Ryan Spadola made one of the plays of Jets training camp at this morning’s SUNY Cortland practice. It could be that one play that propels him into the coaches’ consciousness as they start to trim down their wide receiving corps.
Spadola, the undrafted free agent from Lehigh, took off down the right side for the second offense in the practice-closing two-minute drill and made the diving fingertip grab of a roughly 50-yard fourth-down pass from Geno Smith, stepping up in the pocket, in front of Ellis Lankster.
“I was running for a while,” Spadola said. “I didn’t look back for the ball till I was 30 yards down the field, so I was really digging. I thought the ball was never going to come down. I laid out for it and fortunately it fell right in my hands and I was able to bring it in.”
Ryan Spadola knows he has to do more than just make one long reception on the sixth day of camp.
“Pretty much all eyes are on you when you have a deep ball like that,” he said. “Your receivers are supposed to be the playmakers and make big plays in big situations. So for me so far this camp, that was the highlight. But I’m not going to sit on that. I’ve got to continue to get better. I’m just taking that as one play to learn from and keep every single rep just like that.”
While you may not have heard of Spadola’s exploits before this, the 6’3″, 200-pounder from Howell, N.J., is no stranger to the long ball or lots of catches. He had his career year as a Lehigh junior with 96 catches for 1,614 yards (16.8-yard avg.) and 11 touchdowns. In his three varsity seasons, he had 232 catches for 3,611 yards (15.6) and 24 TDs.
“Going into my senior year, defenses used different matchups against me so it took away that vertical threat and we altered our offense a bit so I was more of a horizontal guy,” he said. “But early in my college career, I had a reputation for vertical plays and I feel comfortable going up and taking the ball in the air when it’s deep.”
Why the Jets? Spadola’s from Howell, N.J., down by the Jersey shore, and the Jets showed a lot of interest in him as a free agent addition. What’s more, as a kid, his father, Don, took him to Jets games. When Don died during Ryan’s high school years, he told lehighvalleylive.com earlier this year, “my dream [to play in the NFL] became our dream.”
It will take more than a dream for Spadola to make the Jets. A bundle of plays like today will be helpful.
Top draft pick Dee Milliner, in pads Wednesday, was in drills Thursday, getting some reps with the second defense in 7-on-7′s and then some snaps with the ones in the two-minute drill, during which he made a swipe on a pass that he tipped, didn’t deflect, but that was caught out of bounds. Head coach Rex Ryan wasn’t committing to it but said there’s a chance Milliner could participate in Saturday evening’s Green & White Scrimmage.
Greg McElroy had a strong two-minute drive, hitting Konrad Reuland, then K.J. Stroud twice, then RB John Griffin for the short TD. … Head coach Rex Ryan at today’s news conference mentioned two young offensive players who have “popped up” this camp: WR Vidal Hazelton and C Dalton Freeman. … Former Jets special teams guru Mike Westhoff was at camp today. One touching moment came during practice when Santonio Holmes, still rehabbing his foot, came over to Mike and gave him a hug. … Today’s attendance in the off-and-on rain: 662.
Tags: Dee Milliner, Ellis Lankster, Geno Smith, Greg McElroy, Mike Westhoff, Rex Ryan, Ryan Spadola
Posted in Randy Lange | 39 Comments »
In many ways, Mike Westhoff is as busy as ever.
He’s retired as an NFL assistant coach after his three-decades cup of coffee. He’s reorganized his house in Fort Myers, Fla., for fulltime occupation. He’s done speaking engagements and clinics at Texas A&M, LSU and Notre Dame. He’s been fishing a lot, for tarpon — “I caught an incredible, ‘monster’ tarpon. I’ve hit them before but never successfully got one” — and trout and a half-dozen sharks, all catch-and-release. With his multi-procedure leg finally feeling great, he’s ready to pick up the game of golf again after a 15-year hiatus.
“That’s where it is. That’s enough,” said Coach Westy. “I’m enjoying it.”
Most of all, he seems to be enjoying his new role ahead as a member of the Jets media. He’s signed a contract with ESPN to work the Jets’ pregames this year, both preseason and regular season, and he’ll also be dropping in on ESPN radio shows during the week when needed. Check out Mike at the start of his newly begun radio career on Tuesday afternoon on the Michael Kay Show on ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
That’s one of the things he likes most about his (semi-)retirement: the freedom.
“I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing. I love where I live. I love living in Florida yet still being able to come back to New York,” he said over a quick tuna-melt muffin in the Jets’ second-floor servery at the Atlantic Health Training Center.
“I’m excited about doing radio. I think it’ll be fun. Presenting a certain perspective is what I’m interested in doing,” he said. “It keeps me involved in what I love doing, but not to the degree I did as a coach. Let’s put it this way: I miss a lot of the interaction with the guys, the players and coaches. I don’t miss the scheduling thing.”
