As the New York Jets continue preseason football, so far their special teams unit looks much more efficient than anything fans saw last year.
To say the special teams unit of the New York Jets have been dreadful the past several seasons would be quite an understatement. NFL reporter Rick Gosselin recently published his annual rankings for all 32 teams’ special teams. And to no surprise, the Jets are 31, ahead of only the San Diego Chargers. Just three seasons ago, the Jets were ranked in the top 10, sitting at No. 9. Two years ago, they dropped to 20th. And last year, 31st, was the worst in franchise history.
Statistically, the Jets finished 32nd in average yards per punt, 23rd in kickoff return average, 30th in opposing punt-return average and 23rd in field-goal percentage. In addition, they allowed a league-high 24 points on special teams. All of which included two punt returns, a blocked punt and a fumble recovery, per Rich Cimini of ESPN.
Last season, the Jets suffered several extremely heart-breaking defeats, due in large part to the poor performances of special teams. In Week 3, a home game against the sub-par Philadelphia Eagles, the Jets lost by just a touchdown. They allowed running back Darren Sproles to rip through the middle of special teams for an 89-yard punt return touchdown.
Additionally in Week 9 during a Thursday Night Football showdown, the Jets lost to Rex Ryan’s Bills 22-17. They quickly lost the home-field momentum early in the first quarter following a wide receiver Devin Smith fumble on a kickoff return which was returned 19 yards for a touchdown.
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And finally in Week 17, in a win-or-go-home game against the Bills on the road, the Jets lost due to horrendous punting by Ryan Quigley.
He kept giving the Bills tremendous field position often throughout the game.
However, this year’s special teams look dramatically different.
Really different, looking like a genuinely revitalized squad, from the looks of just one preseason contest.
Head coach Todd Bowles meaning business, fired special teams coordinator Bobby April following the conclusion of last year’s finale. He hired Brant Boyer, a former linebacker and Indianapolis Colts coach to replace him.
While the new, seasoned coach appears ideal for the job, he certainly needs the right players on the field, too.
First, the Jets parted ways with Quigley, whose tenure with the Jets was inevitably at a close following the Bills performance.
During 2016 NFL Draft, the Jets selected punter Lachlan Edwards, an Australian player out of Sam Houston State, where he played for three seasons. Edwards is the first punter the Jets have drafted since they selected Craig Hentrich in the 1993 NFL Draft, per Dom Consemtino of NJ.com, justifying the Jets’ quest for the position.
In addition to Edwards, the Jets added two young, fast return men in the offseason. Wide receiver Jalin Marshall just days after he went undrafted as well as wide receiver Jeremy Ross. Ross was with five other teams in the past few seasons, still seeking his first long-term home in the NFL.
Aug 11, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Jalin Marshall (89) returns a kickoff during the second half of the preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Similarly to the other players seeking spots on the Jets’ limited 53-man roster, Marshall and Ross certainly had to compete during the Jets’ preseason opener to prove their value. And both were certainly on their A-games.
Ross made quite a splash in the first quarter, returning a kickoff 51 yards to put the Jets in great field position. And how did Marshall counter? With an 84-yard kickoff return the next quarter of his own. While it remains unclear whether both, neither or one of the two speedsters makes the roster come September, they have both certainly gained the confidence and caught the attention of Bowles. Here’s what he had to say in an article written by Kimberly A. Martin of Newsday:
“Those guys saw a crease and they took it,” coach Todd Bowles said of Ross and Marshall. “Credit to coach [Brant] Boyer schematically and the things they did. And then credit to Marshall and Ross and the guys blocking them.”
As Bowles mentioned, a huge part of the success in the game was due to Boyer’s leadership.
Without having coached a regular-season game together to date, it seems like the Bowles-Boyer era is beginning to thrive already.
Boyer brings that fire and intensity to the job that the Jets have been searching for for so long, and his presence is felt on the field. When he noticed a few young players jogging on the kickoff unit in practice last Wednesday, he made sure they heard about it. Here’s what he said in an article written by Connor Hughes of USA Today Sports:
“Part of my philosophy is 500 miles per hour all the time,” Boyer said last week in his first interview since being hired away from the Indianapolis Colts in February, per Connor Hughes of JetsWire at USA Today. “We’re going to play snap to whistle and we’re going to punch first. That’s how I’m going to coach.”
In addition to these acquisitions, the Jets also re-signed kicker Nick Folk, who missed the majority of last year due to injury. Whether he remains the starter or not is to be determined, but it’s promising to have the veteran back nonetheless.
Last year, the Jets had their typically stout defense and a very consistent offense. Their offense was so good, it was the only team to score 17+ offensive points every game and two offensive touchdowns as well. If their special teams can really become something special, along with the Ryan Fitzpatrick-led offense and the powerhouse defense, the Jets might finally become a force to be reckoned with.