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George Fant's Goal: 'To Be Best Right Tackle I Can Be'

O-Line Coach John Benton Has Short Time to Get Five Men Working as One


George Fant has done everything he's been asked to do since he joined the Jets.

In 2020, he played 14 games at right tackle. That's where he started the 2021 NFL season, until a season-ending knee injury sustained by Mekhi Becton immediately sent Fant to the opposite side of the offensive line.

Only a few weeks ago, head coach Robert Saleh ended any controversy before it could get started when he named Fant the starter at left tackle, moving Becton to the right side ... but not for long.

And in a strange kind of synchronicity, the signing in free agency of Laken Tomlinson brought about the move of second-year guard Alijah Vera-Tucker to the right side, and this week's signing of Duane Brown (a teammate of Fant's with Seattle) ships Fant back to the right side next to AVT -- who he played next to last season.

"Luckily, we've got a lot of guys who've played ball, me, Laken [center], Duane, Connor McGovern," Fant told reporters on Thursday. "Even AVT, a new guy who's played a lot of positions. It shouldn't be hard to gel."

Though Fant has been limited so far in training camp as he deals with a foot injury, Saleh, offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur and offensive line coach John Benton are eager to get their five guys on the same page only a few weeks before the 2022 regular-season opener against visiting Baltimore on Sept. 11.

Any way you look at it, there will be new starters at four of the five positions.

"The concern about continuity and communication is big," Benton said. "The good news is that with Laken and Duane at least there's a familiarity with the scheme. In a normal year, if we had four new parts in a five- man line, I would be nervous, but I haven't felt that at all. Continuity, working together, I feel fairly confident we will be in good shape."

For his part, Fant has taken the bounce back to the right side like the professional he truly is.

"It's out of your control, you can only do what you can control," Fant said. "My goal is to be the best right tackle I can be. Sometimes you got to take things head on and go play. I know I can play left or right. You have to be a pro in certain situations. Sure, you can be upset and all, but we have to play football games. I go out there working on my game, getting acclimated to the right side."

Saleh has been direct, rolling with the changes since Becton sustained his second season-ending injury. He has said several times that the goal is to put the five best guys on the field capable of doing Job #1 -- that being protecting the quarterback, whether it's Zach Wilson, Joe Flacco, Mike White or anyone else.

"The No. 1 responsibility for all of us is to protect the quarterback and you can argue that George's left tackle production was better than when he played right tackle, but that was a different scheme," Saleh said. "We think he'll be fine playing right tackle in our scheme. We think he's a very gifted athlete, he's very smart, he's got the right mindset to him, so we think his production is not going to drop off at all."

See the Green & White on the practice field on Thursday during week four at training camp.

In his two seasons with the Jets, Fant took 95% of the snaps in 2020 and 90% of the snaps (a career high 887) last season while allowing only 18 total pressures (1 sack) over 594 pass-blocking snaps. His pressure rate of 3.03% was the third-lowest rate in the NFL among left tackles in the 2021 season, according to Pro Football Focus.

Asked about the adjustments he'll have to make switching from left to right, Fant said: "There's a lot of stuff. It's not easy to do, if that was then case everyone would do it. You have to deal with hand placement, the way you get off the ball, and the pass protection set. A lot. I've had a lot of experience with it so far, so it shouldn't be too bad." He added: "This [wide zone] scheme was built for me. Getting on the edge and running and the way we do protection, definitely good for me."

Fant, 30, said that he and Brown, soon to be 37, were in constant contact while the Jets and Brown's representatives were working through the details of his move to the East Coast.

"He brings a lot of knowledge and is still playing at a high level," Fant said. "He's a good player and it's exciting for me to be telling the younger guys what he brings to the room. We'll see it when he comes out here. I have a lot of respect for Duane, I learned a lot from him, and we've always been in touch."

Benton, who is again tasked with molding five men into a cohesive unit, said he recognizes the sensitivity to all the adjustments up front.

"That's where you hurt a little bit," Benton said. "He (Fant) worked so hard to earn it [the left tackle job] and did all he could to keep it. He's handled it very well is the short answer. He'd probably prefer playing on the left and he can see what's best for the group, and that's to be the right tackle. He's always been a great teammate, the type of guy who knows the ultimate success of the group is more important than which side, which tackle [position] he's playing."

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