Westhoff’s trip to his home away from home since 2001 filled several needs. He’ll visit with his new “signalcallers” at ESPN in New York City this afternoon. He also came by to make the rounds at practice, but only “behind the yellow line” from where the media watched today’s OTA session.
Mike was hired in part for his incredible visibility as the highly successful Jets and Dolphins special teams guru, as well as for his call-’em-as-I-see-’em opinions. He’ll have plenty of those beginning tomorrow with Kay, but he had a few positive observations about the Jets’ teams and on Ben Kotwica, who’s succeeded him as the coordinator of those specialists.
“Oh, Ben will do fine,” Westhoff said. “They looked fine today. They’re organized, they know what they’re doing. It’s a challenge, but he’s got some things to work with.”
He mentioned some of the Jets’ holdovers this year that Kotwica and ST assistant Louie Aguiar are working with: K Nick Folk, P Robert Malone, returners Joe McKnight and Jeremy Kerley, blockers and tacklers Nick Bellore, Josh Mauga, Isaiah Trufant, Kenrick Ellis, long-snapper Tanner Purdum.
“They have some very solid ingredients. Now it all has to come together. There’s certainly a good chance that it will,” Westhoff said. “Training camp’s in a couple of weeks. We’ll find out pretty soon.”
Westhoff was also cryptic about a sign he used to hang in his first-floor office: “Real Men Play on Sundays.” We think that has something to do with playing with injuries. We’ll hear more from Mike on that in the coming weeks and months.
As for now, after real men play on enough Sundays, they get to go back to Florida, fish sharks and 200-pound tarpon, play golf on the course where their house is located, and come back to New York to comment on the other real men who are still playing on Sundays. All the best in retirement, Mike.
This being a media day, some reporters seemed to want to pin head coach Rex Ryan down to a timetable for declaring his starting quarterback for training camp and the season ahead. Not surprisingly, Rex said it’s not time for that yet.
“I don’t think we’re close to that right now,”: he said after both Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith scrambled for red-zone completions against the defense while throwing to a still banged-up wideout corps. “And I think the process, you don’t have to make that move until we feel 100 percent comfortable with that decision. Until then we’ll just leave to the competition.”
Ryan confirmed, not that it’s a surprise, that it’ll be his call on the starter behind C Nick Mangold for opening day against the Buccaneers.
“It won’t be just my evaluation,” he said. “But at the end of the day I guess it will be. If there’s a split camp, then I will make that decision.”
Tags: Ben Kotwica, Geno Smith, Mark Sanchez, Michael Kay, Mike Westhoff, Rex Ryan
Posted in Randy Lange | 23 Comments »
Updated, 4:35 p.m. ET
“The plan” was hinted at by Rex Ryan a few months ago and has been referred to a few times since then.
And today, with the Jets veterans working out at the Atlantic Health Training Center during a Phase 2 practice of their offseason program and then meeting with reporters at midday, a little more of “the plan” was revealed in the locker room:
Q will be playing some OLB.
“Yeah, I definitely think it’s going to open up opportunities for me,” the always affable Quinton Coples said with a bigger smile than usual of rushing the quarterback from a standup position. “It’s going to help me get to the quarterback very efficiently.”
There are questions with “the plan,” of course. Coples thinks he’ll still play in the range of 280 to 285 pounds. While that’ll be a load for opposing tackles, tight ends and backs to handle, will it be too big a load for him to carry for 60 minutes a game? Will it take too long to get familiar with playing the run or playing in coverage from a two-point stance? Is Q permanently a ‘backer or will he be a hybrid?
All these things remain to play out and work on throughout the offseason, next month’s full-squad minicamp and Cortland training camp. But one thing Coples repeated today was that it didn’t seem to him that “the plan” was just hatched by the Jets this year.
“I think he had a plan for me, not knowing if he was going to draft me,” Coples recalled of the predraft workout that Ryan put him through at North Carolina’s pro day in 2012. “The workout he had for me at Carolina, I think he had a plan for me as far as playing outside linebacker from there. I think things worked out well. I fell down to 16, he picked me up, so it worked out perfect. Last year was a trial year to see how things went, and now we’ve got more depth on the defensive front, so it’ll be a perfect time.”
To be sure, Ryan and coordinator Dennis Thurman are not declaring a position change. Ryan has reminded that the Jets coach a multiple defense with multiple roles for many of the players in that unit, and Coples, with his versatility, flexibility and athleticism, is one of those players. Coples said today he will still be putting his hand in the dirt quite a bit, depending on the call.
But Ryan gave a greater hint of his thinking during his February remarks at this year’s combine.
