Right or Left, Jets Guard Alijah Vera-Tucker Is Embracing the Challenge

One of Zach Wilson’s Protectors Says Switching Sides Is a “Different Animal”

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It would be hard to call Jets guard Alijah Vera-Tucker underrated or underappreciated. It might be more appropriate to call the rookie performance of the guy out of Southern California as more under the radar. No more. That would be an anomaly for AVT, who was drafted No. 14 overall and played in a smidge less than 100% of the snaps in the 16 games he started.

Now comes a new challenge for the soft-spoken 6-5, 308 perfectionist who makes his mark in the toughest place on the football field -- in the trenches on the offensive line. Because last season, when AVT led the offense with 1,026 snaps, he played exclusively at left guard. But with the signing in free agency of Pro Bowl guard Laken Tomlinson, in the 2022 NFL season, AVT is moving ... to the right side.

"I was really hyped," Vera-Tucker said about the signing of Tomlinson. "He's coming off a Pro Bowl year and has already been in this system [in San Francisco]. He's a true veteran. He's been in the league, he's been to the Super Bowl and been close to other ones. He's been through it and knows what it means to get there. Right now, I'm just listening to everything he has to say.

"When he came in, I was really excited to be able to pick his brain and how he will be able to help me with my technique. Overall, it's really exciting to add another guy to the offensive line who can really come in and dominate."

AVT's versatility is one of the things the Jets love. He played on the left side and on the right side for USC.

"I'm cool with it," he said after OTAs and minicamp in June. "I had two years at right guard in college and the last year I had been switching around on the O-line. By now I'm pretty used to it. I just feel like I'm a versatile player, that's why they got me. I'm cool at right guard and I'm starting to feel comfortable.

See some of the best images of the 2022 Jets in uniform at the team's annual multimedia day held at 1 Jets Drive.

"It's a different animal when you switch sides. For me, it's about just flipping plays in my head. After about two weeks of OTAs I got that down now. Now I'm cruising and getting better."

As proficient as AVT has been and is expected to be in the run game, he said that his overarching concern is keeping the uniform of QB Zach Wilson, another second-year player, clean and pristine in Gotham Green.

"The main thing for me, there are a couple of things in the run game, but the biggest thing is pass protection," he said. "I feel I could have been a lot better last year and I want to work toward that Pro Bowl mentality. It's not just about sacks, it's all about how comfortable Zach feels. If he's comfortable I'm comfortable, but we can always get better."

The idea that Vera-Tucker needs to improve his pass protection might seem bizarre to some people, especially since he only allowed 2 last season. Pro Football Focus gave him a season grade of 67.2, second among rookie guards who took 80% of their team's snaps. His sacks allowed ranked first, and his 6 hits and 34 pressures ranked second. He also had a better grade in the run game than in pass protection -- his 72.1 PFF run-blocking grade ranked 10th among 40 qualifying left guards -- as he worked under the watchful eyes of offensive line coach/run game coordinator John Benton.

The sheer fact that Wilson and Vera-Tucker were drafted in the same year will always link them. And their progress, as individuals and as part of a beefed-up offense, will be linked for as long as they play in the NFL. AVT's opinion of his quarterback in Year 2 is Wilson continues an upward trajectory.

"I'd say he's speaking up more in the huddle," AVT said. "And when he huddles us before and after practice he never shies away from getting us together. In general, he's becoming more of a leader. When I wasn't out there, I was watching him slinging the rock. I'm excited."

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