FLORHAM PARK, NJ — New York Jets offensive lineman Mekhi Becton returned to the field Wednesday for the first time in 11 months, sporting a smaller waistline and playing a new position.
Becton, drafted 11th overall in 2020 as a potential franchise left tackle, played right tackle in practice and will remain there for the remainder of the season, coach Robert Saleh announced.
The shake-up had been rumored since the end of last season, in large part because George Fant, who replaced the injured Becton in 2021, played so well at left tackle. Now it’s official.
“George feels much more comfortable on the left side,” Saleh said after the first practice. “He’s got the athleticism to play the left side, as does Becton. It was just a better combination.”
The Jets downplayed the significance of the switch, but there’s no denying that left tackle is a more prestigious and higher-paying position than right tackle. Saleh said that “this doesn’t mean Mekhi’s left tackle days are over,” but it’s telling the team made the move so quickly without a competition.
Becton took it in stride, claiming he’s not focused on prestige or money.
“Whether it’s left or right, I don’t really care as long as I’m on the field,” said Becton, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 1.
Becton’s status was cloudy in the minicamp because of his conditioning. After skipping the voluntary portion of the offseason, he showed up overweight in June, which sparked concern among the coaches. Becton, who weighed as much as 400 pounds last season during his injury rehab, was thought to be in the 390s in minicamp.
On Wednesday, he was noticeably trimmer. The organization was thrilled with his weight loss.
“I’m not going to get too much into the weight,” Saleh said, “but he got himself into football shape. He’s a gifted athlete, a gifted man. I’m really excited about the direction he’s going.”
Becton didn’t reveal his current weight but said he hit his goal. His personal nutritionist, Ann Claiborne, told ESPN that he “slimmed down a lot.” He stayed in New Jersey for most of the six-week break, working with the team’s trainers and conditioning staff.
Previously, Becton trained at a facility in Dallas, opting to skip the offseason program because his girlfriend was pregnant with the couple’s first child.
If he can stay in shape and healthy — he has played only eight complete games in two seasons — the Jets’ offensive line has strong potential. Aside from Becton and Fant at the tackle positions, they have Laken Tomlinson and Alijah Vera-Tucker (2021 first-round pick) at guard and Connor McGovern at center.
“It’s a pretty damn good offensive line,” Saleh said.
Like Becton, Vera-Tucker is learning a new position. He played left guard as a rookie but moved to the right side to accommodate Tomlinson, an established left guard. Saleh said he isn’t worried about having two young players — Vera-Tucker and Becton — learning new spots at the same time on the same side.
“Personally, I’m excited about that right side,” he said. “We’ve got two potential All-Pros, in my opinion.”