The scene was symbolic of a season derailed by infighting and inconsistent performances.
New York Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes was caught by television cameras in January jawing at right tackle Wayne Hunter during the team’s regular-season finale at Miami. Holmes was benched, the Jets lost and their playoff chances ruined.
Looking to put that ugly episode behind them, Hunter ran into Holmes during the first day of the Jets’ offseason conditioning program and made peace.
”I told him it’s a clean slate,” Hunter said Thursday.
Holmes, a team captain last season, also had some friction with quarterback Mark Sanchez and right guard Brandon Moore. It all had some fans and media wondering if the Jets would be better off trying to dump the veteran wide receiver this offseason.
Instead, the Jets kept Holmes and a clause in his contract worth $15.25 million kicked in. Hunter has also noticed a real change in Holmes’ demeanor and the wide receiver putting in extra work with Sanchez, in particular.
”He has been great,” Hunter said. ”He’s doing stuff he hasn’t done in the past as a leader, being a real team guy.”
Holmes chose to not comment on what transpired between him and Hunter, saying only: ”This is 2012. That happened in the past.”
The much-maligned Hunter is also moving on from what happened on the field last year. He struggled mightily at times in his first season as a starter with the Jets, calling it a ”shock” for him mentally. But Hunter was given a vote of confidence by new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano and offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo in the offseason.
”I am the starting right tackle, that’s it,” Hunter said. ”Not up for debate. Whatever happens come opening day, I am the starting right tackle. They told me that, so it’s clear to me. It’s as simple as that.”
Hunter filled in for the retired Damien Woody after being called ”the best backup tackle in the league” by coach Rex Ryan. But his subpar performance had fans pining for Woody to come out of retirement and reclaim his spot.
”If you can’t handle it, then don’t play in New York,” Hunter said. ”When it comes to the media and fans, I feel I have lived up to (handling) it. I had good games last year, had some great games. I also had some bad games. I didn’t pick up where Woody left off. I was the weakest link last year at times, played like a rookie last year, and this year I’m going to play like a nine-year veteran.”
The team made it clear Hunter was still in its plans for this season when it didn’t cut him before the start of free agency, allowing his contract to become guaranteed for $2.45 million.
”I know I can play this position, and Tony knows it,” Hunter said. ”They know I can do the job and do it well, and I will do it.”