football

Can Kicking, Punting Games Make Jets’ Unit Special?

By Jeff Moeller, The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com

According to several outlets, the Jets were among the top 10 special teams in the league last season.

No surprise there. Coach Brant Boyer is one of the most respected ones in his profession, and he has worked his magic with kickers and has dealt with injuries, notably last season.

Is there a need to worry for 2020? There could be.

General manager Joe Douglas tendered incumbent kicker Sam Ficken and signed former Cowboy Brett Maher to a futures/reserve contract. The team didn’t resign punter Lachland Edwards and instead drafted Texas A&M Ray Guy winner and sixth-round choice Braden Mann and initially signed undrafted free agent punter Ian Berryman in December before he was released when they signed quarterback Joe Flacco in May.

Ficken, who made 70.6 of his field goal attempts last season, Maher, who claimed a 66.7 percentage before Dallas released him December, currently are involved in the duel for the spot. However, look for Douglas to have other candidates on his cellphone list in August unless one looks like the second coming of Jim Turner or Pat Leahy (Nick Folk should also get a nod here).

Last season, the Jets made a mistake by not resigning Pro-Bowl Kicker Jason Myers, who signed a deal with Seattle and made 82.1 percent of his kicks. They brought back Chandler Catanzaro, who suddenly retired after a disastrous opening preseason game. Journeyman Taylor Bertolet struggled through the remainder of the preseason and was released going into Week One.

Do you honestly remember Kaare Vedvik? He was their kicker for the opener against Buffalo and missed a 45-yard field goal as well as an extra point that proved to be the difference in a 17-16 loss to the Bills.

Vedvik was gone a few days later, and Ficken – with his sixth team since 2015 – emerged. Ficken biggest issue was his inconsistency, as he missed seral crucial kicks. His 70.6 field goal percentage was 29th in the league and his 88.4 (27 of 31) extra-point percentage was 31st.

Folk is among some attractive kickers still on the market such as fellow veterans former Packer Mason Crosby (unrestricted free agent) Patriot Stephen Grotkowski (released) and Titan Ryan Succup (released). Would you still have faith in ageless 47-year-old Colt Adam Vinatieri (UFA)?

As for Mann, he averaged just over a shade of 50 yards per punt last year, and had just over 64 yards on kickoffs. It is his job to lose, and the Jets don’t want to get to that situation.

Aside from the kickers, Braxton Berrios is back to return punts – his 11.4 mark was second in the league last season – and Vyncint Smith looms as the incumbent kickoff returner. Pro-Bowler Andre Roberts was allowed to walk off to Buffalo before last season.

Smith had 10 returns last year and averaged 29.9 yards per return. His speed and explosive breakout potential will weight in his favor. Ty Montgomery, who averaged over 20 yards per kickoff return, also should be in the mix.

Still, Boyer will need to figure out how to compensate for the loss of veteran special teamer Rontez Miles (not resigned) and Brandon Copeland (signed with New England), both of whom were key components in the mix.

The wildcard is third-round pick safety Ashtyn Davis. He was a punt returner, but he is being coveted as an intricate piece in defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ defense. Davis could be thrust into the spotlight if Jamal Adams is dealt.

Alike every other aspect the Jets, Boyer’s unit hasn’t had the luxury of mini-camps to begin to weed out some potential prospects as well as getting in shape.

They’ll have a crash course in August, specifically answering questions about the kicking game that could be decided in the recent likelihood of two preseason games instead of the usual four.  

On a team that apparently found itself in the second half of last season and expectations rising, the Jets’ special teams performance will determine how any meaningful games that can play in December and beyond.

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