“I see Quinton as a guy that can maybe be more of an edge presence than he was that first year,” Ryan said then, “but having him go through that, putting him over a guard, putting him over tackles, even over centers, I think it’s good because when you put him over tight ends, it’s a lot easier to knock those guys back and you have a lot of confidence when you face those double-teams. That was kind of what we did with him, but I’m expecting big things from him. Like I said, I think he’s just now scratching the surface.”
Coples had another way of talking about the implementation of “the plan.”
“Things,” he said, “are starting to develop.”
Hayden’s Continuing Higher Education
Hayden Smith made it through year one as a “cross-training” athlete, someone who wasn’t changing positions but whole sports. The tight end who hails from “Down Under” as well as “a Mile High” and “from Across the Pond” said he’s getting more comfy with the surroundings in this neck of the woods, even though in his second year in the NFL he’s already learning his second offense from new OC Marty Mornhinweg.
“I feel a lot more comfortable the second time around,” Smith said. “I don’t have to spend so much time on the details of the game itself, so at least all that’s kind of taken care of this time so I can just focus on the offense itself. There’s new things to learn there, but there’s a lot of common threads, and that’s just knowing football. So there’s a lot less on my plate from that standpoint.”
That was apparent to at least one interested observer this afternoon.
“Hayden looks sharp for a second-year football player,” QB Mark Sanchez said. “He looks awesome.”
Helping Smith with the transition is coach Steve Hagen, who comes to the Jets this year off of his four-year stint as Cleveland’s TEs coach. He’s in his ninth NFL campaign (the first eight came in two four-year hitches with the Browns) and spent two decades in the college coaching ranks besides.
” ‘Details make you dangerous’ — that’s one of his sayings,” Smith said. “He’s fantastic. The tight ends room is already littered with quotes from him. He’s a very intense guy with a great message and he’s delivering his message well.”
Familiar Voices, New Choir
Mike Westhoff, the Jets’ venerable special teams coach who just retired after last season, and Ray Lucas, the former Jets QB who’s been a mainstay of SNY’s Jets postgame shows for five years, have been added to ESPN New York 98.7 FM’s pregame show, joining host Don LaGreca and analyst and former Jets LB standout Greg Buttle.
“Our radio broadcast is an integral part of our fans’ game-day experience,” said Jets president Neil Glat. “We’re confident that adding two veterans, Ray Lucas and Coach Westhoff, to our already strong roster of on-air talent should enhance our fans’ knowledge and enjoyment of our games.”
Westhoff and Lucas will also make regular appearances on ESPN’s studio programming throughout the season, and Lucas will continue in his role with SNY.
Holt from Downtown … Colorado Springs
Speaking of a Rocky Mountain high (Smith played college hoops for Denver’s Metropolitan State) reminds me we want to wish a fantastic career to John Holt, who was our intern and reporter for most of the last year.
John had a great sports background and writing experience from North Carolina and Ole Miss, and he put that to good use from last year’s training camp all the way through doing the lion’s share of the work on our eight-part predraft position-by-position series. But John’s love is basketball and he’ll get the chance to pursue that goal with USA Basketball’s Web site. Hopefully, he and his dad have safely and successfully concluded their two-thirds-of-the-country drive from Newark to, yes, snowy Colorado Springs.
It wouldn’t surprise us to find a great rivalry spring up in the next few years between John and Nick Gallo, our previous intern/reporter who for the last two seasons has been working with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
All the best out West, Holty.
Tags: Dennis Thurman, Hayden Smith, John Holt, Mike Westhoff, Quinton Coples, Ray Lucas, Rex Ryan
Posted in Randy Lange | 99 Comments »
Today is Coordinators Thursday on newyorkjets.com, but not in the same sense that it was every Thursday during the season. This is the first day the Jets’ three new coordinators will speak publicly about their new gigs. My partner, Eric Allen, interviewed all three this week here at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center and those sitdowns will air this afternoon on Jets Talk Live and then will be archived
Each man — Marty Mornhinweg for the offense, Dennis Thurman for the defense, Ben Kotwica for the special teams — presents a different personality on air and in the building as they continue to work with their staffs while the players are still five weeks away from reporting back to the complex for the offseason strength and conditioning program.
Marty brings a light touch to his teaching, plus a modesty about his résumé that sounds as if it goes all the way back to his own background as a signalcaller.
“I’ll tell you what, I’ve been really fortunate, that’s first. I’ve coached some of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play this game,” he said. “Brett Favre was a great, great player. Of course, Steve Young in San Francisco, a first-ballot Hall of Famer. And then Donovan, that was one reason that Philadelphia at the time was so enticing, because Donovan McNabb was there. What a great quarterback he was. And Michael Vick in 2011 had just an astronomical year.”
