Wednesday's seventh practice of training camp (the third in pads) for the Jets was a lot like the previous six -- scorching hot, relentless sunshine, humid and with a lot of large human beings powering through while also trying to keep their individual cool.
"It's definitely tough, between grown men going against each other every day, the humidity, hot, full pads," second-year offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker, the picture of cool comfort post-shower, told reporters. "We do a good job keeping our composure. Sometimes a guy gets hit hard and doesn't like it, but it's football. We all play it. You just have to do a good job keeping your composure."
The 2022 NFL regular season, which begins for the Green & White against Baltimore on Sept. 11, brings a new look to not only the Jets' offensive line, but across what is certain to be a competitive 53-man roster. AVT, who was a revelation at left guard in his rookie season out of USC, is now hoping to translate his stellar season on the right side of the line. And after head coach Robert Saleh wasted no time on the first day of camp in designating Mekhi Becton as AVT's running mate on the right side, at tackle, chatter about the offensive line has been a major topic of conversation.
"With George [Fant] back, we need those five to communicate and bring continuity constantly," Saleh said. "The faster we can do that, the better." (From left to right, those five are Fant, Laken Tomlinson, Connor McGovern, AVT and Becton.)
Last season, after Becton went down with a season-ending injury in the Week 1 game at Carolina, Fant, a veteran signed in free agency by GM Joe Douglas in April of 2020, seamlessly shifted from the right to the left (blind) side. In the opinion of Saleh and the coaches, Fant earned the right to stay on the left side. And when the Jets again dipped into the free-agent market and plucked Pro Bowl left guard Tomlinson from San Francisco, the composition of the offensive line was transformed. AVT immediately bought into the shift to the right.
"At first, it was more difficult mentally," he said. "I got over that through OTAs and now [the challenge] is more physical. With OTAs it was tough to speak on it without pads. With the pads on now I've been enjoying it over there. Things are going well and yeah, all good."
The tandem of Vera-Tucker and Becton was, last year at least, seen as a young pair that would endure for years protecting QB Zach Wilson's blind side. But the Jets will go with their young pair on the right.
So far in camp, the offensive line has been challenged by a deep and aggressive collection of defensive linemen, a group that is perhaps a bit ahead of an evolving offensive line. Still, according to AVT, the o-line is being tested ... and it is good.
"With the d-line, I'm grateful to get to go against it every day," AVT said. "It's been very physical and we're all getting better each day in camp."
Now, the challenge on the right side is for AVT and Becton to become reacquainted and develop the kind of professional relationship on the offensive line that can thrive and endure, sparking a Jets running game that has added rookie Breece Hall and protecting Wilson as he looks to cleave opposing defenses with his passes to an imposing collection of receivers.
"I see improvement in Mekhi out there every day, he's working his tail off," Vera-Tucker said. "We see it and respect it. He has that dog in him and he's looking to prove something this year.
"The shift has been a bit easier for me, because I jumped around a bit [at USC] and I think he was at left tackle most of his career. I told him it was going to be hard, but that's what camp is for. There's more time before the season starts and he's going to be good. We look at extra film together. He will be ready and so will I."