“You want me to do what?’’
That could easily have been Alijah Vera-Tucker’s response when Jets coaches asked him if he’d move from right guard to left tackle during practice a few weeks ago.
That, however, wasn’t Vera-Tucker’s response. Not even close.
The 23-year-old Vera-Tucker, who’s become a rock at guard for the Jets in his two seasons since being drafted, starting the moment he left the USC campus and arrived onto the Jets’ Florham Park campus, didn’t blink.
So, he dutifully practiced at left tackle in case of emergency …
… and emergency arrived last week in Pittsburgh, where the Jets had as many healthy and competent tackles on their roster as their lobby trophy case has Lombardi trophies and Vera-Tucker started at left tackle against the Steelers.
“It was definitely a big surprise,’’ Vera-Tucker told The Post Thursday of his initial reaction to the potential move from a position at which he’s on a path to becoming a Pro Bowler. “When you’re an inside guy and someone tells you to play tackle, it’s definitely different, definitely a jump you have to make. But they were confident in me and confident in asking me, and that felt good that they felt confident enough to ask me.’’
It’s not breaking news that the tackle position for the Jets has been a black hole this season. Mekhi Becton was lost for the season to a knee injury in training camp. Free agent signee Duane Brown injured his shoulder before the season opener. George Fant went onto injured reserve with a knee injury. And now rookie right tackle Max Mitchell is out with a knee injury sustained Sunday in Pittsburgh.
Brown, who’s eligible to come off injured reserve, has been practicing some this week and has a slight chance to play Sunday against the Dolphins. If that happens, it’s possible Vera-Tucker moves to right tackle.
When asked on Thursday, if he has any idea which position he’ll be playing against the Dolphins, Vera-Tucker said, “That’s still to be determined.’’
Three days before game day.
That Vera-Tucker is taking this in such seamless stride comes as no surprise to anyone on the Jets. This, after all, is the same player who successfully started his entire rookie year at left guard only to be moved to right this season when veteran right guard Laken Tomlinson was signed in the offseason.
“ ‘AVT’ kind of carries himself like he’s been in this league for five years already,’’ Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said Thursday.
“I don’t hear too much from him,’’ quarterback Joe Flacco told The Post. “He puts his head down and he works. He lets his play speak for itself.’’
The move to left tackle?
“This is the ultimate team sport, but your initial reaction is, ‘Oh man, he’s so good at right guard for us,’ ’’ Flacco said. “But then it’s like, how can we get our best guys out there on the field? And to have a guy like that not blink is impressive. The initial inclination is to be like, ‘Are you serious? I’m playing so good at right guard and you want to put me at left tackle? What if I get exposed?’ ’’
All Vera-Tucker has done is expose himself as an even better, more versatile and valuable player than he was already.
“I’m not an offensive lineman, but I know the game — and that’s special,’’ running back Michael Carter told The Post of the Vera-Tucker position switch. “What a special talent Alijah is. I can take every good thing I’ve ever said about anyone and direct it toward him and it still wouldn’t be enough. He’s a special player and a special person and the discipline he carries from day-to-day is unheard of and unmatched.’’
Quarterback Zach Wilson said, “That dude’s a baller for even just taking on that challenge.’’
Center Connor McGovern knows as well as anyone how difficult the move Vera-Tucker made is to make.
“For a guy that’s playing at a Pro Bowl level to be selfless enough [and] go and move over there is pretty impressive, because I don’t think people realize how different each position on the offensive line is,’’ McGovern told The Post.
“What he just did, a lot of people don’t understand how hard that is,’’ LaFleur said. “I can’t say enough good things about him. He’ll play center if he needs to. I’m sure if he starts playing center he’s going to want some goal line reps at fullback.’’
When LaFleur’s comment was relayed to Vera-Tucker, he smiled and said, “I would like that. I night need a TD in my career at some point. I might have to hit up LaFleur on that.’’
It’s the least the coaching staff can do for him.
Vera-Tucker has felt the respect and the love from his teammates and coaches.
“A lot of guys came up to me and congratulated me for what I was able to do out there,’’ he said. “That’s a big boost for me. I don’t take any of that of granted.’’
The Jets would be fools to take Vera-Tucker for granted.
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