Mornhinweg likes to refer mugs of joe when he’s talking about short-lived events. Even though he was with the Eagles for the last decade, he was aware of Favre’s “cup of coffee” with the Jets in ’08. And he described his own time playing for the legendary Mouse Davis in the Arena League as “half a cup of coffee.”
MM’s the only coordinator completely new to Rex Ryan’s staff. DT has been here with Ryan since ’09 and for six seasons coaching alongside Rex on the Ravens. He’s the kind of guy who has that football edge to him, like let’s stop screwing around and do it the right way, yet he also has that bit of playfulness to his persona.
“I’m outgoing, upbeat, love to have fun. But I also know the fun that comes with winning,” Thurman said, adding about his step up from the DBs room to running the entire defense: “I can’t change who I am. It’s just a matter of instead of having 11 or 12 guys, I’m now responsible for probably 30 guys. But it’s no different. Everybody has to do their job, they have to know their job, they have to understand their job, and then they have to go out and perform their job.”
Kotwica’s been with the Jets the longest of the trio, since Eric Mangini brought him out of the Army and on to the specialists under Mike Westhoff. He’s armed with the Westhoff experience plus his own straightforward sense of being able to command a football unit because of his military service as a decorated combat attack helicopter commander and training officer.
“I don’t go too far with the football-is-war approach, but there are parallels and carryovers. Even in the military, you are a coach,” the new Coach K said. “Mike and I are different guys, but first and foremost he was a great mentor to me, not only tactically with X’s and O’s but strategically. And he’s a great friend. I’m very grateful for what he’s taught me.”
It’s no surprise that each coordinator will bring a different approach and style to his unit, different from each other and different from the men they’ve succeeded. But all three will have one very similar guiding principle. They’re all involved in framing a new house on the existing foundation, and they all expressed enthusiasm for the hard work ahead.
“I love challenges,” Mornhinweg said. “This is a great challenge. That’s why I love doing what I do because I get to work with some of the great athletes in the world, really.”
“Leadership is something you either have or you don’t,” said Thurman. “I don’t think you can cultivate it or manufacture it. So we’ll let it play itself out. Yeah, we lost some veteran players, some experience, but some of the guys are going to have to step up and play. And they can be leaders in their own right.”
“Special teams isn’t a solo job. It’s a team effort, and we’re looking forward to it,” Kotwica said. “Things are going to be OK in 2013.”
Enjoy EA’s conversations with the threesome on Jets Talk Live in a few hours.
Tags: Ben Kotwica, Brett Favre, Dennis Thurman, Donovan McNabb, Eric Allen, Marty Mornhinweg, Michael Vick, Mike Westhoff, Mouse Davis, Steve Young
Posted in Randy Lange | 135 Comments »
Sunday will mark the end of a remarkable 30-year pro coaching career for Jets special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff. Westhoff held his final in-season news conference Thursday at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center and said he won’t forget the past 12 seasons he’s spent with the Green & White.
“I’m happy and proud to be at the place that I am in my career,” Westhoff said. “Few of us get to leave this business of our own volition, and I’m able to do that.”
The ST coach came to the Jets in 2001 after having spent the prior 15 seasons in the same role with the Miami Dolphins and before that, three seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, his son John will join him on the sidelines for his final game.
“I’m very proud that he wants to share that last game with me,” Westhoff said.
This season hasn’t been the Jets’ best on special teams and Westhoff accepts full responsibility for the struggles and disappointments.
“It’s a very sporadic, kind of crazy year,” he said, “because at some points there were just some excellent things that took place this year that I was involved in, and then some things that were at the opposite end of the scale.”
Westhoff said he is pleased that the Jets lead the NFL with 27 inside-the-20 kickoffs (Cincinnati is second with 24). He’s also glad Joe McKnight will likely finish with the league’s fourth-best kickoff-return average and that Jeremy Kerley may finish in the top 10 in punt-return average. But as a whole, his unit hasn’t performed up to its normal high standard and the players aren’t afraid to admit it.
“This year hasn’t quite been how we’ve wanted to send him out because we’ve always been in the top in special teams,” safety Eric Smith said.
Second-year linebacker Nick Bellore had hardly played special teams before arriving to the NFL, but credits Westhoff for teaching him the ropes.
“The attention to detail that he demands I think is really excellent and is probably why he’s had so much success,” Bellore said. “Things have to be done exactly how he wants them done and it can be tough at times, but if you do it right, you can see how it works.”
What Smith says he’ll miss most about Westhoff is sitting in on special teams meetings.
“Some of the things he says in the meetings are hilarious,” No. 33 said. “Every day it’s something new. You never know what’s going to come out of his mouth. It’s hilarious.”
Westhoff said he hasn’t spent much time reflecting this past week but will do a little when he’s been alone.
“In the middle of the night, when I wake up, then all of the sudden it will dawn on me,” he said. “But for the most part, no.”
