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Mekhi Becton’s knee injury: How do the Jets fill his hole at offensive tackle?

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Positive vibes only. It’s one of the Jets’ team mantras, and staffers from the top of the organization to the bottom all wear shirts bearing the phrase. Tuesday, coach Robert Saleh took the podium wearing a shirt featuring the team’s other motto: “All Gas, No Breaks.”

Well, for at least one day, the Jets are slamming on the brakes — there was not much of a positive vibe at the team facility on Tuesday. Saleh, boundlessly optimistic most days, didn’t sound very jolly after practice. Saleh was somber, subdued, more than he’s been through the entirety of training camp.

Since Jets players reported on July 26, Saleh praised Mekhi Becton in just about every news conference for all the work he did getting back into shape, a far cry from some of the public comments from coaches over the last year.

I give him credit for how hard he’s fought,” Saleh said. “That’s all I can do, because he’s come a long way.”

Becton suffered an avulsion fracture to his kneecap on Monday, an injury much more significant than Saleh thought after initial evaluations coming off the practice field. Becton is expected to miss the rest of the season with the new injury, his second straight season over before it even started.

“I’m just sick for Mekhi,” Saleh said Tuesday.

Quarterback Zach Wilson said: “It sucks, man.”

And that was the mood around the Jets on Tuesday as they try to move forward without their right tackle, the first draft pick Joe Douglas made as general manager in 2020, convinced he found a star-caliber lineman, which this team has been missing for a long time.

So what does this mean, for the Jets and for Becton? Where do all parties go from here?

Here’s a closer look at Becton’s injury, the recovery ahead of him and what the Jets will do to fill the Becton-sized hole in their offensive line.

The injury, what happened — and what’s ahead

In Week 1 against the Panthers last year, Becton suffered a kneecap dislocation when a defender barreled into his knee. He was carted off the field and it was later discovered that he’d also suffered MCL and cartilage damage. Becton had arthroscopic knee surgery in September and it was believed that he’d be out four to eight weeks. Instead, he missed the entire season.

“The cartilage under your kneecap is technically the thickest in the body,” said Dr. Jesse Morse, a sports medicine physician based in Miami who has not treated Becton. “There’s a very good chance he chipped off some of that last year because of the sheer force of that kneecap popping off in such an extreme motion that it probably rubbed up against the femur, and when that happened it took a chunk off that cartilage.”

Becton wasn’t ready to practice until Day 1 of training camp. Then on Aug. 5, Becton started wearing a brace in practice on his injured knee, aimed at addressing some discomfort he was feeling, Saleh said at the time.

Monday, Becton was spotted limping during individual drills at the start of practice after engaging with a teammate, but stayed in practice anyway.

Saleh’s explanation for that: The team had a day off on Sunday and Becton had just played on the MetLife Stadium turf Saturday in the scrimmage, his first time since last year, so “it was going to take a little while for his knee to get going.”

On the second play of Monday’s team drills, Becton’s right toe got caught in the turf as defensive lineman John Franklin-Myers engaged with him, and his body went backward. He grabbed his right knee and favored that knee as he walked off the field and into the facility.

Initial tests showed no structural damage, Saleh said — so no ACL, MCL tears — but an MRI made it clear the injury was more severe than initially observed.

Morse said that confusion is not surprising.

“A lot of times (the team will) do the highest quality MRI that’s commercially available so you can see the nitty gritty of every little piece of cartilage, meniscus, everything,” Morse said. “Sometimes they’ll even consider a CT scan, which is good for fractures, to determine the size of the bone, the shape of the bone. They’ll do 3D modeling to give you an idea of how it’s currently structured. An ultrasound can help but it doesn’t penetrate bone well. That’s why, even if they threw on an ultrasound at practice, you probably wouldn’t have been able to see much, because it was underneath the kneecap.”

Saleh said as much: “With the MRIs, the deeper we got, the worse it got.”

Morse thinks Becton’s previous injury made him more susceptible to this new injury.

“Anytime he gets locked in an engage position, that cartilage that’s missing is going to cause some pain underneath the kneecap,” Morse said. “So anytime you walk upstairs, down hills, anything changing in incline or decline usually causes pain there. When he was shuffling Monday trying to get into his position, it looked like his kneecap maybe couldn’t keep up with the rest of the joint … so when that happened he likely clipped a piece of the kneecap off.”

