One issue looms as potential roadblock for Aaron Rodgers, Jets' title hopes

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:

1. O-line crisis brewing? Aaron Rodgers needs pass protection to be Aaron Rodgers. Whether the quarterback gets it from the Jets' still-developing offensive line remains the top question surrounding the team -- the biggest threat to their Super Bowl aspirations.

Consider: Over the past three years, Rodgers has the second-highest Total QBR on plays when the defense doesn't get a pass-rush win on a play, but his QBR drops to 28th when the defense has at least one win, according to ESPN Stats & Information data.

The Jets' starting line is off to such a slow start that coach Robert Saleh is leaving open the possibility of moving right guard Alijah-Vera Tucker, arguably their best lineman, to right tackle. Saleh doesn't want to go down that road because he believes Vera-Tucker has All-Pro potential as a guard, but he said the objective is to start the best five. Right now, it would be hard to sell Max Mitchell or Billy Turner -- both in a right-tackle competition -- as one of the top five. Schweitzer started at right guard Saturday against the Carolina Panthers, with Vera-Tucker getting the day off.

Conceivably, the Jets' opening-day line could look like this (left to right): Duane Brown, Laken Tomlinson, Connor McGovern, Wes Schweitzer and Vera-Tucker. This is assuming the soon-to-be 38-year-old Brown -- still getting into shape and rehabbing a surgically repaired shoulder -- is ready for Week 1.

Most teams are using this time in camp to build chemistry with their starting five. The Jets? They're still mulling changes, which can't make Rodgers feel comfy. Or Saleh.

"My optimistic side will say we have time," Saleh said. "Duane is coming back, there’s still a lot of pieces and we’ve got some cards in our back pocket that we can use. But as a coach, you want it done yesterday."

Vera-Tucker is a talented and versatile lineman who has played four of the five spots. He bailed them out last season when injuries hit, bouncing from right guard to left tackle to right tackle without complaint. He posted a 93.4% pass block win rate at tackle, which would've ranked fifth-best in the league if he had played enough to qualify at the position.

One thing is certain: The Jets don't have to worry about him tweeting, "I. Am. A. Right. Guard." (See: Mekhi Becton.) Vera-Tucker said he will play wherever the coaches want him to.

He's the ace in Saleh's back pocket. If the tackle play doesn't improve, he might have to reach for it, hoping Vera-Tucker can protect his 39-year-old quarterback from harm.

2. Becton's battle: A lot of folks are wondering about Becton and where he stands in the pecking order of the offensive line. Even though he's making progress in his return from a second knee surgery, No. 11 pick of the 2020 draft isn't viewed as starting material right now. The coaches want to see him build up his endurance before giving him first-team reps.

"What this whole camp is about is to get him mentally connected to that knee," Saleh said.

Becton, on his personal doctor's advice, is taking it slow and steady. He took a nice step Saturday – 27 snaps on offense, up from seven last week.

3. Big expectations: The Jets' secondary has a slogan for itself: "Young and Turnt." Safety Tony Adams hatched it, according to D.J. Reed, who said he and fellow cornerback Sauce Gardner have been promoting it.

"We're young and turnt, swagging up, handshake-ready ... " Reed said.

They're definitely young. Reed and Gardner are 26 and 22, respectively. Safeties Adams and Jordan Whitehead are 24 and 26, respectively. Nickelback Michael Carter II is 24. Good news for the Jets: Reed, Gardner, Adams and Carter are all signed through at least 2024.

"Our goal is to be the best," Reed said.

4. Deep thoughts: Rodgers is giving the defensive backs a workout in training camp, keep them on their toes with some deep balls. Reed estimated that he covered only three or four in last year's camp. This year? He put the number at 12 to 14 long passes.

"In my whole career as a corner, I ain't been tried like that," said Reed, who believes the extra reps have helped him improve his ball-tracking ability.

So how effective is Rodgers as a deep-ball thrower? He struggled last season, finishing 27th out of 33 qualified passers in completion percentage (19.4) on balls that traveled at least 30 air yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information data. In 2021, when he won his fourth MVP, he was 21st out of 31 passers (23.3 percent). So it hasn't been a strength the last two years.

5. Mac the mentor: Everybody knows the NFL is a "next man up" business. In ideal situations, it's a "pay it forward" industry, too.

The Jets have the latter at center, where incumbent Connor McGovern recognizes it's only a matter of time before he's replaced by second-round pick Joe Tippmann. It's potentially awkward, but McGovern is doing his best to coach up the rookie while maintaining the starting job for as long as he can.

"If that's part of my legacy, that's part of my legacy," McGovern said. "If I can turn him into a Hall of Famer and I'm sitting in the crowd in Canton one day and get to point him out while he's giving his speech, that would be pretty cool, too."

The anticipated training camp battle between them hasn't materialized. Right now, Tippmann is behind McGovern and Schweitzer, who can play guard and center. McGovern believes the competition has made him a better player.

6. Did you know? The Jets have the shortest odds to win the Super Bowl (16-1) among the teams with a losing record in 2022, per Caesars Sportsbook. They're trying to pull off a rare feat. Only three teams have won the Super Bowl after recording a double-digit loss total the previous year: the 1981 San Francisco 49ers, the 1999 St. Louis Rams and 2001 New England Patriots.

7. Thanks, honey: The Jets were in Spartanburg, South Carolina, for the first episode of "Hard Knocks '23: Training Camp with the New York Jets." Reed was disappointed to learn his hotel room didn't have HBO, so he got creative. He called home to his wife, who FaceTimed the show on her phone.

Reed said he wants to rewatch it because he missed a couple of parts, noting that his wife put the phone down when her hand got tired and when she returned texts from friends.

8. Will the thrill: In Spartanburg, the Jets conducted one joint practice with the Carolina Panthers. One player who quietly impressed was rookie defensive end Will McDonald, who beat Panthers left tackle Ikem Ekwonu a couple of times with inside moves. Ekwonu was the sixth overall pick in the 2022 draft. On Saturday, McDonald recorded a sack and five pressures, according to Next Gen Stats.

McDonald, a first-round pick, could have an important role in the defensive-line rotation, especially if Carl Lawson (stiff lower back) remains on the shelf.

9. Say cheese: Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb are the former Green Bay Packers receivers who have garnered the most publicity, but Malik Taylor is sneaking up on them. He has made a handful of big plays, playing his way into contention for a roster spot.

10. Feted by celebs: One of the highlights of Joe Klecko's post-enshrinement party last weekend at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, was a video that included tributes from celebrity Jets fans Ray Romano, Kevin James, Hank Azaria and Adam Sandler. Each one congratulated Klecko in their own distinct style.

A straight-faced Sandler began, "A terror. A bad dream that comes to life. Yes, I'm talking about Joe Klecko's performance in [the movie] 'Cannonball Run.'" After a laugh, he continued, "Just kidding, Joe. Do not beat me up. You know I love you."

It was a wonderful event, with at least a dozen former teammates -- including fellow New York Sack Exchange members Mark Gastineau and Marty Lyons -- turning out to honor Klecko on his long-overdue entrance into the Hall of Fame.