The New York Jets special teams in 2011 was a roller coaster. They were either returning kicks for a touchdown or muffing punt after punt. Overall, it is fair to classify last season’s performance as disappointing considering the normal high standard of performance set by Mike Westhoff’s units. Considering his body of work, it is reasonable to expect a bounceback year from a group that has potential to be one of the league’s best.
1. Kicker vs. Kicker - The kicking battle between Josh Brown and Nick Folk should be closer than most people expect. Everybody seems ready to hand the job to Brown, which is understandable considering Folk’s inconsistencies the past two years. However, there was a reason Brown was a free agent this year. He is coming off a very average season and has been primarily kicking in a dome the past 4 years. Brown certainly has the ability to beat Folk out but don’t necessarily expect him to run away with the job.
2. Be The Best – In Westhoff’s scheme, there is no reason Joe McKnight can’t be one of the best, if not the best kick returner in the NFL. He has the needed speed and vision, demonstrated by his four returns of over 40 yards last year and his 31.6 average per kick return. McKnight now has a full year under his belt with the job and should only improve because of his experience.
3. Big Play Potential – Look for Jeremy Kerley to be the primary punt returner. If he can curtail his ball security issues, he has the big play potential the Jets have lacked in recent years at punt returner with people like Jim Leonhard and Jerricho Cotchery deep. Unfortunately, without Leonhard on the team who Rex Ryan always claimed “could catch the ball in a Hurricane,” the Jets need Kerley to also become reliable when catching punts near the end-zone and in poor weather conditions.
4. Open For Business – I wouldn’t be surprised if TJ Conley wasn’t the Jets opening day punter. Look for the Jets to bring in more competition for him throughout training camp. Conley was average at best last year. Beyond that, the Jets need a punter who can run the option with personal protector Tim Tebow, no?
5. Coverage – The Jets missed Brad Smith, Drew Coleman, and Lance Laury on their coverage units last year. This season they will need players like Ellis Lankster, Josh Mauga and rookies Demario Davis, Josh Bush, and Antonio Allen to step up.
6. Tebow’s Here – A random Tebow anecdote. When I was in college, we heard a story that whenever Tebow walked into a class at Florida, he would motion his arms into a “T” and go “Tebow’s Here!” It became an ongoing joke on our football team, long before “Tebowing” became all the rage. While TOJ is the self-proclaimed most Pro-Sanchez site on the Internet, I did take the time to drop a Tebow outside the Bruce Springsteen concert I just attended in Germany to see how many people would recognize what I was doing…not many did.
Anyway, I don’t think people should get too carried away with Tebow’s special teams involvement. Will there be a fake or two throughout the season? Yes but don’t expect the Jets to breaking out fake punts or field goals every other attempt.