FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — A back-and-forth battle in the trenches has been a must-see attraction for the New York Jets early in training camp.
Mekhi Becton, the mountain-like left tackle who stands at 6-foot-7 and weighs in the neighborhood of 363 pounds, looms on one side of the line of scrimmage.
Carl Lawson, a 6-2, 265-pound stocky defensive end with speed, prowls the other.
“It’s like the opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of size, right?” coach Robert Saleh said. “Carl is not going to see a man that big, and Mekhi is not going to see a man that small and sawed off, and as strong as he is. For those guys to get that work, they’re making each other strain in different ways that they’ll see all season.
“Because of it, I think they’ll get better for it.”
Through the Jets’ first three camp practices, Lawson appeared to get the better of Becton by working his way into the backfield for a few would-be sacks. That observation might be a bit flawed, though, considering the team hasn’t worked in pads yet — so players can’t be as physical as they normally would.
“He sweats and stuff, so he’s real slippery,” a smiling Becton said of Lawson. “That’s the toughest thing, and he’s got a lot of speed and power. He does, like, this power spin that’s really tough. He’s a great rusher — a really great rusher.”
Becton did a nice job against Lawson on Saturday, more than holding his own against the Jets’ biggest free-agent signing of the offseason.
“It’s helping me a whole lot because I can get my losses out of the way right now,” said Becton, New York’s first-round pick last year. “When it comes to game time, I’m going to be ready, for sure.
“Iron sharpens iron, so he’s getting me better and I’m getting him better.”
It’s difficult not to focus on rookie quarterback Zach Wilson whenever he takes a snap during team drills. But if you take a second or two to watch Becton and Lawson square off, it’s a treat.
And surprisingly, there’s never any trash talk between the two. Not when Lawson blows past Becton, and not when Becton stonewalls Lawson.
“After every play, I ask him, ‘What can I change there?’” Becton said. “And he asks me, ‘What can I change there?’ I just tell him things when I get him and he tells me things when he gets me.”
There’s mutual respect between two of the most powerful — and important — players on the team.
Becton said he was good as a rookie while facing elite pass rushers such as Nick Bosa, Justin Houston, Frank Clark and Bradley Chubb, “but I want to be great this year.” He’s tasked with protecting Wilson’s blind side and made a habit last season of serving up highlight-reel pancake blocks.
Becton came into camp in noticeably better shape. And going up against Lawson — not a traditional hulking pass rusher — will help with his technique.
“Just trying to get your hands at the right position,” Becton said. “That’s just part of the challenge in making sure you stay square on him.”
Lawson was signed by New York to a three-year, $45 million contract to give the Jets what they hope will be their first pure pass rusher since John Abraham almost 20 years ago. Lawson had 20 sacks in four seasons with Cincinnati, including 5 1/2 last season. It’s a total he believes will increase by better finishing plays.
Last year alone, he thinks left too many sacks on the field. And he means a lot.
“Maybe 100,” Lawson said while not cracking the least bit of a smile. “Every rush is supposed to be a sack, to me. That’s how I evaluate it. So, 100 sacks. That’s my answer to you.”
Lawson is obsessed with being better, voraciously studying film to fine-tune his game.
“There are certain tackles that early on in my career, I probably didn’t have as many tools in the toolbox so they probably had the advantage against me,” he said. “And as I’ve gone on through my career, each year and each day I’m trying to figure out how do I go against that, whatever my kryptonite would be.”
Saleh acknowledged that while the offensive line is usually at a disadvantage against the D-line early in camp, there’s something different about Lawson.
“When it comes to Carl, he does that to everybody,” Saleh said. “I know we get caught up on sacks, but my God, all he does is run and hit the quarterback. It’s special. When you look at him, you’re not expecting it, but then he just dominates.
“I’m really excited for the pads to come on because then they’ll be able to get some real good work in 1-on-1s.”
That will happen in practice Monday. And Becton has a not-so-bold prediction for how it’ll turn out.
“It’s going to be the same way it is now,” the big left tackle said. “He’s going to win some and I’m going to win some.”
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