FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Wayne Hunter saw it coming, just as almost everyone else did.
New York Jets coach Rex Ryan said Thursday that Hunter had been demoted and replaced by Austin Howard as the starter at right tackle for the team's exhibition game against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. Hunter, who struggled last year
and in the first two games of the preseason, was informed of the team's
decision when he met with Ryan on Thursday morning.
"It wasn't a surprise," Hun-ter, a former
University of Hawaii standout, said after practice. "Everyone knows. The whole New York City (area) knows that I've been struggling for the last year. The last game, I didn't do much better. So, I wasn't surprised. I was just waiting for it, to be honest with you."
1:30 p.m.-New England at Tampa Bay, KFVE
2 p.m.-Chicago at N.Y. Giants, CBS
2 p.m.-Seattle at Kansas City, NBC
5 p.m.-San Diego at Minnesota, CBS
1 p.m.-Detroit at Oakland, KFVE
2 p.m.-Houston at New Orleans, CBS
2 p.m.-Carolina at N.Y. Jets, NBC
Ryan wouldn't commit to How-ard being the starter when the Jets open their regular season against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 9.
"In all fairness, you are always evaluating your team," Ryan said. "For me to sit here and say absolutely this is going to happen? If Jona-than Ogden called me up and said, 'Rex, I'd like to come back,' Jona-than Ogden is our starting right tackle. That would be a story."
Ogden was an 11-time Pro Bowl selection who retired five years ago.
In the game on Sunday, Hunter will be used as the sixth offensive lineman - or as a blocking tight end, a role in which he has performed well in previous seasons.
"The more I thought about it, I need to see Austin with this group and going against Carolina's star-ters," Ryan said before practice. "And the fact, I want Wayne in this role. It's a very valuable role that we have."
The decision, which Ryan said Howard "earned," came less than 48 hours after the coach said he expected Hunter to play with the starters against the Panthers on Sunday. Hunter had a poor performance in the Jets' 26-3 loss to the New York Giants on Saturday, playing a part in three sacks of Mark Sanchez - a fourth was negated by a penalty.
"I want to help this team any way I can," Hunter said. "And right now, it's not at right tackle. I've had struggles and everyone has seen that. They're just moving me back to a position where I excelled, did really well and helped the team to two AFC championships. They feel, and even I feel, like I can help the team more going back to those days."
Hunter was given the night off from practice Tuesday at MetLife Stadium for what the Jets called a "personal reason," but he returned to the field Wednesday.
"Right now," Ryan said, "I believe this is in the best interest of our team."
Hunter has a guaranteed contract for $2.45 million and will not be cut. The Jets confirmed that they are not actively seeking to trade him.