In the offseason, the Jets instilled their faith in Wayne Hunter, naming the 30-year-old veteran their starting right tackle and giving him a four-year, $13 million contract.
On Sunday night, Hunter will have his first chance to make good on that faith -- and the challenge couldn’t be anymore daunting.
Sure, Hunter’s gone against the likes of Mario Williams, Justin Tuck and Cameron Wake before.
But arguably none of those edge rushers are as talented and versatile as Dallas’s hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end DeMarcus Ware.
“I’ve had my fair of Pro Bowl guys with Mario, Justin and Cameron,” Hunter said after Wednesday’s practice. “But I think DeMarcus is a combination of all three of those guys in one. I think the guy is pretty amazing. I love the challenge. I’m really excited to go up against him.”
In past years, Ware would’ve matched up against Pro Bowl left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, who allowed just two sacks in all of 2010. In fact the two lined up opposite each other when the Jets and Cowboys met on Nov. 22, 2007.
“He’s a phenomenal athlete,” Ferguson said. “I think it’s gonna take a really good game from us to stop him.”
Said Hunter: “He uses the tools that he has. His arms are pretty much as long as Brick’s, he’s just a little shorter (Ware is 6-foot-4, Ferguson is 6-foot-6).”
But now that Rex Ryan’s brother Rob has taken over as Dallas’s defensive coordinator, that’s changed. During the preseason, Rob Ryan has deployed Ware, who had 15.5 sacks last season, all over the field: sometimes having him come out of a three-point stance, while also having him stand up out of the team’s base 3-4 scheme.
Of course, chances are that Rob Ryan would rather have Ware try and get by Hunter than Ferguson, so the pressure is going to be on -- especially on passing downs. And Hunter, who struggled when thrust into the starting role last season, allowing four sacks in three starts at right tackle in place of the injured Damien Woody, isn’t expecting to get much help -- if any.
“I think the guys have enough confidence in me not give me help,” Hunter said. “They haven’t really given me help up to this point. I think the game plan is still gonna be the same as we treat it with everybody else.”
Left guard Matt Slauson said the Jets changed a lot of their protections last season “to where we’re giving our tackles less help.”
“We know how amazing Brick is,” Slauson said, “and Wayne has really proved he can get it done, so we really don’t have to worry about it at all.”
Really? Not worrying about a superstar that has averaged over 13 sacks per season in his six-year NFL career, including a career-high 20 in 2008?
“He’s very good player,” Slauson said. “But I guarantee you with Brick and Wayne, they aren’t gonna have any problem with him.”
Normally, Hunter said, the Jets might implement a 3-4 protection where the tackles pick up the ends and the tight ends or running backs pick up the blitzing linebackers coming from the outside.
“But in this game,” Hunter said, “we don’t wanna put DeMarcus on a tight end or a running back. That’s pretty much a mismatch.”
Hunter was asked if it’s possible to emulate a player of Ware’s caliber and unique skillset in practice.
“Not really,” Hunter said. “If anyone’s gonna be close to him it’ll probably be (Jamal) Westerman. But he’s DeMarcus Ware, I don’t think anyone can emulate him, so you gotta do your best to make sure he doesn’t get to the quarterback.”