As the Jets’ season nears its start, questions surround one of their supposed foundational players.
Mekhi Becton, the team’s first-round pick of a year ago, had a strong rookie season when he was able to stay on the field, missed offseason practices due to a plantar fasciitis foot injury and suffered through a rocky training camp that was followed by a concussion.
That certainly didn’t help Becton prepare for his second season in the league in a new offensive system that utilizes an outside-zone rushing scheme predicated on offensive linemen moving horizontally and making blocks down the field.
Speaking to the media on Friday, Becton raised eyebrows with a few surprising comments. He admitted his summer didn’t go as planned and said criticism from new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur caught him off guard, although he hasn’t spoken to LaFleur about it.
“Not going to lie, I was a little confused about it,” the mammoth 6-foot-7, 363 pound-Becton said after practice on Friday. “But it is what it is. Yeah, I’ve overcome it.”
On Aug. 19, LaFleur addressed Becton’s problems up to that point.
“Mekhi is going through some things right now. He’s not playing at his best and he knows that,” the offensive coordinator said then, leading to speculation that Becton was dealing with weight issues. At the time, first-year head coach Robert Saleh said that was not the case.
Becton said LaFleur’s comments were never explained to him, but he does feel he has the trust of the coaching camp, even after a subpar training camp. The summer, in part adjusting to the new offensive system that requires different technique, was a struggle for him.
He was frequently beaten by defensive end Carl Lawson before the free agent acquisition suffered a season-ending Achilles injury. He was also victimized in the two joint workouts with the Packers by outside linebacker Preston Smith. Becton did play better in two preseason games, allowing just one pressure in 11 pass-blocking snaps. Those reps, it should be noted, did not include facing first-team defenses.
“I could’ve been better, but it’s OK,” Becton said. “I missed OTAs. I feel like that’s what really messed me up, so I’m not going to miss OTAs again.”
Becton practiced fully all week after suffering a concussion on Aug. 24 in a joint practice against the Eagles and Saleh said he will start in the opener against the Panthers in Carolina. Saleh doesn’t have any concerns about Becton after missing a handful of practices and the 22-year-old lineman sounded ready, too.
“I’ve been feeling like myself for a little while. I feel really good,” he said. “It’s always difficult to miss time. But it’s all right, it happens. I’m good now — I’m great actually.”
Saleh admitted there have been ups and downs for Becton, referring to the foot injury that cost him OTAs and the process of learning the new system. Yet the Jets’ coach said he expects Becton to be “dominant” in pass protection, move people in the run game and “showcase why he’s the type of left tackle that deserves to be special.”
“It’s going to be fun to watch him play,” Saleh said.