In a possibly closely fought game like Sunday’s Jets-Dolphins game could be, Mike Westhoff and his special teams could be a difference-maker.
If Westhoff, primed to retire from coaching after this season, is distracted by nostalgia, the game could turn against the Jets. After all, before “Coach Westy” reached legendary status among NFL ST gurus with the Jets, he got his pro coaching career really cranking with 1½ decades guiding the Dolphins’ specialists.
“I had a great run there, I had 15 years there. I enjoyed it,” Westhoff said this week. “I was part of a very good football team, a group that started back when Joe Robbie was the owner, then through Wayne Huizenga, Coach Don Shula and then Jimmy Johnson and being a part of all that, it was a lot of fun. I know exactly something that I will think of. I can still look in the stands and see the exact seats my family sat in. That, I’m sure, will have a certain feel to it.”
Is Iron Mike turning soft on us? Not likely. Because while he acknowledges those memories and the dwindling number of games ahead for him, he isn’t built to be sidetracked by those thoughts.
“Colin Powell wrote in a chapter in his book that when it’s time to get off the train, that doesn’t mean it’s time to get off the train and jump in the river. You get off the train and get on another train,” Westhoff argued. “I do not dwell on it one bit. I don’t ever think this is my last this or that, I don’t. I’m so concerned to do what we have to do with this group of people to win the next game.”
His players get it. Nick Bellore said the Jets’ special teams have kicked around Westhoff’s return to Miami one more time this week, but it’s not Topic A for them.
“We talk about this group,” Bellore said of the Dolphins. “They’re one of the better groups we’re going to face in the NFL, one of the more elite groups. They’ve got a really good kicker, punter and long-snapper. And their teams are built around their linebackers.”
One of those linebackers is a familiar name to Jets fans. Jason Trusnik began his career as a gung-ho free agent LB out of Ohio Northern who made a number of tackles on Westhoff’s Jets special units of 2007-08. He went on to Cleveland with Chansi Stuckey in the trade for Braylon Edwards in ’09. Then he moved to Miami in ’10.
Now Trusnik and his teammates will try to rein in Joe McKnight on kickoff returns and Jeremy Kerley on punt returns, while Bellore and company will have to deal with first-year double threat Marcus Thigpen, fourth in the NFL in punt returns with a 21.4-yard average (just ahead of Kerley’s 18.5 in fifth) and eighth in the league in kickoff returns at 27.4 (ahead of McKnight’s 27.2 in 10th).
What can the Jets do about Pro Bowl kicker Dan Carpenter and booming punter Brandon Fields? Well, block a kick or hurry a snap or two, and also keep up in the field position battle with Nick Folk’s kickoffs and Robert Malone’s punts.
And they’ll do that with the help of the X’s and O’s drawn up by the undistracted Westhoff.
“For me, the only happiness, to be honest, that I ever really have on a play is if 11 guys do it right,” said Westhoff. “When I grade a play, if I have 11 pluses, then I’m happy. Anything else, I’m really not. It’s not like I’m miserable — they think I am sometimes, but I’m not. But I’m always striving to get that ‘How can you do it?’ When you’re occupied that way, I don’t think about much else, I really don’t.”
*Special Teams Saturday
Tags: Colin Powell, Jason Trusnik, Miami Dolphins, Mike Westhoff, Nick Bellore, Nick Folk, Robert Malone
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