Following his retirement, Westhoff plans to return to Florida and hopes to transition into a media career, possibly as a football television analyst.
“I think that today’s fan is becoming a more and more educated fan,” he said. “Television does a great job of that.”
And from Westhoff’s count, Sunday he will be coaching his 625th NFL game. Bellore said the unit owes it to its leader to put together one last effective outing.
“I think we’ve underperformed this year,” Bellore said, “and the best thing we can do is send him out with a win and make some big plays on special teams.”
*Special Teams Saturday
Tags: Buffalo Bills, Eric Smith, John Westhoff, Mike Westhoff, Nick Bellore, special teams
Posted in John Holt | 25 Comments »
We caught up with Jets punter Robert Malone in the locker room Friday. In his first season with the Green & White, the 24-year-old is on pace to break Curley Johnson’s franchise single-season records for gross and net punting average. Malone talked with us about the possibility of breaking those records, facing off against one of his former teams Sunday, and what the Christmas holiday means to him.
Sunday you’re going up against the San Diego Chargers, a team you previously spent a little bit of time with. What’s your mental outlook heading into this game?
I mean, it’s no different than any other game for me. I knew I wasn’t going to be there to beat out Mike [Scifres, the Chargers' long-time punter]. I played for Rich Bisaccia, who is the special teams coach there now. I played with him at Tampa. He brought me over there, and it was good. I appreciated the opportunity to get some film out there, but I approach it the same as any other game.
How much do you feel that short time playing alongside Scifres helped you?
The thing that benefitted me the most was just the pure competition. He has the highest hangtime in the league and that really helped me improve myself, just to be at that level. I didn’t want to be just totally outdone when I was there, so that constant competition really drove me.
Do you still keep in contact with him?
A few texts messages here or there, but not a lot.
Looking forward to seeing him Sunday?
Yeah, it’ll be good.
Assess your season overall. Would you say this is the best season of your NFL career?
Yeah, I would think so. I’m still getting more consistent as the year goes on. I’m trying to perfect my craft. But I do feel comfortable and it’s been a strong season so far.
Tell me your mental process each time before you punt the football. What’s are you thinking about?
Each punt is a different situation, different scenario. You’ve just got to win each situation and put your team in the best situation. Whether that means getting the ball off as fast as possible, or pinning them back deep, or if you’re directional -punting, spend some time kind of walking through like, “OK, what do I have to do here?” Given the different situations, playing that through my head, and just making sure we execute.
How do you feel like you’ve handled the cold weather so far because it seems like it hasn’t affected you too much.
It hasn’t gotten cold enough too fast, so I kind of got used to it. It’s kind of been a gradual thing. It’s not like it just dropped 50 degrees in one day. I’ve actually kind of got used to it now.
You’re on track to break two of Curley Johnson’s 1965 franchise single-season records in net punt average and gross punt average. Is that something you’re aware of?
I’ve heard about it. I try not to pay too much attention to it. A lot of things can happen. I mean, if these next two games we have to pin ‘em back deep and we have to kick a whole bunch of short ones, that kind of stuff, you just have to win each situation. So I’ve never really been focusing on “OK, I’ve got to break a record” or anything like that.
Your net average is 39.8, very close to reaching a 40.0 net for the season. Is having a 40.0 net average a goal you set for yourself before the season?
I would want to hit 40. Unfortunately, we had the two blocks and we would have been about 41. But it would be an awesome goal if we could reach that. There’s only two games left, so I don’t know if we’ll have enough just to bring up the average. But we’ll see. That’s definitely a goal I always wanted to hit, that 40 mark, because it’s not been done.
Would that mean a lot to you, though, if you were able to break those two team records?
It would be an honor. It’s not something that I’m solely striving for. I’m just trying to put the team in the best position each punt.
Christmas is just days away. What does the holiday mean to you and what’s the day going to be like for you this year?
Well, I’m a Christian and I’m excited to celebrate the birth of Christ. My wife gets to come up. She’s coming up today, actually. She lives back in California and she’s flying up today. I’m excited to see her. We’ll get to celebrate as a family.
*Special Teams Saturday
Tags: Curley Johnson, Mike Scifres, Mike Westhoff, Robert Malone, San Diego Chargers
Posted in John Holt | 19 Comments »
For Josh Bush, it seems like only yesterday when he was gearing up for his first NFL training camp.
Now it’s the middle of December and his rookie season is reaching its final stages.
“It’s gone by very fast,” Bush said Thursday inside the Jets locker room. “People were telling me stories about the rookie wall and this and that, but it’s flying by to me.”
Unlike his teammate, wide receiver Stephen Hill, Bush said of the rookie wall: “I haven’t experienced it.”
