Strong Up the Middle? Joe Douglas, Robert Saleh Are Working on It

Jets Still Seeking to Add D-Tackle, Starting Center Candidates to Their OTA, Training Camp Roster

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The Jets, like any good baseball or football team, want to be strong up the middle. They're working on fortifying this axis that runs perpendicular to the line of scrimmage but they've still got work to do.

Quarterback goes without saying, and both Jets general manager Joe Douglas and Packers GM Brian Gutekunst gave optimistic responses about the progress of talks over compensation in a trade for Aaron Rodgers. Assuming that process is completed sometime this offseason, one end of the axis would then be well oiled and ready to roll.

At the opposite end, the Jets signed unrestricted free agent Chuck Clark, a hard-hitting, durable safety who played his first six NFL seasons with the Ravens, including all 1,151 defensive snaps in their 18 regular- and postseason games last year.

"We know what kind of a person and leader Chuck is and what he's going to add to the culture of our locker room," Douglas told newyorkjets.com's Eric Allen at the NFL Annual Meeting in Phoenix. "He's another guy that has the physical nature that we're looking for on defense."

Working back toward the line, MLB C.J. Mosley has also been a durable, big-tackling team leader the past two seasons. Along with the re-signing of Quincy Williams, 'backer has a strong foundation to build around.

On to the D-line, which still needs to replace, from last year's effective rotation, two key inside pieces that departed in free agency — Sheldon Rankins to the Texans and Nathan Shepherd to the Saints.

"We still have Quinnen — he's pretty good," Saleh said of the Jets' ever-rising Pro Bowl 3-technique, Quinnen Williams. "We want to add to those pieces. Sheldon is a phenomenal player, and you know how much I love Shep. Going to New Orleans and getting what he got, I'm really excited for him.

"But we'll be all right, we'll figure it out."

Leaping across the trenches to center, another free agent the Jets have considered is Ben Jones, who's going into his 12th pro season after spending the last seven with Tennessee and the last five under Titans OL coach Keith Carter, now the Jets' OL coach/run game coordinator. Jones participated in his first Pro Bowl (actually the first "Pro Bowl Games") in January. No meetings have yet been scheduled but Douglas said, "There is interest in Ben."

The Jets lost one backup center candidate in Dan Feeney to the Dolphins but brought in two other young veterans with C experience in Wes Schweitzer and Trystan Colon.

"There are a couple of things they're going to add," Douglas said of his new interior OL tandem. "They play with the mentality, toughness and grit at that position that you're looking for. And their tenacity and versatilty, as players they can line up at guard or center, that adds value to the line."

But free agency isn't the only stone the Jets can turn to find top candidates for their two positions on opposite sides of the line. Pre-trade, they still have the 13th, 42nd and 43rd picks in the first three rounds of the draft. Interior D-linemen around those picks include Clemson's Bryan Bresee in Round 1 and Michigan's Mazi Smith and Wisconsin's Keeanu Bolton in Round 2. In the second round, a couple of centers could also be attractive in Minnesota's John Michael Schmitz and TCU's Steve Avila.

Leapfrogging QB to the running backs, the Jets would seem to be stocked here with Breece Hall returning from his injury-shortened yet stunning rookie season; Michael Carter having "a chance to come back strong" in his third Jets season, according to Saleh, and just re-signed Ty Johnson. That didn't stop the NFL rumor mill from churning out the idea that Ezekiel Elliott, released by the Cowboys, could be on the Jets' radar.

Saleh is a never-say-never kind of guy, but he left it pretty clear how he felt about the RBs on his roster. "We love our running backs room," he said. " I'll leave it at that."

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