The jerseys for tight end Ben Hartsock and offensive lineman Wayne Hunter aren't flying off the shelves, and their impact isn't always seen in the Jets boxscore or on SportsCenter, but that's the way they like it.
Both players are typically used in run situations as extra blockers along the front line, so their job in most situations is to do the heavy lifting while running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene run for daylight. When they come in the game, opposing defenses know the rushing attack is on.
"Going back to our mentality thing, 'ground and pound,' we don't care if you know it," Hunter said. "It's up to you guys to try and stop it and that's what Rex [head coach Rex Ryan] has always said since the day he came. We're going to run it in this gap, can you stop it? When I come in, everyone knows it's run. That's not going to change."
Hunter often comes in on goal-line and short-yardage situations and has helped propel the offense to the second-most rushing yards per game and the third-best yards per carry in the NFL. The University of Hawaii product has played in 34 games for the Green & White over the past three seasons, including four this year. He had to miss contests against the Dolphins and Bills with a shin injury, but since his return against the Vikings, his role has greatly increased.
"I'd say so. The role has always been there. I just haven't been available," Hunter said. "I remember the weeks that I was out, [tight end Matthew] Mulligan would take my spot. The whole idea of putting me in is putting the extra offensive lineman in. Even though Mully is in there to substitute for me, it still didn't give the right look that we want. Me coming back, we have a chance to carry it forward now."
Despite struggling early against the Broncos, the Jets finished with 129 yards and two touchdowns on the ground against eight-man fronts. An instrumental part of that success was Hartsock, an Ohio State standout who was a third-round pick by the Colts in 2004. During his two seasons as a Jet, he has two receptions and the only touchdown reception of his career. The 6'4", 268-pound blocking machine is rarely a target in the passing game, but understands that his contribution is valuable in furthering coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's philosophy of being a tough, versatile bunch.
"I think my role is constantly evolving," Hartsock said. "With the success that Dustin [Keller] is having, the more he's on the field, the better. And I'm aware of that and comfortable with that. Obviously I just look at myself as a complement to him and somebody that can come in and hold up at the point of attack. I think sometimes they use me in a role of having some experience and being able to recognize fronts and situations, some of our special plays out of the package with Brad Smith, and being able to adjust on the fly."
When he's not blocking for Smith in the Seminole formation or helping fend off linebackers and ends on run plays, Hartsock gets the rare opportunity to slip out into the flat as a pass option. One such instance came at Buffalo in Week 4, when quarterback Mark Sanchez rolled out on a goal-line play and seemingly had three wide-open options, including Hartsock. Instead, Sanchez threw to Keller for one of his five touchdowns so far this season.
While the big blocker is glad that the Jets are off to a 5-1 start, he couldn't help but wish he'd had his second career touchdown grab.
"It's kind of a running joke on the offense," Hartsock said. "Obviously I'd like to get opportunities to be multidimensional, but the role that I'm given is the role that I'm going to execute. We joke around about it some but ultimately I know that I have a heavy tendency towards the run plays.
"Sanchez apologizes to me about that play all the time. When you don't get opportunities very often, when they slip through your fingers like that, it's kind of a bummer. But we're winning games so you're happy."