The Jets’ sixth-round draft selection described his first year in the pros as fun but admitted things could be better if the team had a winning record. The Green & White are 6-7 but still have a chance to end their season with an above-.500 record as three regular-season games remain.
One week ago, Bush made one of the best plays of his young NFL career during the Jets’ 17-10 win Jacksonville. On the second-half kickoff, he beat his block and took down returner Jordan Todman with a low tackle at the Jaguars’ 11-yard line. The play seemed to ignite the entire team as the Jets defense immediately forced a three-and-out and minutes later the Jets offense scored their first TD of the afternoon when RB Shonn Greene rushed for a 1-yard score to cap a nine-play, 57-yard drive.
“We just went over it in a special teams meeting,” Bush said of the play. “We put something new in. Coach Westhoff drew up a great play. I was really coming down, stacking up behind Antonio [Allen], and I read it. Nick [Bellore] was playing off of me, and the hole just opened up.”
No. 32 said he was only doing his job on the play, but acknowledged it was nice to see the play executed properly.
“We definitely practiced it,” he said. “That was exactly what we practiced.”
Bush, a safety on defense, has played a significant role on special teams this season. He played on 15 special teams plays against Jacksonville and on 168 this season, 44% of the Jets’ total ST plays. And his tackle of Todman was his 13th on kick and punt coverage this season, tying him for the team lead with Nick Bellore and fellow rookie Demario Davis.
Yet he never played special teams in high school and his only action on specials at Wake Forest occurred early his freshman year.
Although he hasn’t seen much action at his natural position, he has valued the opportunity to learn from coordinator Mike Westhoff, now in what he’s said is his final season as an NFL coach. Bush said what Westhoff has taught him most is that focusing on the task at hand can lead to successful things getting done. Yet early on, Bush said the ST coach had his doubts on whether he could ever be a special teams factor.
“He honestly told me when they drafted me that he didn’t think I’d be able to play special teams,” Bush said. “So just to hear that from him, and him telling me that I’ve been doing a good job, that’s just a positive.”
The Jets rank eighth in opponents’ kickoff-return average and are 13th with opponents’ drives averaging starts at their 21.5 yard-line. At the same time, they lead the league with 22 opponents’ drives starting inside their own 20. While the ranking certainly isn’t despairing, Bush knows it could be better.
“We’ve had ups and downs,” Bush said. “But for the most part, it’s not where we want to be.”
Tennessee’s kick-return unit ranks 31st in the NFL in return average, but Bush said the Jets, in a must-win situation every week now, can’t afford to overlook main returner Darius Reynaud and the Titans.
“It’s the NFL,” Bush said. “You can’t sleep on anyone. Special teams is a very important part of the game, so you’ve got to bring it every time.”
*Special Teams Sunday
Tags: Darius Reynaud, Demario Davis, Jacksonville Jaguars, Jordan Todman, Josh Bush, Mike Westhoff, Nick Bellore, Tennessee Titans
Posted in John Holt | 63 Comments »
So what about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell saying this week that the league’s competition committee would consider in the offseason replacing the kickoff.
Really? No kickoffs?
I don’t like it. But it doesn’t much matter what I think. However, two Jets whose opinions on the subject do matter also don’t like what they’re hearing.
“I hope not. I hope not,” ST coordinator Mike Westhoff said pensively this week. “That’s player safety, so I think I’m in tune with that. But I just like the kickoffs. I just believe in it. I know the collision part and I think that’s something you have to be careful of. If you teach it the right way, it can be done properly.”
“No, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” said Joe McKnight, who had a phenomenal year of returning kickoffs last season and is doing very well again this year. “What about the guys that aren’t starting. Where are they going to start? You start on kickoffs and special teams.”
Two different points of view, both agreeing that a flat-out removal of kickoffs from the game is not what we’re looking for. Safety has been the primary mover for last year’s rules revisions, which have resulted in about 50 percent of kickoffs now resulting in touchbacks and a reduction in the number of concussions and other injuries incurred on the balls that are returned.
“You already moved the kick from the 30 to the 35, which gives us 5 yards less to run instead of a whole lot of room,” McKnight said of himself and his fellow returners and coverers. “Now you’re trying to take it out of the game? People like me and Ellis [Lankster] need these special teams for us to build for later on, the next couple of years when we’re trying to win our positions on offense and defense.”
Westhoff is serious about his concern for players’ health and safety. While Greg Schiano, Tampa Bay’s first-year coach, has gotten some publicity attached to this subject with his proposal to turn all kickoff situations into fourth-and-15 punt situations (the fourth-and-15 conversion rate is about the same as the successful onsides-kick rate), Westhoff said he and assistant ST coach Ben Kotwica have canvassed the league’s teams coaches and put together their own kickoff proposal, which he said the league was interested in.
