Jets special teams can be 'special' yet again

Thomas McGaughey | LSU

With former New York Jets special teams guru Mike Westhoff long retired, newly hired coordinator Thomas McGaughey could be Gang Green's special teams savior this upcoming season.

The NFL has become a quarterback driven league over the last few years. In 2013, the entire NFL averaged 235.6 passing yards per game, but only averaged 112.9 rushing yard per game. However, there is another part of the game that is disregarded even more so than the rushing game.

Special teams is often overlooked and undervalued but plays a key role in the field position battle. In crucial moments for the special teams, most fans just root for the ball-carrier not to fumble rather than root for him to break a tackle and gain significant yardage.

However, the Jets in recent years have found enormous success in special teams and this is in large part due to former coach Mike Westhoff. Brad Smith, Antonio Cromartie, and Joe McKnight have all been extremely successful as kickoff return men under the guidance of Westhoff.

Thus, it is no coincidence that the Jets have declined in terms of special teams after Westhoff's retirement in 2012. The Jets ranked No. 6 in the NFL in terms of yards per kickoff-return in 2012. Last season they dropped down to No. 18 under Ben Kotwica, Westoff's protegee.

Also, Gang Green had been able to score a kickoff touchdowns every single year of Westhoff's tenure, yet in 2013 they failed to score a single one with Kotwica directing the special teams unit.

During the offseason, The New York Jets lost their special teams coach Ben Kotwica, who decided to take his talents to the Washington Redskins. Enter Thomas McGaughey, the new special teams coach for the Jets. McGaughey has an excellent track record as the coach of the 2007 Super Bowl champion Giants and in 2011 the coach of the BCS runner up Louisiana State University Tigers.

"He's a champion," said Jets' linebacker Troy Davis. "He knows what it takes, he's seen what it takes, and we have to trust him and what he's telling us. Anything he tells me to do, I'm going to do it 100 percent to the best of my ability."

In the three years that McGaughey coached LSU, its special teams group scored seven touchdowns. The Tigers had four punt returns, one kickoff return, one blocked punt TD return, and one missed field goal TD return.

In addition, over the three seasons opposing teams only averaged a meager 3.43 yards per punt return. Clearly, McGaughey understands the importance of having an efficient special teams.

"The cool thing about T-Mac [Thomas McGaughey] is he really teaches it up, just like you would offense or defense," LB Nick Belloresaid observed. "It's not just like ‘Go out there and run.' He's ramming it up a whole 'nother level in terms of details, and that mentality he brings is really great."

Ask any head coach in the NFL and they understand the importance of special teams. They realize it constitutes a third of the game, and it deserves adequate attention and consideration. In 2013, the NFL average for net punting yards was 200.5 yards per game. Obviously, punting alone has an enormous impact on field position throughout the course of a game. A shortened field for the offense can mean all the difference, especially for the anemic offense that the Jets have had in recent years. McGaughey may be that x-factor that gives the Jets an edge in field position.

"He's so intense and I love it," LB Troy Davis said. "He approaches the game like a champion. He preaches that we bring the same effort you would bring in a championship game to everything we do, from the practice fields to the meeting rooms, each and every day."

Clearly, the players really seem to accept what the coach is emphasizing. They seem to respect him and look to learn from his experience. McGaughey pushes his players to be stronger, faster, and smarter. Look for the Gang Green special teams to be flying around the field on Sundays this upcoming season.

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