Fifteen plays was all it took on Saturday night for Jets right tackle Mekhi Becton to give his coach, his teammates and fans a hint of what could be in store for the team's top pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Becton took 25% of the snaps on offense and perhaps the highlight of his night came in the second quarter when Becton put a pancake block on the Giants' 6-3 linebacker Tomon Fox.
On the Jets' second drive, Becton thwarted the rush of Giants' defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches as quarterback Aaron Rodgers found WR Garrett Wilson along the far sideline for a 14-yard TD and the game's opening score. Becton gave Rodgers, who was making his first preseason appearance since 2018 with Green Bay, a bear hug after the play.
"I just told him I loved him," Rodgers said after the Jets' 32-24 win to close out the preseason slate. "He's come a long way. I'm really proud of him, as much as anybody on the team. I don't know if you guys [reporters] get the chance to talk to him a whole lot, but I just feel like his head is in a really good spot, and he feels like he's part of it. He's been playing well. I'm not sure what the film's going to show, but it felt like out there that he protected well.
"He's a mountain of a man. He leads us on the field. It's like old-school battles where you send your biggest guy [6-7] out first and there's Mekhi leading us on the field, it's pretty cool. But it is amazing to see when you empower people and when you encourage people and you wrap your arms around people, you see their personality start to come out, you see the confidence start to grow. And I think that's what we've tried to do with Mekhi and make him feel like he's a part of this and make him feel important. And he's returned that love and trust and support with a lot of really good play."
Becton is returning from a two-season absence as he's dealt with knee injuries. With the play last season of Duane Brown at left tackle, head coach Robert Saleh gave Becton a shot on the right side, next to versatile guard Alijah Vera-Tucker. Becton embraced the challenge and emerged as the starter.
"He's still got work to do," Saleh said. "There's a maintenance part of it that he's got to stay on, and he can't get satisfied with it. He's got to stay diligent with making sure he's staying ahead of the chains when it comes to rehab and [regeneration] and all that. He's doing all the right stuff. He's got a lot of energy.
"He's speaking the right language. He's got a lot of positive self-talk. He's in the training room every day working on that knee making sure it's fresh and ready to roll. He's got to stay on it, and he can't get complacent with where he's at now. He's got a lot to play for. He's gotten better every single day and he's gotten more confident in his knee."
Rodgers added: "He's come a long way. I'm really proud of him. As much as anybody on the team, the way that Mekhi has grown this month has been really spectacular."
Becton is slated to make his first start since the opening game of the 2021 season when the Jets begin the 2023 season by hosting Buffalo on Monday night, Sept. 11.
See all of the best photos of the Jets during the 32-24 preseason victory over the Giants on Saturday.
Chad Alexander on Aaron Rodgers: 'Everything You Want in a Leader'
Chad Alexander, the Jets' director of player personnel, has been with the team for five years after spending 20 years as an executive with the Baltimore Ravens.
During the Green & White's long training camp, he's had the benefit of watching veteran quarterback Aaron Rodgers from his window at One Jets Drive and up close on the field. Then on Saturday night, Alexander soaked in the significance of finally seeing Rodgers in live action.
"It's hard to put into words," he said. "Watching him in practice is one thing. Sometimes you look out your window and say, 'Wow, we have Aaron Rodgers on our team, it's pretty cool.' To see him, he's so comfortable. To see him working with his teammates in a live game is awesome. It's really exciting.
"What has stood out is that everyone knows what a great player he is and anytime you get a chance to add a Hall of Fame quarterback to your roster, it's an outstanding thing. It affects every aspect of the building. Just the connections he's made with his teammates and he's really a great teacher, to help the young players understand the system and get acclimated to his way of doing things. He exemplifies everything you want in a leader."
Mark Sanchez's Hot Dog Saga Never Gets Old
Jets fans of a certain age often bring up Oct. 25, 2009 ... and newer fans of the Green & White often get a charge when they happen upon a certain clip on YouTube.
Sanchez, who is now a game and studio analyst for Fox, made his annual pilgrimage to the Atlantic Health Training Center and chatted with Eric Allen on the "The Official Jets Podcast," and of course the Hot Dog Game came up.
Hey, a win's a win, but the game had a mythical moment of sorts when during a stop in play, TV cameras caught a hungry Sanchez scarfing down a hot dog while sitting on the bench.
"It usually comes up around National Hot Dog Day [which was July 19 this year]," Sanchez said. "It really all started after games at USC at the L.A. Coliseum. After the game, there'd be 25 different little hot dog stands on the street. Some nice little Hispanic gals were cooking up the bacon-wrapped hot dogs. So that's where it started. They were victory dogs.
"The real issue with the hot dog story was that we were going into Oakland. We won, and then lost our next three. I was playing like crap, giving the ball away way too much. I was down in the dumps. Before the game I was so in my own head that it took [Coach] Rex [Ryan] to get a couple of different college clips from our film guy at USC. He put this highlight tape together to remind me we drafted you No. 5 for a reason. This was never going to be perfect. He said to 'take care of the ball better and go be this guy,' and showed me the tape. After that I'm energized, boom, we're playing a bad Oakland team. And it was just what we needed. We beat them, 38-0.
"So [during the game], I'm so hungry. I didn't eat the night before or the morning of the game and I'm dying on the sideline. So I asked the guys in the white shirts and blue shorts 'hey you got any food?' They had some Gatorade bars, and I'm like 'no, I need some food.' I'm really not feeling good and I'm out of the game. He says 'you want me to run up and get you a cheeseburger?' I said, 'no but I'll take a hot dog ... and grab some mustard.'
He didn't realize that a TV camera spied him chowing down on his hot dog as they panned the Jets bench during a time out.
"They [TV] caught it in a timeout," Sanchez said. "I was all down crouched low and [Greg] Gumbel [and analyst Dan Dierdorf] called me out. It went the way it went and now around National Hot Dog Day I have a great memory."