Jets' Mekhi Becton ready for his comeback, 691 days in the making

CANTON, Ohio -- After several months of losing weight and gaining perspective, New York Jets tackle Mekhi Becton is ready for his first game action in 691 days.

Becton 2.0 is scheduled to debut Thursday night against the Cleveland Browns in the Hall of Fame Game, an important step in his long recovery from two surgeries on his right knee. The 2020 first-round pick is slated to play 20 to 25 snaps at left tackle, probably with the backups.

He still harbors the goal of being the opening-day starter, but first things first. He has to prove to the organization -- and maybe himself -- that his twice-repaired knee is strong enough to make it through a game.

"I don't care if it's a preseason game or whatever," Becton said Tuesday. "I'm definitely treating this like a regular game."

The last time we saw Becton in a game was the 2021 season opener, when he was regarded as the Jets' long-term left tackle -- then-rookie quarterback Zach Wilson's blindside protector. A lot has changed since then. Wilson is a backup, Aaron Rodgers is here and Becton -- injured in that game and again last August -- is fighting for his NFL survival as he begins the final year of his rookie contract. He hasn't played a complete game since 2020.

His story is inspirational, as he dropped about 50 pounds (down to 350) and fought back from two knee injuries that tested his mental toughness. He said social media trolls played with his mind, admitting "the hardest part" of his recovery was "trying to get my mentals right, because you got a lot of people that say stuff about you, say little things about you. I'm trying not to let words get to me."

How does he handle the critics? He does what offensive linemen are taught to do -- he blocks them.

Becton's comeback also includes a layer of controversy. In the spring, he objected to the idea of playing right tackle, tweeting, "I. AM. A. LEFT. TACKLE!!!" (The tweet was later deleted.) In May, he told Newsday the coaches were to blame for his second knee injury because they moved him to right tackle last training camp. Becton was told by his personal doctor that right tackle puts additional stress on his surgically repaired right knee.

He has softened that stance.

"I wouldn't say it was fully on (the coaches)," Becton said. "My knee was never fully healed. I didn't get the right surgery I was supposed to get. That played a part in it as well."

In 2021, he opted for a minor procedure with the hope of returning that season -- which never happened. In retrospect, he wishes he had gone for major surgery, which he believes would've resolved the issue once and for all. As it turned out, he suffered a re-injury in a 2022 training-camp practice, necessitating the more-involved procedure.

Because of residual soreness, Becton missed three practices last week, but he returned and completed the last three practices, calling them "my best few days in a while." He has practiced exclusively at left tackle, but indicated he's now willing to play any position.

"That took some maturity," he said, explaining his shift in attitude.

For now Becton will remain at left tackle, his natural spot and the position most conducive to his knee recovery. He acknowledged, "I'm still in the healing process of my recovery."

Problem is, the Jets are loaded with left tackles. Duane Brown, seven months removed from shoulder surgery, is the projected starter even though he hasn't been cleared to practice. Billy Turner and Max Mitchell, one of whom will start at right tackle, have played left tackle in camp. They also have fourth-round pick Carter Warren, who can play both sides. Becton gives them five tackles, which is a lot.

Talking to reporters on Tuesday, Becton was asked whether he'd seek a trade if he were relegated to the bench. He didn't dismiss the possibility, but added it's too early to be thinking like that. Coach Robert Saleh said Becton should be focused on his health and conditioning, not a starting job.

"The big thing for him is, rather than rush to be a first-teamer, let’s rush to see us get through a game and just have that ability to get through a game or a practice or a week," Saleh said. "There’s no denying his talent, so right now it’s just about building confidence, building strength, building the endurance. Once all that comes, then we’ll take that next step of 'All right, let’s see how he can perform with the ones.'”

The 6-foot-7 Becton said he's lighter, faster and stronger than at any point since his rookie year, when he became a social-media sensation with his highlight-film blocks. He started 13 games, tantalizing with his mix of size and raw power, but things spiraled when he hurt his knee in the '21 opener. Conditioning became a major issue, as he ballooned to about 400 pounds.

That Becton is gone. He said he feels like a new person. Now he gets a new beginning.