This time, Mekhi Becton couldn’t even reach Week 1.
An MRI uncovered a fracture in Becton’s right knee, according to coach Robert Saleh, who labeled it “probably inevitable” that the right tackle will miss the season.
The gloomy news was revealed a day after Becton came up limp in practice, having aggravated the same right knee that required surgery last year and sabotaged his season.
There was optimism Monday about the diagnosis when preliminary tests determined no “major structural damage” such as an ACL tear, according to Saleh. But the ensuing MRI revealed a “small chip in his kneecap from the patellar.”
“The deeper we got, the worse it got,” Saleh said.
Becton’s absence from Tuesday’s practice was magnified by yet another porous performance from the offensive line, with quarterback Zach Wilson being sacked five times on his final six dropbacks.
Becton, 23, the former 11th overall pick, was drafted by Joe Douglas as the offensive tackle for the future, but a balky knee on a 370-pound body may prevent that course. Becton missed all but one game last season after dislocating his kneecap.
On Monday, he clearly aggravated the knee during lineman drills, long before Becton limped off the field during the 11-on-11 sessions. Saleh indicated that they shouldn’t have held out Becton after he first came up limping, saying this injury is unrelated to last season’s (although both involved the same kneecap).
“Hindsight is always 20/20,” Saleh said.
There’s also now the hindsight, and perhaps regret, of using a first-round pick on Becton, whose issues with weight were predictable out of Louisville.
The Jets will now likely sign 36-year-old veteran tackle Duane Brown, a Pro Bowl selection from the Seahawks last year, to serve as a stopgap starter as Becton’s replacement. On Tuesday, with Brown still a free agent and Conor McDermott (ankle) injured, Chuma Edoga played right tackle with the starters.
Despite the uncertainty of the pass protection, Saleh said he still plans to start Wilson in Friday’s preseason opener in Philadelphia.
“They’ve got to play. They got to go out there and feel different bodies at some point,” the coach said. “You can’t coach scared, you can’t play scared.”
The circumstances of Becton’s weight and availability, or lack thereof, have left him open to criticism, none more vitriolic than on social media. He was spotted on video throwing up from exhaustion during the first day of practice last week, the first time he’d been with the team on the field in nearly a year.
Saleh said he was concerned about Becton’s well-being after the injury.
“You worry about all of it. These are young men. Sometimes social media in this world we dehumanize these athletes in the worst way imaginable,” Saleh said. “Mekhi has walked into this building and taken every single punch you can get from every which way. And he shows up, and works his tail off, and he grinds every single day. Shows up in camp and fighting to get back in shape. There’s videos of him vomiting, and people throwing shade. He’s limping and doing all these different things and he’s fighting for his family, for himself, and his teammates and his family and this organization.
“So he’s doing everything, and people want to drop him. That isn’t the case. We love Mekhi, we appreciate everything he’s done. And his ride isn’t over. His story is not over. He has full support of this organization. If you’re a fan who wants to support him, you’re more than welcome. If not, keep it moving.”
Becton tweeted his approval of Saleh’s message and addressed the social media critics.
“Im not giving nobody the satisfaction of responding to them you just gonna simply get blocked,” Becton added on Twitter. “It’s also funny how they couldn’t wait until something bad happened.
“They’ll be quiet again soon!!”