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The Jets franchise has been blessed with consistency at the center position throughout most of its history. From the Super Bowl-winning John Schmitt to two-time Pro Bowler Joe Fields, the reliable Jim Sweeney, Hall of Fame nominee Kevin Mawae and all-pro Nick Mangold, the Jets have rarely had an extended period without a solid long-term solution at the position.
However, since Mangold's retirement, the Jets have been unable to adequately fill the position. While there seems to be plenty of optimism that Jonotthan Harrison could fill that role, fans and media remain skeptical.
Last season, Harrison started eight games at the center position after Spencer Long was forced into a move to guard. While it's encouraging that Sam Darnold played his best football of the season with Harrison in the lineup, it's also worth noting that the running game stagnated.
Trenton Cannon and Elijah McGuire combined to average just 3.0 yards per carry in Harrison's eight starts, and Isaiah Crowell averaged 3.6 in Harrison's starts as opposed to 5.1 when Harrison didn't play.
The Jets will be hoping that these struggles had more to do with Crowell and James Carpenter being lost for the season than Harrison providing a downgrade. They will anticipate a much better running game in 2019 with the additions of Kelechi Osemele, Le'Veon Bell and Ty Montgomery.
Darnold has expressed confidence in Harrison, as has Adam Gase, who was famously reluctant to invest in the interior line positions while in Miami. While he has accumulated plenty of starting experience since entering the league, 19 of Harrison's 23 starts before arriving in New York were on an injury-plagued Colts line that was among the league's worst in 2014 and 2015. His only four starts in 2016 and 2017 were in relief at guard.
Long-term Jets fans can be forgiven for lacking confidence in Harrison despite the team's assurances. The team has headed into a few recent seasons in a similar situation, and their faith in the solution has often gone unfounded.
In 2005, Kareem McKenzie departed in free agency and his job went to youngster Adrian Jones, who had yet to play a down in the NFL.
"Trust me," general manager Mike Tannenbaum famously said at the time, "Adrian Jones can play right tackle".
Jones started all 16 games but, tellingly, never started for the Jets again after he struggled all year during a four-win season.
Two years later, the Jets found themselves in a similar position at the left guard position having let Pete Kendall leave. Throughout preseason, they seemed to be grooming sixth-round rookie Jacob Bender for the role, only to surprisingly revert to another inexperienced youngster, Adrien Clarke. Clarke, who had started four games in his career, had been out of the league altogether in the previous season and was predictably a weak link all year.
Perhaps even more memorable was the Wayne Hunter situation from 2011 and 2012. Hunter filled in admirably for an injured Damien Woody in the 2010 playoffs, and was given the starting job for 2011 when Woody retired. After an inconsistent year, the fanbase was desperate to see an upgrade, but offensive line coach Dave Deguglielmo defiantly declared that, "Until they tell me otherwise, until they ship him out of this building or until they shoot me dead in my office, that son-of-a-gun is going to be the starting right tackle. And he's going to play well."
On his first snap of preseason, Hunter got blown up by Justin Tuck for a sack, and things didn't get much better from there. The following week, Hunter was traded to the Rams and the Jets were forced to start the inexperienced Austin Howard at right tackle all season. To his credit, Howard held up well.
These incidences should serve as a cautionary tale if the Jets continue to have faith in Harrison's ability to play at a level he's never attained before. In addition, we haven't even considered the possibility of Harrison getting hurt. The current number two - Jon Toth - has never played a regular season game. Fans who recall when Colin Baxter filled in for an injured Mangold in 2011 will know how much of a disaster that could be.
There were some positives to take from Harrison's play down the stretch last year. For example, he didn't give up a sack all season. However, he had five penalties and gave up plenty of pressure, while the struggles in the running game should be concerning with the Jets hoping to build their offense around Bell.
If Harrison is progressing well, that's great, but it should be essential for the Jets to improve their depth and give themselves some other options, just in case.