Perceived as a potential weakness this offseason, Gang Green's special teams unit has played well under STC Mike Westhoff.
During the offseason, there was plenty of concern that we lost many playmakers on special teams. K Jay Feely, a part-time punter and great tackler as well, went to Arizona; RB Leon Washington, our kick and punt returner, went to Seattle; WR Wallace Wright, our flyer (STC's preferred term over "gunner"), went to Carolina; LB Marques Murrell went to New England; and LB Larry Izzo retired.
Despite all that, Gang Green is currently 4th is kickoff return yardage allowed at 19.8 average with 0 touchdowns and 1st in pinning the opponent inside the 20 yard line. We are second in opponents calling fair catches. Field goal percentage hasn't been great, as we all know. We're middle of the pack there. But in total FG and extra point, we're still 5th overall in scoring. That's something, right? Right?
The Jets were able to take a risk in letting some terrific special teamers go because the team has one of the best coordinators in the league. Under STC Mike Westhoff, WR Brad Smith recently returned a kickoff for a touchdown at the start of the second half at home against the Cincinnati Bengals on Thanksgiving Day, and another at the start of the game at Pittsburgh two weeks ago.
The Jets were recently fined for an incident involving special teams. The huge amount was partly due to off-the-cuff remarks by Westhoff about another team. Westy isn't exactly the most tactful guy out there. While the players and other coaches shared diplomatic comments after the playoff loss to the Steelers in January 2005, Westhoff didn't beat around the bush and stated that the kicker should have made it. I like that about him. He shouldn't have mentioned New England in his comments about the tripping incident, but I always loved his candidness. And he actually gave us plenty of great quotes on "Hard Knocks" this summer.
The special teams unit is an underappreciated but crucial part of a football team. The Jets recently won in Pittsburgh thanks to great field position provided by P Steve Weatherford, and we recently lost in Chicago partly because Shakes and K Nick Folk kicked it to Bears WR Devin Hester. I also believe the implosion in New England ensued after the missed field goal, causing QB Mark Sanchez to feel more pressure.
Westy joined the New York Jets in 2001. Since then, 6 players have returned kickoffs for 14 touchdowns. They are Chad Morton, Jonathan Carter, Jerricho Cotchery, Justin Miller, Leon Washington and Brad Smith. Santana Moss has returned punts for TDs, while four other Jets have blocked punts for TDs. With Westhoff soon to retire, I hope we can keep up the great production under his replacement, most likely his current assistant Ben Kotwicka.
You can check out the other touchdowns, including punt returns and blocked punts in this story from last year.