Camp preview: Special teams
July, 20, 2013
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesFollowing an "off" year, look for Joe McKnight to return to the top of his game this season.Breaking down the Jets, one position at a time, as we head to training camp:
Position: Special teams
Projected starters: Nick Folk (PK), Robert Malone (P), Tanner Purdum (LS), Joe McKnight (KOR), Jeremy Kerley (PR).
Projected reserves: Antonio Cromartie (KOR), Mike Goodson (KOR), Kyle Wilson (PR).
New faces: Goodson.
The departed: None.
Player to watch: Actually, we're going to focus on a coach -- new special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica, who replaces the retired Mike Westhoff. Kotwica has big shoes to fill (just ask Westhoff), but he spent the better part of six years at Westhoff's side, learning from the best. Under Kotwica, a decorated officer who served seven years in the army, the unit will be disciplined and well prepared. But he will have a hard time matching Westhoff's ability to make in-game adjustments.
Potential strength: It was an "off" year for McKnight, slowed by a severe ankle sprain, but he still finished third in the NFL with a 27.5-yard return average. He's healthy and dropped a few pounds in the offseason, so he should be at the top of his game. McKnight's ability to create field position with long returns will be a huge factor, especially with the offense likely to experience growing pains.
Potential weakness: The kicking units were an uncharacteristic mess last season, a virtual comedy of errors. There were so many moving parts at the bottom of the roster, due to injuries, that Westhoff was forced to juggle lineups on a weekly basis. In fact, 20 players ended up playing at least 100 snaps on special teams, 16 of whom are back this year. The lack of quality depth and speed on the roster contributed to the woes. When constructing the roster, Rex Ryan should put an emphasis on special teams, looking for run-and-hit players who will help raise the overall level of play in the kicking game.
Wild card: Kerley has a chance to be an above-average punt returner ... if he takes an aggressive approach. He set an NFL record with 36 fair catches. Run, Jeremy, run!