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Jets' offensive line remains a shuffled mix of big men up front because of injuries

New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) passes the ball during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — You never know who might end up playing on the New York Jets' offensive line these days.

The banged-up unit has shuffled players in and out of the lineup — capped by Zach Wilson taking snaps last Sunday in a 13-10 win over the Giants from fourth-string center Xavier Newman, a natural guard who was elevated from the practice squad the previous day.

“You don’t worry about it, man,” Wilson said Wednesday. “We’ve got fighters on this team. Whoever steps up will be ready to roll. I have ultimate trust in everybody in this locker room, so whether it’s someone who’s been playing or not, I think we’ll be just fine.”

The Jets quarterback is taking an optimistic approach. And it's probably the only one to take right now, especially with New York set to use its fifth different starting offensive line in eight games when it takes on the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday night.

“I’m not even looking at it like that,” said left guard Laken Tomlinson, who will be the only Jets O-lineman to start in the same spot in every game this season. "I’m just looking at it like we've got these five warriors out there just ready to help the team win. Obviously, we’ve been extremely unfortunate with the injuries, but guys are busting their tails off and we've got some guys out and got some guys back in.

“But we’re going to be all right. We've got the right type of guys in the room.”

Quite a few players have passed through that door during the first half of the season.

Consider this: The Jets' Week 1 lineup against Buffalo featured Tomlinson at left guard, Duane Brown at left tackle, Connor McGovern at center, Alijah Vera-Tucker at right guard and Mekhi Becton at right tackle.

Brown has been cleared to begin practicing after spending five games on injured reserve with a hip injury, while McGovern (knee) and Vera-Tucker (Achilles tendon) are also on IR — with Vera-Tucker done for the season. Wes Schweitzer, a guard and backup center, is also on IR with a calf injury. Rookie Joe Tippmann, who started four games at right guard and is also the second-string center, missed one game with a quadriceps injury and is uncertain to return this week.

“That’s the importance of having versatility as offensive linemen because you just never know,” Tomlinson said. “That sixth man can go and play any spot. Sometimes it might even be that seventh man or, you know, that guy that just got picked up by the team.

The Jets' Week 9 lineup against the Chargers could include Tomlinson at left guard; Becton at left tackle; Newman or Tippmann at center; Newman, Billy Turner or maybe even the recently signed Rodger Saffold at right guard; and Max Mitchell at right tackle.

And when Brown is ready to play, it's uncertain if he'll slide back into his natural left tackle spot — again forcing Becton to move back to the right side.

“I didn't play football for two years, so I really don’t give a damn where I’m at,” said Becton, who missed all but one game the past two seasons with knee injuries. “I just want to play football.”

In other words, who knows what the Jets' offensive line will look like moving forward? But it will surely have an effect on the overall production of the offense, which continues to struggle on third down and in the red zone.

“It’s very frustrating because everything starts up front,” coach Robert Saleh said. “You want to get creative and you want to do different things, but the protection has to hold up. And a lot of times the protection, it comes from continuity and guys just knowing how to play off each other, how to pass off games, how to feel one another in their sets or in the run game, whatever it is.”

And that's all tough to do when the cast keeps changing.

“We like where everyone is at,” Saleh said. "We’re trying to avoid making so many moves. The continuity is already lacking, so you’re just trying to make as few moves as possible to keep guys playing, doing what they do best.

“But nothing is off the table. We’ve got to play our best five, but we’re trying to do so in a way that’s more of a minimalist mentality.”

NOTES: P Thomas Morstead was selected the AFC special teams player of the week after he dropped a team-record and career-best three punts inside the 5-yard line last Sunday vs. the Giants. ... OL Chris Glaser was signed to the active roster from the Cowboys’ practice squad. ... DL Bruce Hector was signed to the practice squad and DL Elerson Smith was released.

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