The Jets this week added mammoth offensive tackle Austin Howard to their active roster. Since they signed him off Baltimore’s practice squad, he must remain on the active roster for at least three weeks. The Jets official site reported that he’d been added to their practice squad, but that was a mistake, because you must, by rule, add anyone signed from another team’s practice squad to your ACTIVE roster. Also, SBNation reported that he was a defensive tackle, but again I believe this was a mistake because I can’t find any source that suggests he made a position change.
What do we know about Howard? A converted tight end out of Northern Iowa, he packed on weight and became a decent offensive lineman for them, but went undrafted in 2010. He impressed enough in Eagles camp to make the active roster. He is 6-7 and currently listed at 333 pounds, although he has been pushing 350 in the past.
Howard played in four games last year, although mostly on special teams. He was in for four snaps of garbage time in a 59-28 win over Washington in week 10, but other than that, didn’t see any action until week 17, with the Eagles resting their starters for the postseason in a game against the Dallas Cowboys. Howard started and played every snap, so we can get some idea of what he’s capable of and whether there’s any chance he could help the Jets over the next six weeks or if he’s more of a long term project.
After the season, Howard returned to the Eagles, but fell out of favor and was cut in early September, eventually landing on the Ravens’ practice squad. The Jets have seen both starting tackles struggle over the past few weeks and have struggled with their depth on the offensive line all season, so it will be interesting to see what role they have in store for him.
The Dallas/Philly Game – Week 17, 2010
In this game, Howard was mostly matched up with DeMarcus Ware, who lined up on his side on 56 of the 68 snaps he was in the game, albeit not necessarily always a direct matchup for Howard, who was starting alongside several other backups with Kevin Kolb at quarterback.
This gives us an interesting comparison with Wayne Hunter’s performance in week one of this season. Hunter was responsible for one sack and six pressures per PFF – in 49 dropbacks. Actually, three of the pressures didn’t come from Ware, because the Cowboys drew up some exotic blitzes and he also ended up getting beaten by the likes of Anthony Spencer and Keynon Coleman. In the running game, Hunter graded out okay, although the Jets as a unit did not have a great deal of success.
Let’s see how Howard fared. Note that I am nitpicking to the nth degree here to get as much information on him as possible:
- Not a good start on the first play, as Ware swats him aside and has a clear run at Kolb, but then slips and Kolb is able to get the throw off. - On 2nd and short, he double teams a lineman with the left guard and they drive him off the line a couple of yards, albeit in the direction of the run, which still gets a first down. - Matched up with Anthony Spencer, he doesn’t do a good job of getting his hands on him, but Kolb rolls right. - They ran the ball to the right. Howard intitially knocked his man off the line, but let him get off the block on the inside so he could pursue the runner. - Howard backpedalled and looked uncomfortable doing so. Ware beat him outside but Kolb stepped up to throw before the pressure could get there. The ball slipped out of Kolb’s hands and almost ricocheted to Ware. - Ware initially tried a rip move, but the half back chipped him to slow him down and Howard was able to recover, only for Ware to make a spin move and toss him aside. He would have been able to get to Kolb, but the LG came over and picked him up and the pass was batted. - The drive stalled at the 50. Clearly Howard already had his hands full with Ware and was already getting help. Although he gave up no pressures, he was beaten or half-beaten on all four pass attempts.
- The next drive opens with a run to the right for four. Howard missed his block on Spencer, but it didn’t impact the play. - This time, they ran up the middle for three. Howard was looking for someone to block at the second level and ended up blocking nobody. Ware was basically unblocked and Howard sort of gingerly pawed at him as he went by him. Ware hesitated in the hole and that let the runner get positive yards. - This time, he picked up Bradie James and the pass was a quick throw to the right. He backpedalled better this time and got a decent initial blow, but James seemed to make a half-hearted effort to beat him as he saw the quick pass was thrown. - This drive ended in a three and out. He wasn’t really actively involved in the success or failure of any of these plays, but still missed a block and perhaps an assignment.
