The oldest trick in the playbook might not work against the youngest player on the Jets.
Attacking a left tackle playing in his first game with a variety of complex looks is a strategy Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has used during his long career. But the Buffalo Bills would be wise to heed Williams’ warning, based on four weeks of preseason practices, if they are going to challenge Mekhi Becton.
“No matter who you are, you better get ready for a fist fight in a phone booth,” Williams said. “He’s a very powerful young man, and he’s only going to get better through more competitive snaps. Sometimes if you’re a finesse type of a person, defensive guys don’t care for you. He is a mauler, so our defensive guys like him a lot and respect him.”
It’s hard to picture a phone booth big enough to contain the 6-foot-7, 363-pound Becton. It’s easier to picture the first-round draft pick keeping pressure off of Sam Darnold’s back better than the Jets did against the Bills (four sacks) in Week 1 last season.
“It’s a lot of excitement and a lot of nerves because it’s my first NFL game,” Becton said. “I’ve been having fun all week finally game-planning against somebody else. I just have to remember my technique and my assignments.”
Becton, 21, is one of four new starters on the offensive line. One of the others, Greg Van Roten, made his first career start as a third-year pro in 2016.
“I remember butterflies in my stomach, but a good energy,” Van Roten said. “The first drive is fast, and things are flying around and you are hanging in there and doing your job.
“If I was going to give him one piece of advice, it would be, ‘You can do this. It will start to slow down for you. You just have to keep your head above water.’ That’s all you can tell a rookie because he has to experience it firsthand.”
Becton is expecting stunts and other forms of confusion-creating trickery from the Bills rather than locking into a 1-on-1 battle against Jerry Hughes, Mario Addison or Trent Murphy.
“It’s part of football, so I’m pretty sure it’s going to come,” Becton said. “I’m looking forward to whatever they are going to throw at me.”
Becton’s size offers intimidation, but his approach earns respect.
“I’ve never seen somebody like that [big] in person,” running back Le’Veon Bell said. “To see him work every day, he is a guy who understands football. He is not a guy who is just trying to lean on you or use his weight. He’s got good feet, good hand-eye coordination and he’s a smart player. If he makes a mistake, he gets upset about it — and that’s what you want.”
Nicknamed “Big Ticket,” Becton will debut in a fan-less stadium. It could remove a big challenge offensive linemen face in road games — silent-count communication when a raucous crowd is amped before a third-down snap — despite the artificial noise piped in at 70 decibels.
“We are going to go normal, and if we have to go silent, we’ll go silent,” Van Roten said. “I don’t know where that reading is from because you can set it to a certain volume up in the booth and on the field it’s way louder. You heard [Thursday] night in the Kansas City game: It sounded a lot louder than 70 decibels. But it’s not going to catch us by surprise if we have to do it.”
Becton’s teammates aren’t surprised to see him knock somebody down in practice. Time to show the rest of the league.
“They didn’t really know who I was coming in here, so I had to show everybody who I am,” Becton said. “I’ve had to keep playing with that chip on my shoulder and it’s going to stay on my shoulder. I’ve been playing physical and making sure I finish the man in front of me every play. Staying with that motto since I’ve been here.”