Mark Sanchez and his receivers weren’t the only ones that headed to the West Coast last week to get ready for the training camp and season ahead.
Steve Weatherford headed a little farther south than Mission Viejo, though. He was in San Diego, working out with his new placekicker and special teams companion, Nick Folk, and his guru, John Carney.
“I played with John in New Orleans my rookie year,” the Jets punter said of the ageless Carney, who kicked in the first half of the year for the Super Saints last season, his 22nd in the NFL. “He’s more of a mentor than a best friend, but he’s a great training partner, a good adviser, a great dad. And he’s always got good advice for me whenever I feel like I’m not sure what to do in my life. He’s someone I can turn to for solid advice.”
Carney’s advice last September might’ve been something like “Go east, young man.” Weatherford was the seventh and last different punter to try out for Rex Ryan and Mike Westhoff before the start of the ’09 season, won the job, and had a solid and certainly eventful season.
The numbers were not eye-popping. His 42.0-yard gross average was 26th and his 36.7 net 24th out of 33 qualifying NFL punters. But Weatherford and his coverage team did excel in a little-followed but significant punting stat. Only 27 of his 80 punts were returned, a 33.8 percent rate that led the league.
“I think going into my last punt of the season I was 14th or 15th,” he said, referring to that 40-yard return by Quan Cosby in the regular-season finale against the Bengals. “Prior to that punt, I think we were No. 1 in the league in yards given up on returns and No. 1 in fair catches. That speaks volumes of the coverage team, and you can’t say enough about the guys who are going down to cover your kicks. But at the same time you have to put the ball far enough out there to give you a good net.”
Weatherford’s net at Cincinnati in the AFC Wild Card Game was zero punts, due the sudden return of a condition that gave him a racing heart and dizziness. But he told me before his training trip to California that he feels that won’t ever be a problem again.
“I feel healthier than I did this time last year,” he said. “I had no idea that my heart was having issues. That’s been fixed and it’s kind of like fixing an ACL. They fixed it and I shouldn’t have any issues with it. I feel great, my workouts are going awesome, so I don’t think that should be an issue at all.”
He returned for the final two playoff games. At San Diego he nailed a 51-yard net punt downed at the Chargers 4 that set up the Jets’ short go-ahead TD drive. And in the Lucas Oil Dome, he averaged 51.0 gross and 45.0 net with only one 4-yard return on four punts against the Colts.
Having ended on a high note and now feeling ahead of where he wanted to be at this point on the football calendar, he was ready to work hard in Camp Carney as well as to spend some quality time with his own family, wife Laura, son Ace, and daughter, whose name is not coincidentally Carney.
“They’ll be joining me out in San Diego, going to Sea World and the San Diego Zoo, the beaches, stuff like that. I’m really looking forward to doing that,” he said. “I’ll be there a week and a half before I go to training camp. It’ll be a lot of good quality time with my family as well as getting some good work in before the start of camp.”
Weatherford was not in attendance at the start of last year’s camp in Cortland, N.Y., signing on Sept. 7. T.J. Conley was in camp. Now Conley is back and the two will battle for this year’s punting job.
“T.J.’s a great guy. He’s progressing. He’s very young and very raw, but he’s got all the tools you would need and he just needs to keep working and he’s working hard,” Weatherford analyzed. “He just needs to continue to do what he’s doing and there’s no doubt if he continues that he’ll be punting this year, whether it’s for the Jets or somebody else.
“It took John three years to get in the league. Twenty years later, look at him. He’s still kicking. You never can write anybody off. It just takes some guys longer than others to get in. Once you get your foot in the door, you can stay forever.”
And that description, while it was about Conley, could also describe Weatherford, who’s looking to extend the lease on his and his family’s eastern home to a second year.
“I don’t want to sound overzealous, like I’m overlooking it, but I’m more concerned with myself than with the day-to-day competition,” he said. “Obviously I want to make this team and feed my kids this year. But I’m not as concerned about how he’s punting as I am about how I’m punting, because I feel very confident that if I’m punting as well as I can, I’m going to be here.”
Pace Pulls Out of “Car Wash”
We like to keep you up on media appearances by the Jets players, and one of the events that some have participated in recently is ESPN’s “car wash,” that all-day, multitasking, multi-platform visit to the network’s Bristol, Conn., campus. Nick Mangold accepted the invitation last year, and Calvin Pace was set to go on Tuesday.
But we’ve gotten late word that Pace has withdrawn from tomorrow’s activities, so there will be no radio/TV/online/podcast exposure tomorrow for the Jets’ top sacker of the past two seasons. Perhaps this morning’s short but heavy rains around the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center, convinced CP to put off his car wash to another day.
Tags: John Carney, Nick Folk, Steve Weatherford, T.J. Conley
Posted in Randy Lange | 58 Comments »