It's Sunday night football — but not Sunday Night Football — for the Jets as they kick off Year 2 at their new home, New Meadowlands Stadium, against the Bengals tonight.
And one of the prime areas that will be under primetime scrutiny will be the Green & White offensive line.
There's not a thing wrong with the Jets' starting five, nothing that a little more time and injury rehab won't solve, that is. Center Nick Mangold and right guard Brandon Moore sat out the preseason opener at Houston. But as Mangold said this week of his neck being up to speed, "I would say close to it if not 100" as in 100 percent.
That should bring the Jets' starting O-line up to 80 percent of capacity for the first 1½ quarters against Cincinnati, with only Moore (hip) still being held out as coach Rex Ryan and the training and medical staffs continue play it cautiously in this most unusual preseason.
"I don't think there are any worries," said left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson after the conclusion of the last practice of their Atlantic Health Jets Training Center training camp Friday. "I think we have a great team, great personnel. Every year the team changes slightly. I think we're doing well as a unit."
The backups, however, triggered some alarms against the Texans when Rob Turner, taking over center for Mangold, went down late in the first quarter with a broken leg that will sit him down for a while. Vladimir Ducasse had his struggles and Robby Felix needed to step up earlier at C than anticipated.
Ducasse had a full plate last Monday night. The second-year man was needed at right guard, right tackle and left guard in the game, and the one sack of rookie QB Greg McElroy that he gave up was the result of a badly communicated snapcount change, as McElroy and Ryan both said in the days after the game.
But the Jets remain high on Ducasse's progress during camp and he'll remain a part of the Jets' line plans going forward, continuing tonight when he starts his second game of this preseason at RG for Moore.
"Losing Rob definitely hurts our depth at line," quarterback Mark Sanchez said. "But it also provides a huge opportunity for Vlad and this could be a big year for him. God forbid any of those guys go down, hopefully we have Vlad there to pick up the slack. He's coming along and showing really good flashes of being a dominant lineman. If anybody can get him to be one of the best, it's Coach Callahan."
Another concern outside the team was in finding a new backup for Mangold, and general manager Mike Tannenbaum and his personnel group may decide to bring in a veteran O-lineman in the coming weeks. But inside the team, the message is that maybe new bodies aren't necessary.
"Robby did well coming in. That's tough," Mangold said of Felix's extended playing time Monday. "You're the No. 3 center, then you're the No. 2 center, then all of a sudden you're the No. 1 center. That's a quick jump to make. He stayed calm, he did well, and I thought it was a good performance by him."
"Do we need to bring in somebody else? I don't think so," said Felix. "I'm ready to jump in and fill Rob's shoes. I'm working on guard, and tight end, I just need to get put in there. Blocking tight end is blocking like a guard. I've just got to keep getting better every day and show the Jets that I can fill Rob's shoes."
Felix has been around the NFL block just a little. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Ravens in 2009, then waived. The Jets did the same in 2010 but then brought him back to their practice squad immediately last September.
"He's been around this organization last year as well," Ferguson said. "It's good that you have guys that come in and play that have been here. It's not like he's just a free agent that we picked up two days ago. He's been in the system, he knows how to operate, and he's good guy."
Felix and Ducasse are among the Jets O-linemen who will be trying to demonstrate tonight that the Jets line depth is in good hands. It may well be more imperative than usual that NFL teams have reliable depth at key spots, since anecdotally it seems that injuries big and small have been piling up.
The Jets are a good example of the vicissitudes of this year's injury bug. Sanchez thought he'd be getting his top three wideouts on the field together for the first time as Plaxico Burress practiced all week on his sore ankle. But on Friday Derrick Mason tweaked his knee in practice and is questionable for the Bengals. QB Mark Brunell, who sat out last week's game with a dislocated left pinky, will sit again with a calf injury also suffered Friday, so the QB rotation again is expected to be Sanchez, McElroy and possibly Drew Willy.
Defensively, NT Sione Pouha (knee) is out, so Martin "MTV" Tevaseu and rookie Kenrick Ellis will work the nose early. LB Bart Scott (leg) will also rest so Josh Mauga, the big playmaker at Reliant Stadium, will get another shot to cement his spot as the first backup at ILB.
The key will be to get the backups through this game, Preseason Game 3 "at" the Giants and Game 4 vs. Philadelphia so that the starters can come together in full force in time for the Sept. 11 season opener vs. the Cowboys and beyond. And just maybe the extra work against players in those different-colored jerseys the next three weeks will give the Green & White backups on the O-line and at other positions the experience they need to contribute when called on in 2011.