The New York Jets have not been a good football team the past four years. Their issues on the offensive side of the football have been well documented, while their defense gradually decayed from a top tier unit to an overrated, sluggish group who could not force a turnover or make a game changing play. Fortunately, this off-season has actively went about remedying many of those problems thanks to impressive overhaul from the front office, to coaching staff through scouting and down to the roster. One question that is understandably lost in the shuffle is can the Jets improve their special teams, which declined into comedic end-zone camouflage antics in 2014 (his jersey is GREEN and the field is GREEN…they will never see him!)
More seriously, the Jets are now on their fourth special teams coordinator in four years. Mike Westhoff retired in 2012, handing the reigns off to Ben Kotwica, who lasted all of one season under Rex Ryan. Thomas McGaughey led an inconsistent, sloppy unit in 2014 in Rex’s final year. This season, Todd Bowles tabbed seasoned veteran Bobby April to take over the unit, who has twice been honored with the Special Teams Coach of the Year Award (2004 and 2008) despite his unit struggling a bit in recent stops in Philadelphia and Oakland. Can the Jets clean up on specials this season?Kicker Nick Folk has been steady since taking over the job. A late season injury hampered him down the stretch in 2014 but he still finished 32/29 and posses strong range. Punter Ryan Quigley has been up and down in New York and will face competition in camp from Jacob Schum. It also wouldn’t be surprising if the Jets brought in veteran competition, pending cuts this summer. Long snapper Tanner Purdum’s name has not been heard since he took over, which is the best thing you can ever say about a long snapper. Look at that form.
The return game is wide open heading into camp. Chris Owusu caught everybody’s eyes with a monster week 17 game, which included a 87 yard kick return. TJ Graham has experience returning kicks, as does Walt Powell and Saalim Hakim. However, there is a very real chance that none of those four players will make the roster, although Owusu may be somebody to keep an eye on. Despite their speed, Devin Smith and DeVier Posey are not returners. Smith returned zero kicks or punts in his last two years at Ohio State, same for Posey who has never done it in the NFL either. On punt return, Jeremy Kerley is a safe but limited option. He is going to catch the ball every single time but more than likely call for a fair catch every single time as well. Powell returned a few punts last year but muffed one and was never given another opportunity. Would the Jets consider giving Eric Decker a shot in certain situations this year?
The battle for both these jobs will be interesting to watch and could have an influence on some of the final roster spots handed out.In coverage and fleshing out the rest of the return units, you look towards depth to carry the torch. Fortunately, the Jets are loaded with more depth than they have had in years. Jamari Lattimore was one of Green Bay’s top special teamers last season, logging 135 snaps. Despite missing time, Joe Mays played 86 snaps for Kansas City last year and Kevin Vickerson played 121. Buster Skrine played 148 snaps for Cleveland in 2014. Devin Smith was one of the top gunners in college football and the motor on Lorenzo Mauldin should serve him well on specials as a rookie. Second year players IK Enemkpali and Trevor Reilly also flashed on specials last season and may be able to stick around if they can keep contributing there.
Let’s hope an infusion of depth with the turnover of the coaching staff will lead to improved play in this third of the game for the Jets. One way to help overcome potential offensive shortcomings is with strong special teams play.