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
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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
Posted in Nick Gallo | 14 Comments »
The Jets signed two players to their active roster this week, one from their practice squad and one from the Ravens’ P-squad. Both are longshots to make the active roster, at least Sunday at Buffalo. Yet really, it all depends upon what head coach Eric Mangini and his staff feel they need available on their 45-man roster to beat the Bills.
One thing’s fairly certain: When James Ihedigbo and Marcus Mason do make their NFL debuts, it will be on special teams. For this week’s edition of Special Teams Saturday, here’s a visit with both of the new guys on the 53-man roster.
S James Ihedigbo
If intensity, focus and maturity were enough to get a guy onto the field, Ihedigbo would be running under kicks in about 24 hours at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
You may have heard of his backstory, how his mother and father both emigrated from Nigeria and earned their PhDs in education from the University of Massachusetts, how his dad went back to their native country to start a college, how his father fell ill and died in Africa as he tried to develop his dream.
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Now Ihedigbo has a similar dream
"I went back a second time to Nigeria in 2002," he said Friday. "I’m a firm believer in starting an organization to help fund schools in Africa. It’s something I hope to have set up and finished by the end of this year. It’s something dear to me, that I’m fully, hands-on a part of."
But that’s only one of his goals. Ihedigbo, still considered a first-year NFL player, is in his second season with the Jets out of UMass. Last season was lost to injury, but as Mangini said, Ihedigbo shares qualities that others such as Chansi Stuckey last year and Erik Ainge this year also possess.
"James, during the time where he was injured, like with Chansi, he was very much a part of the team, he was very much a part of everything that we did," Mangini said. "He was asked questions. He was studying each day, not just during the meetings but postpractice. That type of diligent work allowed him to put himself in the position he’s in right now."
"Be prepared. Coach Mangini says it all the time," Ihedigbo said. "I believe failing to prepare is preparing to fail. I’m also a firm believer that mental toughness is just as important as physical toughness, to be able to have that and endure and prosper in times when you want to give up."
That mental toughness came in handy this season, which started for him with a practice squad berth — a position that can make or break a potential NFL career.
"Some guys, when they get on the practice squad, they fade into the background, they’re a number. They’re showing up, but that’s just what they are," Mangini said. "Other guys keep showing up each day and they don’t give you a chance to forget about them. That’s what James did. He’s determined. You feel that determination each day in practice."
I felt it just listening to him articulate his feelings about having reached the furthest point yet in his NFL aspirations.
"I take it as a humbling experience and a testament to my hard work," he said. "You have no idea how excited I am. To have this opportunity to show the world basically what I can do as a football player and to have my teammates behind me 100 percent
RB Marcus Mason
Mason has a slightly different approach. He comes across as a quiet but prepared job seeker not long out of college trying to find a spot with a well-established company in … well, not banking, not these days, but maybe insurance or law.
"This preseason helped me because I got other teams a chance to look at me," Mason said. "If I didn’t get that many reps in the preseason, I’d probably still be on the practice squad not getting an opportunity right now. I’m very thankful for the preseason. That’s when you’re a young guy and every day’s a job interview. Being able to have that many job interviews helped me out a lot."
Mason in fact got 74 entries on his résumé: one for each of his NFL-leading 66 carries and eight receptions in Washington’s five preseason games. With those touches he produced 317 rushing yards — most in the league’s summer games since then Rams rookie Steven Jackson ran for 323 in 2004 — and 373 yards from scrimmage — most by a rookie or first-year man since Ahman Green gained 378 for Seattle in ’98.
None of these facts, nor that his mugshot appeared weekly this summer on NFL.com’s stat leaders page, impressed Mason that much.
"That’s just preseason. Preseason doesn’t count," he said. "But again, I’m thankful for the opportunity I have right now."
The Jets are actually his third team in three months. The Redskins, who had him for two camps, cut him and he signed on to Baltimore’s practice squad. When Jesse Chatman went down with a knee injury on a fourth-quarter Jets kickoff return vs. Kansas City on Sunday, the Jets signed Mason from the Ravens’ practice squad to their 53-man roster.
Mason, like Ihedigbo, has the right attitude to get on the field. He knows he’ll probably be called on first not to run with the ball but to run down under a kickoff or punt and tackle some other guy with the leather.
