It's been another season of progress for our big right tackle, Austin Howard. Take the Cleveland game, for instance.
"We had a good game last week," Howard told me in the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center locker room this afternoon. "I would just say there are no games that are perfect. We're still chasing perfection. We can always do better."
But Howard and his linemates did pretty darn good against the Brownies. For starters, our offensive line executed a rare "Sackless 200" game. That's a game when a team rushes for 200 yards and gives up no sacks. Sunday's game was only the 19th Sackless 200 in franchise history, the third in the Rex Ryan regime, and the first since Game 4 of the 2010 season at Buffalo.
In the 1-on-1 battles, big Austin was noticeable for throwing his weight around as usual. On both David Nelson touchdown passes, No. 77 walled off LB Paul Kruger rushing from the outside, fruitlessly trying to get close to Geno Smith. On Smith's TD run, the 333-pound Howard turned 330-pound DT Ahtyba Rubin outside and Smith darted right behind the move up the suddenly opened middle.
The initial Pro Bowl players will be announced tonight at 9 p.m. ET on NFL Network. Howard was not one of the players who was showing up in the weekly top 10 fan voting at tackle. But he's starting to gain some momentum as being a sound, solid, conscientious player on the Jets O-line and he admits he's expecting a trip to Hawaii for himself sometime in his future.
"Absolutely," he replied. "Personally, I want to make a statement in this league, I want to make a name for myself, I want to be known as one of the great right tackles or tackles in this league. That's going to come with dedication and hard work. It sounds clichéd, but it goes back to the basics."
It also goes back to his upbringing during his formative pro years. He ticked off the names of current Jets Nick Mangold and D'Brickashaw Ferguson — both of whom could be in the running to be named all-stars tonight — as well as Baltimore's Michael Oher and Philadelphia's Jason Peters as role models. As for coaches, he named the Ravens' Juan Castillo and the venerable Mike Devlin on the Jets.
"It's a matter of progressing every year and just staying humble," Howard said. "Like I said, absolutely, making the Pro Bowl is something I very much aspire to do. I almost require it of myself before I leave this league, if I can stay healthy."
I certainly don't want to limit Howard this year, but assuming that he may not reach that goal until another strong NFL season in 2014, he's setting his sites, as Rex Ryan has set his and the team's, on the next and last opponent this season, the Dolphins on Sunday at Sun Life Stadium. He expects to get another good workout from one of his frequent dance partners, DE Cameron Wake.
"The thing about Cameron — we battle," said he said. "He's guy who, man, he's never going to give up on a play, he's going to give the best that he has. He's a workhorse, you know? He's fast, powerful, so you have to really focus on him, study his tendencies."
And like every good, high-minded O-lineman, Howard is not focusing on just his personal matchup or individual goals. Just as Rex said at today's news conference, Howard seconds the emotion:
"I believe we're all looking forward to this game coming up."
Rex Ryan's injury list expanded to 15 players today with the addition of S Dawan Landry (hand), but 14 of the 15 are probable for Miami. The only questionable Jet continues to be CB/ST Ellis Lankster. "It's still his jaw," Ryan said. "He still couldn't put a helmet on. It's hard to play if you can't put a helmet on. So hopefully his pain subsides and he'll be able to play. I know he's certainly trying."
Similarly, the Dolphins have shifted nine of their 10 injured players to probable. The only questionable player for them: RB Daniel Thomas (ankle).