After shedding a lot of extra weight, Mekhi Becton now needs to gain some strength.
The battle for the three open jobs on the offensive line — left tackle, right tackle and center — began Thursday when the Jets held their first training camp practice.
After playing one game each of the last two seasons plagued by injuries, Becton is in the mix at both bookends, but is by no means guaranteed to be ahead of Duane Brown, Billy Turner and Mick Mitchell on the merit-based depth chart simply because he is a former first-round draft pick.
“He’s in full swing [ahead],” said head coach Robert Saleh. “He has done a great job this off-season in terms of losing weight. He looks amazing, and he’s moving around really well.
“He’s in a good mental state, so he’s fully prepared and part of the competition.”
According to Saleh, Brown did not practice for personal reasons, so the kneeling Becton, Turner and rookie Carter Warren all took snaps at both tackle positions.
Becton made it clear in the offseason that he wanted to stay at left tackle, and he reportedly blamed the Jets for making his right foot more vulnerable to recurring injuries by moving him to right tackle last offseason.
“The good thing about it is we have five tackles that we feel really excited about to compete for two spots,” Saleh said. “And we’ve got three centers where we’re really excited about competing for that one spot. I think through that competition, people are going to get a lot better. … The easiest way to motivate a player is competition, isn’t it?”
The crowd of fans at camp scrambling to get Becton’s attention—instead of criticizing him as the Twitter mob often does—got the thumbs up.
Mekhi’s spirits are high. He’s really excited to be back — the whole team knows it,” said right guard Elijah Vera-Tucker. “Physically — you’ve seen it on social media — he looks like a beast, better than ever. I know he’s excited to prove to himself that he still has it.”
Returning three-year starter Connor McGovern, rookie Joe Tippman and, to a lesser extent, Wes Schweitzer are the options at center.
Vera-Tucker said, “It’s going to be a good fight.” “That’s what comes from playing a team sport. I know that Gov. will help Tippman as much as possible and that Tippman will take all his advice. Hopefully they can learn from each other.
Vera-Tucker is the reliable middle of a sandwich of uncertainty on its left and right sides.
But he’s still coming off a season-ending torn ACL as one of six Jets offensive linemen who landed on injured reserve during a tough 2022 season.
“It was tough physically and mentally. “I feel like I’m having a great season,” Vera-Tucker said. “Our O-line handled the situations really well and merged together, and I think that helped us bond with each other this season.
“If everyone stays healthy, we should have a very successful O-line.”