Wayne Hunter’s about to break one of those long droughts that no one outside of his family and the Jets locker room probably knows about.
“This is my first start as a tackle,” said Hunter today, wearing his eternal off-the-field smile at the group of reporters that approached him right after he got out of the shower and right before he needed to be in a meeting. “I’ve been on teams with guys who’ve been so healthy on the offensive line. They just haven’t gotten hurt.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “It’s exciting, nervous … more exciting than anything,”
The length of Hunter’s career can be measured several ways. He was Seattle’s third-round pick in 2003 so this is his eighth NFL season. He didn’t play as a rookie so that makes it seven. He sat out most of ’07 to knock it down to six and change. And in those six-plus seasons, he’s played in 44 regular-season games plus three in the postseason.
In all that time, he’s made just three starts, two last year, one this year at Denver, all as a blocking tight end.
“Playing jumbo tight end has kept me in the game,” Hunter explained. “It’s basically tackle sets, just further out. That’s kept me prepared for times like this.”
Now he’s getting ready for Sunday’s start against LaMarr Woodley, James Harrison — “I’m preparing for both” — and the Steelers defense with about six quarters of work at tackle the past three games. He took over for Woody and his wounded knee late in the first quarter against Houston, then came in on the third series of Sunday’s game vs. Miami.
“It hasn’t been easy — Mario and Wake,” he said, referencing DE Mario Williams of the Texans and Dolphins LB Cameron Wake. “But the cliché is if you want to be the best, you’ve got to go against the best.”
Hunter gave up sacks to Wake, not a high crime considering the Dolphin’s league-leading 14 sacks but a misdemeanor at least, but that hasn’t diminished Rex Ryan’s view of Hunter’s value to the Jets.
“I’ve said all along I think Wayne’s a tremendous football player who can be starting for a lot of teams in this league,” Ryan said at today’s news conference at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. “This is going to be a challenge for all of us, but I think Wayne’s ready to do the job.”
“Rex tends to exaggerate sometimes,” Hunter said, “but I’m glad he’s got that confidence in me.”
And even though Hunter has scuffled through the past several games, he has confidence in himself because, well, he’s that kind of guy, but also because except for training camp, he doesn’t get long stretches to practice his chosen craft.
“I think playing offensive line, a lot of that has to do with finding a rhythm. I don’t think you can get some rhythm until you get some gametime,” he said. “So I’m hoping to find my rhythm in this game, possibly the next, depending on how long Woody’s out.”
Woody’s three-word advisory to Hunter before he got his ‘scope Wednesday: “Don’t get comfortable.”
Hunter’s two-word response: “Wally Pipp.”
Or words to that effect.
Ryan confirmed that Dwight Lowery will get the start at safety Sunday at Heinz Field alongside Brodney Pool. Who will call the secondary’s signals with Eric Smith sitting out with a concussion? “Who’ve we got left?” the coach said. “We’ll figure it out.”
But Rex added that Pool, new to the system in the offseason, has been immersing himself in the playcalling details before and after meetings and practices. “It’s been impressive,” Ryan said.
Ryan today declared Woody and E.Smith out for Sunday’s game. Others who didn’t practice in team drills today were S James Ihedigbo — “This is Dig’s kind of game … I think he’s going to play for sure” — and DT Trevor Pryce — “Hopefully he’ll play but I’m not 100 percent on that right now.”
CB Darrelle Revis was listed for the first time in three weeks with a hamstring issue and was limited at today’s outdoor turf practice, although Rex said of his CB, “I expect Revis to play. That was more precautionary than anything.”
Update, 6:15 p.m.: The Steelers continue to list LB James Harrison (illness), S Troy Polamalu (ankle) and DE Aaron Smith (triceps) as not practicing today. They also added two more names to the DNP section of their injury report: TE Heath Miller (concussion) and DT Steve McLendon (stinger).
Tags: Damien Woody, Dwight Lowery, Eric Smith, James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, PIttsburgh Steelers, Rex Ryan, Wayne Hunter
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