“I hope it doesn’t happen, but if it does, there are also alternative methods that I think would be very productive and very competitive, so I would hope they’d go with that,” said Westhoff, who didn’t want to go into details of that plan for reporters until after the season. But he said one thing that can be done immediately in lieu of cutting kickoffs out of the game entirely is to cutting back even more on violent hits on unsuspecting players during returns.
“Blocks in the back, those types of things, used to be legal. We eliminated them from punts, but they’re still legal on kickoffs. The kickoff team can smack the blockers in the back and it’s legal,” Westhoff said. “My thing is, when is it ever good to hit somebody in the back?”
McKnight has a warrior-type mentality about returns. He didn’t talk about concussions but more the general “nicks and nacks” that returners get and playing through them, as he’s had to do this year with several injuries, such as an ankle sprain and last week’s rib injury.
“I can’t worry about injuries,” he said. “I’m still trying to make a name for myself.”
It would be a sin if an important slice of the game is made to disappear. As Westhoff reminded, “Can you imagine the Super Bowl? You’ve seen those pictures of the opening kickoff and all the bulbs are flashing? ‘Well, here we are, put the ball down, let’s go.’ C’mon, guys.”
But external and internal pressures on the game will dictate what the NFL does about kickoffs in future years. For now, the play is still alive despite the tinkering, McKnight is probable for Sunday’s game, the Jets are seventh in the league in average returns while the Jaguars are 29th in the league in average returns allowed. You know Joe and the Jets’ specialists want to do a little more reputation-building before this season is done.
*Special Teams Saturday
Tags: Ben Kotwica, Ellis Lankster, Greg Schiano, Jacksonville Jaguars, joe McKnight, Mike Westhoff, Roger Goodell
Posted in Randy Lange | 21 Comments »
For whatever reasons, ever since returning from their bye week, the Jets’ special teams haven’t been as sharp and efficient as usual.
Trouble began in Seattle on Nov. 11 when punt returner Jeremy Kerley muffed a second-quarter punt, which the Seahawks recovered and soon thereafter turned into seven points.
That was followed up at St. Louis the next week when one of Nick Folk’s field goals was blocked and a Tim Tebow fake-punt shovel pass to Lex Hilliard was stopped.
And most recently, against the Patriots on Thanksgiving, Joe McKnight fumbled a kickoff return, resulting in a TD for the opposition.
Special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff didn’t have a clear explanation for the recent struggles.
“We do things in practice,” Westhoff said, “but there’s only so many things you can do. I mean, we can’t run a live kickoff coverage in practice this time of the year. We’ve already had a million. You have to be able to hang onto it. So those instances, even though they’re separate entities — very, very frustrating.”
Yet Westhoff was pleased with his kickoff covereage unit against the Pats.
“They couldn’t get to the 20,” Westhoff said. “They couldn’t have gotten to the 20 with an all-star team running that against what we were doing. We had it. I look at it technically. I know what I’m talking about. So we have them covered.”
Westhoff was shocked the McKnight miscue occurred, particularly because it looked like he had a chance to take the return all the way.
“Here I’m seeing this develop,” the ST coordinator said. “I’m thinking, ‘We’ve got them. We’re going to hit this.’ All of a sudden it ends up becoming a gigantic play for them and they get the big Thanksgiving celebration and we get a weekend in Palookaville.”
Jets seventh-year safety Eric Smith said the mistakes and errors on special teams haven’t only been discouraging for Westhoff but for the entire unit.
“We’ve just given up a lot of plays that we don’t need to,” Smith said. “We’ve got them schemed up well, we’ve just got some guys out of position, missed some tackles or missed some blocks.”
The Arizona Cardinals, Sunday’s opponents, feature one of the NFL’s premier punt returners in Patrick Peterson. Last season as a rookie, Peterson tied the NFL single-season punt-return touchdown record, finishing with four, with all four of his scores at least 80-yard returns. Those impressive numbers certainly haven’t gone unnoticed by Westhoff.
“I’ll tell you what he’s incredible at aside from being a prolific punt returner,” Westhoff said. “He rushes field goals as good as maybe anybody I’ve ever seen. He can run under a chair. He explodes and he’s low. He’s strong. At 220 pounds, he runs through a lot of things aside from being so explosive. He’s a real factor.
“Sometimes his numbers maybe aren’t quite what he would want them to be. He takes chances. I mean, he ran a 99-yard punt return. That meant he fielded it on the 1. A lot of guys wouldn’t do that. He does that kind of stuff. So he’s very daring.”
When Peterson entered the NFL out of LSU in 2011, Westhoff listed him as his top draft prospect.
“He’s extremely, extremely talented,” Westhoff said. “I have tremendous respect for him.”
The unit is also hoping personal protector Tim Tebow will be ready to go after he didn’t see action in last week’s game due to his broken ribs.