- On the next drive, Ware opened by knocking him back, but then he recovered well enough to stay in front and allow Kolb to get off a quick throw. - On second down, they gained 21 as only three rushed. Nobody rushed from his side, so he gave the left guard’s man, Igor Olshansky a shove as another quick pass was being released. - Another quick throw, incomplete. Ware juked inside and then went outside, but slipped again before he could turn the corner. Howard’s footwork was decent on this play, but he didn’t do a good enough job of getting his hands on Ware. - On a short run up the middle, he had what looked like a zone blocking assignment. He blocked down on Olshansky and drove him back a yard, but still let him get off the block to assist on the tackle. - Was matched up with Ware, but Ware stunted inside and the LG reacted to pick him up. That left Howard on Olshansky and he picked him up enabling Kolb to roll out and find a man inside the 10. This was his best play so far, even though it was relatively routine in nature. - A wildcat run up the middle to the four. He blocked Ware straight up and even if Ware could have got off the block to the inside, which it looked like he was in the process of doing, there was too much traffic for him to get to the ball carrier. - As the second quarter begins, Kolb ran around in the pocket before finding Chad Hall for a touchdown. There was a five man rush against seven blockers. Howard initially blocked nobody and then decided to help the TE block on Spencer, just at the moment Olshansky beat the left guard on his side, where he would have been perfectly placed to pick that up. Olshansky whiffed on the sack, as Howard gave Spencer a good shove, but then saw Ware pursuing Kolb and tried to block him but missed. Kolb got the throw off with Ware in his face. - So far we can see Howard struggling with sustaining blocks, getting his hands on rushers and appearing to be very green when called upon to react to unexpected situations. He won’t be credited with a pressure allowed on the play where the touchdown was scored, although he arguably blew two chances to prevent a pressure. He was also half-beaten one more time.
- A short running play the other way. A wide receiver blocked Ware and he went to the second level to block a safety but it had no effect on the play. - Matched up with Stephen Bowen. Initially drove him back a couple of yards, but then let him get off the block and stuff the run for a short gain. - The Cowboys tied the score on a Ware fumble return after a Spencer sack. Howard was matched up with Ware who initially blitzed then dropped off into the passing lane. Howard went to double on the LG’s man and Kolb was hit from behind and the ball bounced right to Ware. - You couldn’t really blame him on the touchdown, but he was the main reason the second down run failed on this possession.
- Ware got him backpedalling again and easily beat him inside, but luckily the Center was driven back so he was blocking Ware’s path to Kolb whose throw gained eight. - On a 2nd and two run, the play was stuffed for a one yard gain. Howard’s assignment was to initially double team and drive the left guard’s man off the line, then peel off to block a linebacker. Both kept inside leverage and there wasn’t really anywhere for the run to go. - He missed his kick-out block, but the run still gained five up the middle. - On this play they did the same thing as they did two plays ago with Howard double-teaming then peeling off, but this time gained three, although both men assisted on the tackle. - A nine yard pass for a first down saw Howard get a good initial shove on Brandon Williams, but then he could have done a better job of helping the left guard whose man beat him for a pressure on Howard’s side while Williams dropped off to cover the tight end. - This run went up the middle for a short gain, but the right tackle was called for a hold. Howard did a decent job of staying in front of Bowen on a straightforward assignment. - Howard was blocking Ware, but the run went the other way for 10 and Ware didn’t actively make much of an effort to chase it down. - Dump off pass for three to the fullback. Ware was chipped by a TE and then went on Howard’s outside. Howard’s attempt to shove him upfield was a bit tame, but it was thrown too quickly for the pressure to get there. - Incomplete pass as the drive stalls. Ware was again chipped by a TE and tried an inside move on Howard who got a shove on him and then reacted well to come off him and pick up a stunting Jay Ratliff. - The final play at last saw him make a good decision under duress in pass protection, but he was beaten once again by Ware and wasn’t getting the job done in the running game on that drive.
- This drive opened with a play action rollout to the right. On such plays, Howard pretty much just has to sell the running action. He gave Ware a shove for good measure. - Howard backpedalled and was beaten on the outside by James, although he doesn’t get credited with a pressure allowed, because Ware got there first from the other side. Howard just got enough of a shove on James to allow the quick screen to be thrown, but it was negated by an illegal block. - On second and long, he initially reacted well to Ware’s spin move. Then Kolb held the ball for too long and Ware eventually got by him to pressure Kolb, who threw it away. Again this won’t be credited to Howard, because Olshansky got there a half-step ahead of Ware. - On 3rd and 22, there was a short quick pass and he only had to stay in front of Ware for a split second. - The drive went three and out and Howard still hadn’t given up any pressures, although he was beaten twice more on this drive.
