When he came flying over the middle of the line of scrimmage in the Jets’ season opener, fans and media types alike did a double take. Was that Braylon Edwards? On a field goal block?
The Green & White wide receiver has the words “Whatever It Takes” tattooed across his shoulder blades as if it were the name on the back of his jersey. Few would expect a starting wide receiver to be featured in a special teams package, but these Jets are a different brand.
“You have to do anything that it takes to win,” Edwards said. “I think over time you learn that about this league in terms of getting victories. You have to do whatever is asked of you. If that’s what needs to happen to win, that’s what it takes to win, we’ll do that. I think that’s what this team is about and that’s the epitome of what these Jets represent, the willingness to do anything to win.”
Other Jets starters are utilized by special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff in certain situations, including safety Jim Leonhard, who not only is the main punt returners but also made a touchdown-saving tackle on the elusive Percy Harvin during the 29-20 victory over the Vikings. Leonhard didn’t receive a college scholarship when he played at Wisconsin and was also undrafted, so he knows the magnitude of the special teams’ impact on the game.
“The fact that I’m asked to do certain things, it’s something I’ve always done so it doesn’t really bother me,” Leonhard said. “Some guys, it’s almost like they take offense to the fact that they’re on special teams. There’s a great culture on this team with Westhoff that is important. It doesn’t matter who you are, you’re going to have to step up sometimes and fill in.”
Leonhard said wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery has returned punts and is now working on the punt return team and linebacker David Harris has filled in on the punt team. To many young players, special teams are the ticket to moving up on the depth chart. For the Jets, it’s even a key for veteran guys. With such a loaded roster, the more versatile you can be, the more valuable you are.
“You always want to have that attitude that special teams is important,” Leonhard said. “That’s all I did when I came to the league. I didn’t get a whole lot of snaps on defense early in my career. You realize where you have to fit on the football team in order to stay on the football team and in order for your team to have success.”
Eric Smith, Brad Smith, James Ihedigbo, Lance Laury and Marquice Cole are among the standouts on the special teams and are undying Westhoff disciples, but players such as Edwards, Leonhard and Cotchery prove to be essential complements.
Cotchery, the seventh-year man out of North Carolina State, has been playing on the punt return team for the past three weeks and has had a few reps in games so far, but his experience runs even deeper.
“When I first got to the Jets I was on all four special teams,” Cotchery said. “I’m familiar with all the things Coach Westhoff has. If he needs to plug in a guy, a guy to come in and help out, he knows he can come to me because I’m familiar with all of the different stuff. He knows what to expect from me, and I know what he expects from his players. It’s a pretty comfortable position.”
Just last year, the 28-year-old with more than 4,000 career receiving yards returned 23 punts for a 10.3-yard average and even filled in for a kickoff return. Cotchery is one of the most selfless players on the team, but it’s an accolade that has a lot of nominees on head coach Rex Ryan’s roster.
“Really, a lot of people say that they want to win the Super Bowl and all of those things,” Cotchery said. “But when they’re asked to do things they kind of turn their cheek at it. Well, I’m serious about winning the Super Bowl, so whatever I have to do to help the team out, I’m all for it.”
*Special Teams Saturday
Tags: Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery, Jim Leonhard, Mike Westhoff, special teams
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