“I think I know Tim Tebow pretty well,” Westhoff said. “The guy’s pretty tough. Anytime you have one of those things, there’s always a safety or precaution because you don’t know what it could become.”
If the Jets envision being successful Sunday, one area they should attempt to capitalize on McKnight’s specialty, kickoff returns. Arizona ranks 30th in the NFL in both their 27.9-yard average return allowed and opponents’ averaged 24.3-yard-line drive start. But as Westhoff cautioned, it all circles back to fundamentals.
“Every play is measured by the proper execution of that play,” he said. “Sometimes a really good punt return is a fair catch. That can be a heck of a play, things like that. Whatever the situation requires, I want to try to win at that situation. And I want everyone to win at it, every single guy. That’s my goal.”
*Special Teams Saturday
Tags: Arizona Cardinals, Eric Smith, Jeremy Kerley, joe McKnight, Mike Westhoff, New England Patriots, Nick Folk, Patrick Peterson
Posted in John Holt | 19 Comments »
Most football players have a preference between competing in an outdoor stadium or a dome.
All nine of the Jets’ games this season have been held outdoor stadiums. Their final six will be also. The Green & White will play their lone indoor game in the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis on Sunday.
For Jets punter Robert Malone, the excitement of the venue is clearly evident.
“Most kickers and punters would prefer to kick inside a dome,” Malone said Friday afternoon after practice, “because, I mean, you don’t have to worry about weather conditions. Being out here in New York, where it’s cold and windy, it’s not the most ideal place to punt. So it’s nice to be able to get in a dome where you don’t have to worry about that too much and you can kind of just focus on what you have to do.”
One Jet who isn’t as big of a supporter toward a dome’s environment is Malone’s personal protector, Tim Tebow.
“I prefer grass,” No. 15 said. “I prefer playing in elements on grass. I feel like that’s how football should be played. But really, it doesn’t bother me too much at all.”
Malone said he’s played two games in domes during his time in the NFL. When he was a member of the Buccaneers, he faced the Saints in the Superdome and also played in the Georgia Dome vs. the Falcons.
“Some people can get pretty excited to be in there and try to swing for the fences and that’s when mistakes can happen,” the punter said. “So you’ve got to be careful. You’ve got to be smooth. You’ve got to stay with your rhythm, because there’s definitely been some mis-hits in domes, too.”
The 24-year-old enters Sunday’s contest against the 3-5-1 Rams looking to build off an impressive outing last week at Seattle. In that game, he had seven punts for a 45.9-yard gross average and a 40.1 net. Three of his punts resulted in fair catches by Leon Washington and four were inside-the-20 punts. The only other game this season he’s had four inside-the-20s was Sept. 23 at Miami.
“I wouldn’t say it was my best game,” Malone said. “I was happy with the performance. There were a few things I could have done better. I would probably say the Colts game was my best game as a Jet. But I felt solid. There’s definitely a few things I can improve on. But I can’t complain with the net and the four inside-the-20s.”
Malone’s net production hasn’t gone unnoticed either. Head coach Rex Ryan praised the effort and production during his news conference Wednesday.
“We have a young man, I think this might be the best net punting we’ve ever had here,” Ryan said. “I think that’s been a success.”
Malone attributes a lot of his positive net punting — his 39.3 net for the season isn’t far from Curley Johnson’s franchise mark of 39.7 in 1965 — to special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff.
“He’s just a big believer in doing your job, focusing on your job and doing what you can for the team,” Malone said. “He puts a lot of pressure on you, which is good because when it comes to the game, there is a lot of pressure. So in practice, that’s kind of how he does it. He tries to make you prepared.”
After a positive start, the Jets’ special teams have struggled over the last two games. Punt returner Jeremy Kerley muffed a punt against Seattle and one of Malone’s punts against Miami in Week 8 was blocked and returned for a touchdown. Westhoff has shown his disappointment and it hasn’t been fun for Malone either.
“Obviously like any coach would be,” Malone said, “you know if things aren’t going well he’s going to show his frustrations. The players are just as frustrated. So we’ve got to do our best to not get that feeling anymore.”
The Orange, Calif., native said his knowledge of the game and anticipation in punting situations are the two things he’s improved most since he was signed Sept. 4. And with only seven weeks of the regular season remaining, No. 3 is striving for one thing: consistency.
“It’s a long season,” Malone said, “and you’ve just got to try and keep your legs fresh. It’s harder to stay fresh out here just because it’s so much colder than most places. You’ve got to keep swinging your leg. You’ve got to warm up a lot more. Just staying fresh, staying consistent throughout the season and finish strong.”
*Special Teams Saturday
Tags: Curley Johnson, Edward Jones Dome, Mike Westhoff, Robert Malone, St. Louis Rams
Posted in John Holt | 13 Comments »