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Jets' LG Alijah Vera-Tucker: 'Everyone Is Holding Their Own' on the O-Line

AVT Calls QB Zach Wilson, Who Is Expected Back vs. Steelers, “My Dog”


To say that the Jets' second-year offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker has been dealing with the twists and turns of life in the NFL would be a huge understatement.

Early in free agency, he received the news that the team had signed Pro Bowl right guard Laken Tomlinson. That meant AVT was asked to move to the right side. No problem, since the USC product is a team guy and had grown used to the switches while playing in college.

Then at the very start of training camp, head coach Robert Saleh announced that George Fant would start at left tackle, with Mekhi Becton moving to the right side. But Becton went down with a season-ending knee injury, and Fant traveled back to the right side when the Jets signed Duane Brown.

When Brown was injured, Fant got back on the conveyor belt to the left side and rookie fourth-round pick Max Mitchell stepped in and has played admirably next to AVT in his first three starts in the NFL. And now Fant this week was placed on IR with a knee injury, which means he will miss a minimum of four games.

"I've definitely never experienced these switches, but that's the game," Vera-Tucker told team reporter Eric Allen during this week's edition of "The Official Jets Podcast." "Injuries come, and unfortunately, we've been hit with injuries on the offensive line, but everyone is holding their own. We've had to deal with adversity the last month. Max has come in and done his thing. Fant as well [until his injury] at left tackle, the spot he feels more comfortable in anyway. We're all holding up. You can't do anything about injuries in this game."

AVT, who the Jets selected No. 14 overall after trading up in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, finds himself in a unique position as a sophomore in the league playing next to the Ragin' Cajun rookie from Louisiana. They are developing the chemistry necessary to perform in run and pass blocking. And where once AVT was the young guy being counseled by a group of veterans, he now finds the script has been flipped and he's the one helping and advising Mitchell.

"That's 'Money Mitch,' he's held his own against some good pass rushers, especially the past couple of weeks," AVT said. "He's handled his own. He was thrown in there and he's been doing his thing in the run and pass game."

He added: "For me, I just feel a lot more comfortable in the offense in Year 2. It's tough switching tackles, but Max has been doing a really good job, he's making my job easier and I'm making his easier. I feel for Max, he's like me, he leads by example. When he needs to turn it up, he'll know when to do that. We're talking on the sideline, getting everyone hyped up. It's cool to see."

There is no denying that Vera-Tucker has been one of the bright spots for the Jets early this season. Quiet and efficient, no complaints ... only production. According to Pro Football Focus, the Jets' young O-line twosome on the right has been earning excellent grades. Mitchell graded out at 69.8 and AVT at 68 in last week's loss against visiting Cincinnati. Overall, PFF rates AVT at the No. 8-ranked guard (the No. 1 run blocker) in the entire NFL through three games.

"It's pretty cool to see, but me personally, I never look at that stuff," AVT said. "I have my family send it to me. The motivation for me is to keep on pushing. Overall, I don't really pay attention to the PFF numbers. It's more important what we see on film, and what the coaches see, too."

After a strong game at Cleveland, the offensive line was challenged by the Bengals. And when the Jets fell behind (the Green & White has only held a lead for 22 seconds so far this season), they were forced to throw the ball. Playing from behind was difficult, and the situation was compounded by a couple of untimely penalties and "little mistakes."

"I think Coach Saleh said it best -- it's the little things getting to us that we have to focus on in practice, taking extra time to work on them," Vera-Tucker said. "He addressed the team well, no one has his head down, we're 1-2 and the season is far from over. We know the talent we have in the room. Now it's about putting it all together. For me and as a team, all our heads are up, morale is still good in this building and it's good to see. It's the little things, about getting them corrected and going out there and having some fun."

See all of the top images from Sunday's game against Cincinnati.

Sunday's game, at Pittsburgh, will close out the Jets' schedule against the four teams from the AFC North. It will most likely bring the regular-season debut of second-year quarterback Zach Wilson, Saleh said on Wednesday. Wilson, who was out injured after sustaining a knee injury in the first preseason game, at Philadelphia, has been cleared by doctors to fully participate in practice this week.

"I'm excited to see Zach Wilson play this season, that's my dog." AVT said. "I know he's been putting in work during the offseason, you could see it in camp and OTAs. He's starting to take on that leadership role, he knew what he had to do to improve. He'll come back and come back healthy. I can't wait to see it.

"I got drafted with him so that automatically makes us pretty tight. He's a great dude off the field, a humble guy. He doesn't like to talk a lot about himself, he puts the team first. I know he's been putting in that work, but he hasn't had the opportunity to show it yet. When he does, we're all going to be here for him."

As one of the budding, top guards in the NFL, AVT was asked what he finds the most satisfying during play on the field. His answer? Getting to the second level and homing in on a linebacker. He is likely to have at least a few opportunities on Sunday since Pittsburgh plays a 3-4 defense.

"Me, I like going against a 3-4 because it frees me up a bit to go after those linebackers," he said. "It's definitely a great feeling to go full speed to them. Some linebackers will take on the hit and some will try to shimmy around you. You have to do your studying, but as an offensive lineman in free space ... there's nothing better."

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