- Howard backpedalled and once again Ware easily beat him inside, but Kolb threw a quick pass before he could get there. - On a short pass, Ware beat Howard badly on the outside and he got two hands on Kolb just after the ball was thrown. Anthony Spencer hit him coming up the middle at the same time. PFF didn’t give Ware a pressure there, but I probably would have. - This time, Ware picked up a sack as he easily beat the TE inside and Howard was double-teaming Bowen for some reason, so couldn’t help out. - We’ll give him a pass on the third down play, but he was beaten twice more on this drive. The Eagles got the ball back on a muffed punt, though.
- On the first play of the next drive, Howard was easily beaten for a sack by Ware, who dodged his attempt to get an initial shove on him and took him outside with an impressive club move. Howard was looking at the LG as he backpedalled for some reason, which contributed to him not making contact with the shove. - On second down, they motioned a FB over to TE to chip Ware, but he still dipped his shoulder and blew by Howard on the outside for a pressure/hit on Kolb. - On third down, Kolb throws an interception into the endzone to end the half. This time, the HB stays in to double team and they manage to neutralize Ware. - After getting beaten multiple times (10 entering this drive) and managing not to get credited with a pressure allowed, Howard finally gave up a sack and a pressure on this three-play series. They’re trying a lot of different things to help him, but it was also apparent he was getting confused with his assignments when dealing with anything other than a straight-up rush.
Let’s look at whether things got any better in the second half.
- The second half opened with an awful drop by a wide-open Clay Harbor. This was on a play action rollout to the right, where Howard had nobody to block. - Let his man beat him to the inside, but it didn’t affect the run, which gained four to the right. - The Eagles picked up the first down on a penalty. Howard looked confused as, of the two men on his side, one went wide (picked up by the TE) and the other dropped into coverage, leaving Howard with nobody to block. Ratliff stunted from the nose tackle position and got a pressure as Howard realized too late. - A short run the other way as Howard again double-teamed and then peeled off to block a linebacker, but it didn’t affect the play. - Ware dropped into coverage and the defensive end on his side took a wide route to the QB, so that Howard had to pick him up. He moved his feet to get into position, but didn’t have him engaged. Luckily it was a quick throw for a completion downfield. - A run for four yards to his side. He and the TE worked together for a kick-out block on Ware. - Kolb was intercepted, after being pressured by Ware, who beat Howard easily on the inside. Howard probably got away with a hold on the play. - A costly pressure to end this drive, where he continued to look shaky.
- On first down, a run was stuffed, although Howard did his job, staying in front of Ware one-on-one and driving him off his spot. - Shoved Ware, but was then beaten inside, although Ware then stumbled and his momentum took him laterally rather than upfield. Another Cowboy got pressure and Kolb threw away. - Despite a chip from a back lined up in the TE position, Ware got around Howard on the outside, but Kolb was flushed from the pocket by pressure from the LG and ran for a first down. - Running play stuffed for two, as Olshansky shed his block to stuff the run. - On second down, he moved his feet well to stay in front of Bradie James and Kolb completed a short, quick pass. - On third down, Kolb threw incomplete. Howard intitially blocked Ware, but then was thrown aside and Ware had a clean shot at Kolb, but doesn’t get a pressure because Ratliff beat him there by half a step. - He was half-beaten three more times on this drive and also had a running play that was blown up by his man.
- Spencer tried to beat him to the outside, but the pass was thrown almost immediately incomplete. - He initially blocked James, but he got off the block almost immediately to chase the ball carrier. The run went the other way and gained 36 yards. - A run was stuffed for one yard as he didn’t sustain his kick-out block on Ware, who was in on the assist. - This run was stuffed for no gain, as he double-teamed Olshansky to set the edge, but a pulling RG missed his block on a linebacker who stuffed the run to end the third quarter. - I think this was a designed QB draw, although Kolb was “sacked”. Howard let Ware to the outside and gave him a big shove upfield as Kolb took off but had nowhere to go. - Howard wasn’t tested in pass protection on this series and had mixed results in the running game.
- The next drive opened with a 48-yard completion, once again on a play-action rollout to the right with Howard having nobody to block. - Kolb lost a yard on another designed QB draw. Howard stayed in front of Ware, but didn’t move him which meant Kolb had nowhere to go. He almost ran right into Ware, but the safety came up to clean it up. - On a short pass to his side, Howard anticipated and countered Ware’s spin move, enabling Kolb to get the throw off. - Kolb was flushed and scrambled for three on third down, so the Eagles had to settle for a field goal. Ware drove him upfield, but Howard recovered to stay in front of him and actually took him down. - This was probably his best series of the game, although that isn’t saying a great deal.
