Joe Tippmann has survived his baptism by fire in his rookie season as the Jets' current and future center. And as he prepares for the season finale at New England on Sunday, the big man in the middle of the offensive line has emerged as a strong and steady presence.
"I think there's been a lot of takeaways especially for me as a player, starting off the season not even being a starter to moving in and starting three or four games at [right] guard and then, at that point, that's it, I'm going to be a guard in the NFL," Tippman said on Monday. "And then, the next thing you know I get moved into center after I had a couple of weeks off."
After watching from the sideline the first two games of the season, the 6-6 rookie out of Wisconsin played four games at right guard (coincidentally, his first start was against the Patriots) on the Jets' ever-changing offensive line. He sustained a thigh injury in the victory over the Eagles, worked toward fitness during the bye week and missed the OT win over the Giants. And when veteran Connor McGovern went down with a fractured kneecap against the Giants on Oct. 29, Tippmann made the transition back to center, where he dominated for the Badgers. Once in the middle, he said that McGovern has been his guide and mentor.
"He was helping me through the whole process, even when I got in at guard," said Tippmann, the No. 43 overall selection in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft. "He was able to throw stuff at me. Even after he went down, I was able to go to his house and he was breaking down games for me and showed me how he would have done things or how I could have done them better. I thank him for that. He took me under his wing and developed me as a player."
Heading to Foxborough for the 17th game of the season, the Jets (6-10) will be striving to end a losing streak against the Patriots (4-12) that extends to Week 16 of the 2015 season. New England defeated the Jets, 15-10, at MetLife Stadium in Week 3 when Tippmann saw his first game professional action. He said he's aware of the Green & White's struggles against their eternal AFC East rival.
"Their defense is very good, they want to keep condensing the pocket," Tippmann said. "They have big strong D-linemen up front, a lot of bull rushes, and they keep trying to wear you out throughout the game. It's a big week for all of us to be able to go out and play strong."
In a season in which the Jets have been forced to play a dozen different combinations because of injuries, head coach Robert Saleh and his staff realize they have a stud in the middle of the O-line who just might have the potential to hold down the position like his fellow Big Ten star Nick Mangold (Ohio State) did for 11 seasons.
"He's doing a really nice job," Saleh said recently. "He gets a battle scar every week, which is what you want out of a rookie. He's going to be a very good center for a very long time. A very good center for a long time. He's a special mind, he's a special individual. He's strains, he's got good feet. Every day he's learning something new, it's important to him and he's going to be a Jet for a damn long time."
Since his shift to center, Tippmann has played 100% of the snaps in 7 of 9 games and he said he's seen more game action than he expected as he fought his way through his first NFL training camp.
"I came in with the highest hopes of getting myself on the field, but after camp it was like 'OK, maybe this is the time I kind of step back, help out wherever I can and learn and develop as a player,'" he said. "It didn't end up being that way, I'm getting in there at guard. Being able to hop in there the first few weeks next to McGovern and having him show me the reins and help me with what it is you got to do as a center while playing guard. That was big for me."
He said he's reached a level of comfort that is often rare for a rookie in the league, comfort and confidence that will only grow through the offseason and into next season.
"One of the biggest things for me is my confidence," he said. "Being able to go out there and being confident. Especially this season and going into the offseason."
He added: "I think there's been a lot of takeaways, especially since there's been kind of getting down the flow of the season. There's plenty of ups and downs, just being able to work through injury, losses, mistakes, injuries not just for myself, but the O-line and being able to keep moving forward through all that. It's a big takeaway for me."