s put me ahead. Everything’s slowing down and that makes things a lot easier.”

Since Colon’s injury, Ryan said Winters has seen “quite a bit” of time at right guard, but that doesn't mean too much at this point in the year.

“We’re looking at what can help us,” Rex said. “Could he be better at right guard and Willie at left guard? Whatever it is, we’re letting those guys compete.”

Meanwhile, after making the 53-man roster but failing to be activated for any regular-season game as a rookie, Aboushi has been taking the majority of reps on the left side in the post-Colon OTA practices.

“It’s been going really well. The transition to guard was a lot smoother than I thought,” Aboushi said, alluding to his four seasons at Virginia and his rookie season with the Jets playing tackle. “It has its ups and downs of being more or less difficult than tackle, but I’m holding my own, helping the flow of the offense, and I’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback.”

“I’ve been impressed with Aboushi a little more this year already in these camps than I was at any time last year,” Ryan said. “He was at tackle exclusively. Now we put him back in at guard and he’s done a pretty decent job down there.”

Campbell found himself in the same boat as Aboushi last season in that he was safely stowed away in the group of 53 but never a part of the 46 who suited up on Sundays. He could be seen as more of a long-term project as a converted defensive tackle, although Rex mentioned him as well as “a young man that we’re high on.”

Last but not least is Dozier, who, like Winters last year, is trying to convert from college tackle to NFL guard.

“It’s a transition,” Dozier said, “but it’s been great and I’ve really enjoyed it. Every day I’m just trying to get better, whether it’s working on footwork, hand placement, obviously getting into the playbook as much as I can, learning all of the protections, learning all the runs, I don’t want to be paralyzed by analysis. If I can understand and feel confident, natural ability will take over.”

Dozier’s short-term goal is to limit the mental errors, especially since each one comes with a cost of 10 pushups per teammate, with “teammates” including the likes of coaches, trainers, GM John Idzik, members of the Jets PR staff and even yours truly.

Once the pads come on and the heavy hitting gets under way, his objective will be to live up to a nickname that his grandmother originally bestowed upon him: the Bull Dozier.

Whether he lives up to his name at this level of the game remains to be seen, as does the ability to transition from tackle to guard. Who will earn a starting spot between Mangold and one of our two tackles?

But there’s an even more important question associated with this group. Are our starting guards of the next decade on this roster? The Jets had as many starters at the position last season (three) as they had in the five years before that combined.

It’s way too early to tell if Idzik hit on any or all of these mid-to-late-round offensive linemen, but it’s going to be one heck of a ride finding out what we’ve got.

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