New York Jets’ Mekhi Becton will have to compete with George Fant to start at left tackle, coach Robert Saleh says

MOBILE, Ala. — New York Jets left tackle Mekhi Becton, a former first-round pick whose career has been marked by injuries and concerns about his weight, will have to fight for his old starting job in training camp.

Coach Robert Saleh applied some pressure, telling reporters Tuesday at the Senior Bowl that Becton and George Fant will compete against each other at left tackle. It was a surprising revelation considering Becton’s draft status (11th overall in 2020), and it surely will fuel speculation about his future.

“George Fant stepped in at that left tackle spot and did a wonderful job,” Saleh said. “He has earned the right to be part of that discussion at left tackle. I’ve told George he’s got a chance to maintain that position.

“It’s the same thing for Mekhi. He has to come in and reassert himself into the starting lineup. It’s a really good problem to have, with what George has been able to do. We know what we can get out of Mekhi as he attacks this offseason.”

Becton underwent knee surgery after a Week 1 injury, and he missed the remainder of the season even though the organization called it a two-month injury. There also were conditioning issues that factored into the longer-than-expected layoff, sources said. The 6-foot-7 Becton is listed at 363 pounds, but his weight was thought to be higher than that during his recovery from surgery.

Fant, the opening-day starter at right tackle, moved to the left side and impressed Saleh. No one from the organization has publicly criticized Becton, but the Jets’ patience is eroding because of his durability issues. He missed the equivalent of five games in an otherwise promising rookie year in 2020. Saleh, who wasn’t the coach when Becton was drafted out of Louisville, essentially challenged Becton to crush the offseason.

“It’s a big offseason for him in the sense that he’s got to put together an OTAs and a training camp and give himself a chance during the season,” Saleh said. “We’re excited about Mekhi and the direction he’s going and we’re super excited [about] George. We feel like we’ve got a really good tackle plan.”

The right tackle was Morgan Moses, a pending free agent. Asked if Becton could switch to right tackle, Saleh said, “I think he has the skill set to do whatever he wants. He just has to put his mind to it.”

Fant, a natural left tackle, signed as a free agent in 2020. When they drafted Becton, the Jets made him a Day 1 starter and moved Fant to the right side even though he preferred the left. Becton created a lot of excitement with spectacular pancake blocks, but things started to go badly when he missed last offseason with a foot injury. He performed poorly in training camp and almost lost his starting job.

“It would be a disservice to George and the work he’s put in and the things he’s been able to do this year to just tell George he can’t compete for that job,” Saleh said. “Like I said, it’s a great problem. We’re kind of spoiled in that regard that we have two really good tackles. It’s going to be great to watch those guys compete.”

In coaching-staff news, Saleh said he won’t hire a replacement for senior offensive assistant Matt Cavanaugh, who isn’t returning in 2022. His one-year contract expired.

Saleh will expand the duties of quarterbacks coach Rob Calabrese, who took over for Cavanaugh as the primary voice in the QB room over the final six weeks of the season. Calabrese is being groomed as the heir apparent at offensive coordinator because the organization is confident that current coordinator Mike LaFleur will become a head coach one day.

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