FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Duane Brown was simply exploring his job prospects two weeks ago, visiting the New York Jets to see if they might be a good fit.
A few days later, right tackle Mekhi Becton went down with a season-ending knee injury — and signing Brown suddenly became a priority for the Jets.
“Everything happened quickly,” Brown said Tuesday. “I didn’t know for sure if I was going to come here. I had some other options.”
But for the Jets, Brown was THE option.
Now, after signing a two-year deal worth $22 million on Monday, Brown is slated to be New York’s starting left tackle this season.
“The quarterback is the No. 1 guy you’re trying to protect,” coach Robert Saleh said. “Duane has been there, he’s done that. He’s still playing at a very high level. Even last year with Seattle, playing at a high level. He brings a wealth of experience, he’s played in the system, so he’s knows what to expect, so there shouldn’t be that much of a learning curve for him.”
First, Brown needs to get on the practice field. He has been working with the trainers during his first few practices with the Jets, but offensive line coach John Benton said the hope is for Brown to begin practicing later this week.
Brown, who turns 37 on Aug. 30, knows what he needs to do to get himself in playing shape by the season opener on Sept. 11 against Baltimore. He’s also confident that even in his 15th season he can play at a Pro Bowl-caliber level — just as he did last season with Seattle while being selected for his fifth all-star game.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t,” Brown said Tuesday. “I mean, I don’t play the game just to be out there. I want to play at a high level. I work hard and continue to play at a high level. I think if you ask my opponents that I play against, they’ll tell you I play at a high level. There’s not many people that play to this age, so those criticisms are well warranted.
“I’m not going to talk about what I’m going to do. I’ll just get out there on the field and prove it. So that’s what I plan to do.”
Brown’s familiarity with Saleh and Benton factored into his decision to join the Jets, having known them from their time together in Houston after the O-lineman was drafted 26th overall by the Texans in 2008 out of Virginia Tech.
“Even when he came into the league as a young guy, he had a much higher level of maturity, so to speak, than maybe the average player,” said Benton, who coached Brown for six years in Houston. “Very, very good technically, and that’s what’s created his longevity and success.”
The Jets’ zone-blocking scheme also fits Brown’s athletic abilities, so there’s some comfort level with that.
“This scheme we’re in, it’s all about continuity and everyone being together, and I think we have a chance to be great,” he said. “So I’m looking forward to it.”
Brown’s arrival might have made for a somewhat awkward situation, though. Heading into training camp, George Fant was slated to be the left tackle with Becton sliding to the right side. But with Becton out and Brown having played only left tackle his entire 14-year NFL career, the versatile Fant is now the right tackle — despite he and Saleh saying during the offseason he’s much more comfortable on the left side.
Brown and Fant, who were teammates for four seasons in Seattle and became good friends, kept in touch leading up to Brown signing with New York.
“Just the situation, the way it’s played out, it’s not easy for anybody,” Brown said. “But he’s handling it greatly and I’m grateful for it. It hasn’t been that awkward for us. We’re on great terms. We’re friends before anything.
“We realize the way our line is set up right now, we have the potential to be a really good one and he’s embraced it.”
And while Brown feels he’s in great shape at his age, relying on his experience and mental ability can help make up for any potential slight physical shortcomings on the field.
“I’ve played against every scheme on defense,” Brown said. “I’ve played against every kind of rusher. You’ve seen everything, so things kind of slow down for you from that aspect.
“So the things you don’t have, as far as being able to bench 500-plus pounds or move like a cat, you can still identify things and be in position to pick things up. And that’s the kind of stuff that I pass on to the younger guys that might not have experienced as much.”
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