When he was first contacted by the Jets, Duane Brown probably did not expect to end up as the starting left tackle on the offensive line. But stuff happens.
What began as an attempt to add a bit of depth was transformed to a necessity when tackle Mekhi Becton sustained a season-ending knee injury. And suddenly, the pursuit of Brown took on extreme urgency. Now the veteran of 15 seasons in the league will take up his position next to another veteran, Laken Tomlinson, protecting QB Joe Flacco's or Zach Wilson's blindside when the Jets open their 2022 NFL season against the visiting Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
"It's exciting," Brown, who turned 37 last week, said before the Labor Day weekend. "For player like me, the preseason is good. I came in late and have been able to knock some of the rust off, tighten up my technique and get familiar with the locker room and scheme. Obviously, I live for the live games that count. We have a young team and they've dealt with OTAs and training camp and all that stuff and they're excited to get started."
But before anyone gets started, Brown and head coach Robert Saleh acknowledged there's work still to be done to get the five-man O-line up to speed and playing with a single mind. In the final preseason game, a victory over the Giants, the expected starters up front (left to right, Brown, Tomlinson, Connor McGovern, Alijah Vera-Tucker and George Fant) took 21 snaps and failed to generate much of a push in the run game.
"The good news with that last preseason game is the group got together for the first time in game action," Saleh said. "The bad news is it didn't go the way we were hoping for. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't what we want, obviously, and I think they'll all agree, but every single rep that we take two days ago, yesterday, today [Thursday], come back Monday [Labor Day], same thing over the course of the week, so we have time to get the game reps in. We're having team comps, so it's not just going against cards, we're competing against one another also, but we've got to get going. There's an opportunity for us to catch up pretty quick and we've got about five, six practices left. Five practices."
See the 53-man roster in photos leading up to the 2022 season.
Brown comes to the Jets after five seasons with Seattle. He began his NFL career in Houston, where he first crossed paths with Saleh and offensive line coach John Benton "many years ago," Brown said. He played the maximum number of regular-season games (16 in 2018 and 2020; 17 last season) the past two seasons with the 'Hawks and has proved his durability during a long career. Other than his experience with Saleh and Benton, Brown said he knew little about the Jets personnel.
"I didn't know much about the locker room, I played against some of these guys but didn't know them personally," he said. "I came in with an open mind without knowing what to expect. It's been a pleasant surprise. The competition going on here, the optimism, the confidence in this locker room to go out and prove a lot of naysayers wrong. There's a history here of not being successful, but no one cares about that. We'll write our own story this year and it starts next week. It's been great so far."
With Brown installed on the left, and Fant moving back to the right side next to AVT, the Jets have an incredibly experienced couple of guys on the left. Tomlinson, signed from San Francisco in free agency, made the Pro Bowl in his last season with the 49ers.
"You have three guys who were here last year in Connor, AVT and George, they're familiar with the scheme and played a lot together," Brown said. "Laken is familiar with a similar system. I was in a similar system in Houston. I'm up to speed and blessed to have a lot of recall, so I'm able to plug in and don't have to ask questions on every play.
"It's been a really good transition. Laken and I talk a lot, watch a lot of film together trying to get ahead of the learning curve. It's not going to be perfect, we'll be going against a complex defense so we're going to have to make adjustments on the go. I'm confident though. We've played a lot of football individually, we're a physical duo and the group is very physical. We're trying to put our stamp on our style of play in Week 1. It's not something that happens overnight, but we have the right mentality and experience to get it done."
Brown traveled to North Jersey and took in the Green & White practice at MetLife Stadium last month impressed by the passion and spirit of Jets fans, all of whom are eager to see a young team with veteran leadership compete.
"It's a huge fanbase, a passionate fanbase," he said. "I could tell during my visit, there was a lot of interaction in person and on social media. I told the guys that if we get a few wins, the place is going to get rocking. We have to go out and perform, give our best effort and give the fans something to cheer for and they'll have our backs.
"It starts in Week 1 playing at home in front of them. And it's going to get rocking."