"I was doing PP [punt protect], running down on kickoffs, playing the ‘backer on punt block. I have some experience," he said. "Whatever the Jets want me to play, I’ll specialize in it."
Tags: Buffalo Bills, Eric Mangini, James Ihedigbo, Marcus Mason, special teams
Posted in Randy Lange | 27 Comments »
Special Teams Saturday on newyorkjets.com welcomes the return of one of the Green & White’s "teams" stalwarts to action. There on last Sunday’s opening kickoff, third man from the left end of the line, No. 58 was back in one of his elements.
"I wasn’t real sentimental about it. I was just getting back to work," Matt Chatham said. But, he said, warming to the topic, "As a player, you kind of like to start the game on kickoff. You’ve got a lot of extra energy from pregame. And for me, I had nine months more of extra energy."
Chatham, after all, was playing in his first play in his first game back after missing the first seven games of the season on Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform. And he spent the month and a half before the opener on preseason PUP.
He hadn’t hit anybody with serious intent since the playoff game at New England in January.
Add to this the fact that Chatham is a core teams contributor when he’s healthy — he was voted one of the specialists’ captains last season, his first as a Jet.
To celebrate all this excess energy and return to action, Chatham ran down under Mike Nugent’s kickoff and was in on the game’s first tackle of returner Terrence McGee along with Brad Smith.
"Yeah, it felt good to get out there and be involved early on," he said.
Chatham even appeared on defense for a couple of first-quarter plays back at his old outside linebacker home. Then back on teams, he and Wallace Wright teamed up on a tackle of Roscoe Parrish in punt coverage at the top of the fourth quarter, and he appeared in the middle of the wedge on Leon Washington’s kickoff returns.
"I joked with Gus [Granneman, equipment director] that he’d need extra-strong detergent to get the rust out of my uniform," Chatham said. "Hopefully, my game experience will kick in and expedite the process."
Chatham’s seven previous seasons of LB experience will come in handy when he’s called on defensively the rest of this season. And his special teams expertise will be a valuable addition in trying to rein in the Redskins’ top returners, Rock Cartwright (29.2 yards per kickoff return) and Antwaan Randle El (a tame 6.8 yards per punt return but still very dangerous).
Tags: Brad Smith, Matt Chatham, special teams, Wallace Wright
Posted in Randy Lange | 10 Comments »
What’ll it be for Wallace Wright on Sunday in Cincinnati?
In this week’s installment of Special Teams Saturday, it’s time to reintroduce you to Wright, although you probably remember seeing No. 15 flash by on your TV screen a few times this season — Wright makes at least one noteworthy play a game on teams.
It’s no accident.
"I want to make a tackle every time I step on the field," the second-year man with the infectious personality told me this week. "I want to make every single tackle. Every play, that’s what I’m thinking."
He doesn’t make them all, but he makes a lot. Here is a game-by-game rundown of all the right things Wright has done on special teams this season:
Game 1 vs. New England — 1 tackle (also first pro reception for 11 yards).
Game 2 at Baltimore — 2 tackles, kickoff return for 28 yards.
Game 3 vs. Miami —1 holding penalty caused on Jason Allen.
Game 4 at Buffalo — 1 holding penalty caused on Ryan Neufeld.
Game 5 at Giants — 2 tackles, punt downed at Giants 8.
Game 6 vs. Philadelphia — 2 tackles, punt downed at Eagles 4.
Wright’s seven ST tackles are second on the Jets behind Brad Kassell’s eight. And the opponents’ average start after his 11 "defensive" plays (seven tackles, two penalties caused, two punts downed) is their
"I have that attitude that I’m not going to be beat," Wright said. "When you stop having that kind of mentality, that’s when you don’t make the play. That’s when you do get beat."
Wright’s kickoff coverage unit has made progress since yielding Ellis Hobbs’ 108-yard return on opening day. The punt coverage, with Wright as one of the gunners, remains strong (although Reno Mahe’s 32-yard return for the Eagles was the first opponent punt return of at least 20 yards in Eric Mangini’s 23 games as head coach.
The Green & White will need a little more of the Wright stuff to help them survive and thrive in "The Jungle" in a little more than 24 hours.
Tags: Brad Kassell, special teams, Wallace Wright
Posted in Randy Lange | 7 Comments »