- A run was stuffed for one to open the next drive. He missed his block on Olshansky, who then missed the tackle in the backfield. - Kolb rolled right, as Howard backpedalled to stay in front of Olshansky, but never actually laid his hands on him. - Tried to make a second level block, but didn’t sustain it and then got tripped over, so that the running back tripped over him. The play still gained nine after a fumble was recovered by the Eagles. - Double-teamed Bowen with the left guard and drove him off the line, but the play gained just one. - Another run went for no gain. Howard tried to cut block Bowen, who simply stepped over him and then had a shot at stuffing the runner, but actually tackled his own man instead. - On a play action with Kolb rolling LEFT this time, Howard and the left guard combined to drive Bowen to the right and well out of the play, but Kolb was chased down from behind and sacked as the drive stalled. - On this drive, Howard didn’t make any major mistakes, but there were three running plays where he should perhaps have done better.
- On the last drive, the Eagles got the ball back with just under a minute to go, down 14-13 at their own 20. On first down, Ware blew by Howard on the outside for a sack. After the play, Howard argued with the TE who had leaked into the flat and was perhaps expecting help. - On second down, Ware didn’t get to Kolb, but did shove Howard in the chin, driving him back and spinning him around. - On third down, four rushed and six stayed in to block. Howard had help from his TE and LG. - On fourth down, Kolb threw an interception. Ware was chipped as he tried to go inside and Howard seemed to have him sealed, but even then Ware span off the block and nearly got to Kolb. - Once again, Howard was overmatched in pass protection on this last drive. In all, he was only credited with two sacks and two pressures allowed, but if you include the number of times he was beaten and lucky not to have a pressure because of a quick pass, a slip, or someone getting there first, it was into the high teens. In the running game he had little positive impact and missed several blocks although only a few of these affected the outcome of the play.
I did look at some footage from the 2011 preseason to see whether he had made any obvious progress. He was a second stringer for the first game against Baltimore, but was badly beaten inside by Paul Kruger for a sack. Over the next couple of games, he seemed to have been bumped off the second unit, but then he played the second half against the Jets’ third stringers. He was the lead blocker for Graig Cooper’s short third-quarter touchdown run, but this wasn’t particularly impressive, because he let Brashton Satele get off his block, only to miss the tackle at the goal line.
The Dallas game is the ONLY game in which Howard has ever seen extensive action, so it would be completely unfair to make any sweeping generalizations about his abilities based on this, especially when he was facing the best-of-the-best in DeMarcus Ware, who gave him all he could handle.
However, this is also the only concrete information we have to go on, so we can make some observations about what he needed to improve at that stage of his career (10 months ago).
Yes, he did struggle all night in pass protection. No matter who he is, you expect your tackle to get beaten a few times by Ware – as indeed Hunter was. In fact, Ware had over five QB disruptions in every game in the second half of that season. However, the number of times Howard was beaten by Ware was a bit alarming. Had it not been for Kolb getting rid of the ball and his teammates (sometimes saving him and at other times getting beaten sooner than he did, so he wasn’t the one hit with the pressure), this could have been an extremely high number…despite the fact they made a concerted effort to help him.
As I say, though, you expect Ware to get to the quarterback. Looking at everything else Howard did, he still seemed to be very green. His footwork was inconsistent, his decision making got confused when there were stunts, he let guys get off his blocks too easily and when he was in space he didn’t always get his hands on his man well enough.
In trying to look for some positives from this performance, it’s difficult because PFF – who gave him a –4.1 grade for the game – didn’t grade him positively on ANY plays. There were a couple of examples where he did react well to pick up a stunt and one or two where he carried out his assignment in the running game. Considering it was his first ever game and the level of competition, maybe he deserves some credit. It almost reminds me of Colin Baxter’s first game in that respect. I wouldn’t say he reminded me of Vladimir Ducasse, because Ducasse sometimes shows flashes of physical dominance and Howard didn’t really show that, although Howard only looked slightly confused on a couple of plays, whereas Ducasse has had moments in the past where he’s looked totally lost.
What could Howard bring to the Jets? Well, size is definitely one thing. Potential could be another. Also, it’s important to note that ten months have passed since the Dallas game, so – despite the fact he was cut in preseason – maybe he’s progressed while working with the Ravens. It’s not impossible that someone in the Jets’ organization heard rumblings that the Ravens were considering activating Howard and decided to jump the gun and bring him into their system.