The very best-case scenario, with “ridiculous” luck, Morse said, would be Becton only missing six weeks. But the Jets, by all accounts, have already accepted the worst-case scenario: that Becton is out for the season. He’ll presumably be placed on injured reserve before the start of the season, officially ending it.

And Becton has a long road of recovery ahead — especially because of his size, listed at 6-foot-7 and 363 pounds.

“The problem is with a man of that size, there’s so much stress on that knee,” Morse said. “Every additional pound on the abdomen is four pounds on the knee. A normal-(sized) guy, it’s not a big deal. But someone who is 360, 370, that’s a massive load. Whenever you squat, the pressure in the joint increases 700 percent. So you’re adding a lot of forces here. …

“The way they’re describing it and the history of his knee injury and the size of the guy, put everything together, I’d be really surprised if he played this year.”

Mekhi Becton is helped off the field last September after suffering a knee injury. (Nell Redmond / Associated Press)

Where the Jets go from here

Douglas watched most of practice on Tuesday from the sideline, spending much of it on the phone. If Douglas wasn’t sure the Jets desperately needed help at offensive tackle before Tuesday, that crystalized during 11-on-11 team drills.

Was one of his phone calls to veteran tackle Duane Brown’s agent?

The Jets’ offensive line — especially at the tackle spots — was a disaster. Chuma Edoga got most of the snaps at right tackle and is penciled into that spot until Douglas adds any competition. Edoga also shuffled over to left tackle for a few series to spell George Fant — also recovering from a knee injury — and fourth-round rookie Max Mitchell got some first-team reps at right tackle.

Conor McDermott, the Jets’ top veteran reserve, is out with an ankle injury.

Wilson was sacked on his first dropback in team drills by defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, and linebacker C.J. Mosley was close too. If quarterbacks were allowed to be tackled in practice, Wilson would’ve spent most of the day on the ground.

After a completion to Denzel Mims, Wilson was then sacked on four straight dropbacks. On a few of them, so many pass rushers got to Wilson that it would be unfair to even credit one player, but the tally: defensive tackle Solomon Thomas, defensive end Jacob Martin (twice) and defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins.

On the next drive, Wilson was sacked by Williams again.

Finally, during practice-ending red-zone drills, Wilson was sacked on two of his final three dropbacks, once by Mosley.

All told, Wilson was “sacked” eight times on Tuesday — and backup Joe Flacco was sacked twice too. Edoga also was flagged for a false start during a two-minute drill.

Now it comes back to Brown: The Jets hosted the five-time Pro Bowler during Saturday’s scrimmage at MetLife, and then again at the facility on Sunday. Douglas said on WFAN on Tuesday morning that “the wheels are in motion” to sign Brown, though it still hadn’t happened by Tuesday afternoon.

Saleh didn’t have an update after practice, but acknowledged that conversations were ongoing and that interest between Brown and the Jets was “mutual.”

Brown, 37, would be a massive addition — the 6-foot-4, 315-pounder made the Pro Bowl with the Seahawks in 2021 and hasn’t missed a game since 2019. Douglas said Brown was in “amazing” shape on the radio.

One wrinkle: Brown has played only left tackle in his career, which might force Fant to move to right tackle, only two weeks after Saleh announced him as the starter on the left side. Fant was stellar filling in for Becton in 2021, only allowing one sack in 594 pass blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus.

But Fant might be more willing to make the move if it’s for Brown: The two played together with the Seahawks from 2017-19.

But until (or unless) Brown signs, the Jets are moving forward with Edoga, Mitchell and, when he’s healthy, McDermott.

“The sense of urgency to get the next guy ready is always high,” Saleh said. “Chuma, McDermott, Max: We gotta get going, we gotta get them ready. We’ve all gotta step up and get them ready.”

Extra points

•  Saleh said the loss of Becton — and struggles of Edoga and Mitchell — doesn’t change any plans for Friday’s preseason opener against the Eagles. Wilson will still start and likely play a series or two.
• Cornerback D.J. Reed, defensive end Vinny Curry and running back Ty Johnson all remained out on Tuesday with hamstring injuries. Cornerback Brandin Echols (unknown) also missed practice.
• There were at least three fights during Tuesday’s testy practice. Defensive lineman Tanzel Smart got into it with an offensive lineman and punches were thrown. Same for wide receiver Denzel Mims in a fracas with a cornerback.

(Top photo of Robert Saleh: Jasen Vinlove / USA Today)

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