Historic U.S. Highway 66, known as Route 66, stretches nearly 2,500 miles and has for nearly 100 years carried American travelers through eight states, from Illinois to California. It was a road most traveled -- before the interstate system -- and it was a critical artery on the road to the promised land of California, and all points in between.
For the Jets, it has quickly become apparent that their road to a better destination will likely be driven along Highway 77 -- 77 being the jersey number of the Green & White's imposing and impressive rookie left offensive tackle Mekhi Becton.
Planting opponents on the turf is what it's all about, Becton said on Wednesday. "It feels great, like I did my job there," Becton said. "I try to do it every play and it feels real good to have a guy on the ground every play. That's my mantra."
For a man who only has played two games in the NFL, Becton has already collected a growing roster of nicknames: Highway 77, The Big Ticket (after having spent $175,000 on a gold medallion) and The Great Wall of Green (bestowed on him by O-line teammate Alex Lewis during training camp). The word "massive" is often misused, but Becton, at 6-7, 363 pounds, is the embodiment of the word.
For Jets fans, the hope is that the team has on its hands a long-sought successor to left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, a Long Island native drafted No. 4 overall in 2006 who held down the position for a solid 10 seasons making 160 consecutive starts. Over the Jets' first two games, Becton has played a combined 121 snaps on offense on the revamped line in front of QB Sam Darnold (linemen George Fant, Greg Van Roten and Lewis have also played all 121 snaps.) Becton is charged with protecting Darnold's blind side and opening up expressways for the running backs.
On the Jets' first play from scrimmage of the third quarter against the Niners, Becton broke from the line and pancaked San Francisco's Kerry Hyder as Frank Gore gained 4 yards off left tackle. Becton came up pointing to the sideline demanding more runs off left tackle.
Though he was limited at practice Wednesday, nursing a sore knee, Head Coach Adam Gase confirmed that his rookie left tackle always comes off the field and beseeches the coach to take the offense for a spin on Highway 77.
"He always says that, every time," Gase said on Wednesday. "Every time. He says it every time he comes off the field to me, 'Just keep running to the left.' "
Gase added: "He's done really well. I really think a lot of it has to do with his preparation coming into the season, not only physically, but --I know I've said this before -- but he must have studied a lot because since he's been here, since we started that first time we went out there in a Phase 2 walkthrough, he's been all over it. He was executing things that I was really surprised about, because sometimes it takes, 'OK, oh that's what I should do, I should slide with this guy,' or, 'I need to work with this dude.'
"I mean he got it pretty quick. He really did a good job of taking those meetings from the spring and then applying them when he got on the field. And then now it's like -- you can see there's a few things that come up every once in a while where it's the first time he's ever seen that, but man he doesn't make the same mistake more than once. He makes something, he can lock it in and say, 'Alright hey, I've seen this before, I know what to do now,' and he's been impressive the first two games."
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Becton's eye-opening start in the NFL has not gone unnoticed: He is the highest-graded rookie on offense (79.2) through two weeks, according to Pro Football Focus. Becton, who was selected No. 11 overall, was the fifth-highest graded rookie in Week 1 (77.2) and highest among rookies on offense. He received a 74.9 grade in Week 2 against San Francisco, which ranked him No. 14 among all NFL tackles and No. 3 among rookie tackles. Comments on social media and by commentators (on TV and online) are unanimous, seeing Becton as another building block in plans of GM Joe Douglas.
"Becton's been awesome," QB Sam Darnold said recently. "I think he would say there's been a couple things, but other than that he's been really good and he's going to continue to help this team grow and win games. I'm not surprised, he plays football, he's tough."
Becton and the rest of the reconstituted offensive line will face a Colts (1-1) defense on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium that is strong rushing the passer and tough against the run.
"They're up the field, physical up front, can stop the run and pass rush," Becton said. "It's going to be a test this week."
Speaking about the Jets' offensive line, he said: "We're coming together real well, getting to know each other. We hold each other accountable. It's a fun room, but it's also serious all the time."