This move doesn’t necessarily mean that Howard will be needed to contribute this season. If they’ve been high on Howard, or have heard he’s really progressing, making the move now enables them to get him in their system and ensures they can get him to camp next year. If they are going to use him, the most obvious place would be as a Jumbo package tight end, although based on what I saw in this footage, I’m not sure that he brings the dominance that you might expect from a 330+ pounder in that role.
I know a lot of people are down on the performance of both tackles right now, but I can’t envisage a situation where Howard would replace either of them unless there was an injury. Maybe they just needed a second backup tackle right now because one of the two starters (or maybe Ducasse) is dealing with an injury we don’t know about. I don’t know.
In the game I saw, it was apparent Howard was very raw and I strongly doubt he has moved on that much in the last 10 months. This makes me think that they’ve mostly brought him aboard to develop him in the medium term, but we’ll have to wait and see if they have a role earmarked for him in the meantime.
So, that was what I wrote at the time. As we now know, Howard remained on the bench over the rest of the season, so I was keen to see how he would perform this preseason. Here's what I wrote about his performance against Cincinnati in week one:
[Getting a good surge together with the right guard on one play as they double teamed a defensive linemen] was probably Howard’s best moment too, although he didn’t make too many costly mistakes. While, as noted, the Jets did attempt to give their linemen some help in pass protection, Howard held his own for the most part. He did let his man get away from him on the first play, although that was a designed rollout and short throw where Sanchez was fading safely away from the pressure, so that may have been partially by design. Conner lined up as an H-back and chip blocked the defensive end, then leaked out into the flat but the play didn’t work as Manny Lawson diagnosed it and came over to make the stop.In the game against the Giants, Howard went back to the bench and played the entire half at left tackle. Obviously this once again meant he was not protecting the blind side because Tebow was in:
After the first unit left the game, Howard remained in but moved over to left tackle, which may be his more natural position. It’s worth noting that Tebow was in at quarterback, so Howard still wasn’t protecting the blindside. Howard surrendered one QB hit on a play where Tebow was flushed from the pocket and rolled out and threw the ball away, but on the whole didn’t have any issues staying in front of the edge rushers.
Although only giving up one hit (and maybe a pressure) in almost three quarters of work is pretty good, let’s not get ahead of ourselves on Howard, though. In last year’s preseason, Wayne Hunter only gave up a sack and four pressures. I’d caution that something I noticed when I scouted Howard for BGA last year is still a potential issue. He needs to ensure he keeps his hands on his opponent because elite players will be able to disengage from him and get after the quarterback. Hopefully he’s been working at that, because although I noticed his man getting separation from him on a couple of occasions, he was much more consistent with this.
Howard also had one bad mental error, committing a false start penalty on third and short.
Over at left tackle, Austin Howard didn’t have a very good game either after a positive display with the starters last week. Howard gave up a sack and two pressures and also got beaten on a play where his man stuffed the runner for a loss. On one other play he got driven back into the running lane. The most disconcerting thing of all is that neither Howard or Griffin had any positive moments to balance out their struggles. Maybe Howard would respond positively to getting more work with the starters, but I am not optimistic that the Jets view him as anything more than an extra blocker with some residual upside.Clearly Howard hasn't been flawless so far, and it could be said that him getting the job has more to do with Hunter's performance than his own. However, for a young player, this could be a situation where he could thrive, playing alongside some other talented players. If the plan is to overcome the issues at right tackle by leaving extra blockers in or making chip blocks, as we've speculated all offseason, then it perhaps makes more sense for a younger and cheaper player to be out there. This is especially true if the other option is so low on confidence. They might even be able to get some production from Hunter by moving him into a role in which he's been successful before and where there is less pressure on him.
That's the optimistic viewpoint. If Howard struggles this weekend and the Jets end up finding a veteran to fill the right tackle position, then Howard's spot on the final roster might not be safe, because it might not make sense to keep both Howard and Hunter - each of whom only play tackle - on the team. Faced with a choice between the two, there's a chance Hunter would be who they'd go with based on the fact he's had success in an extra tight end role in the past and also - perhaps more importantly - he's the one with a guaranteed salary right now.
We'll be looking forward to seeing how well Austin plays on Sunday night and, of course, will break that down for you in detail on Monday.