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STS*: Malone on Westhoff Radar in Offseason

Posted Sep 8, 2012

The main topic of interest entering the Jets’ regular-season opener against the Buffalo Bills tomorrow continues to be the revealing of the Wildcat.

But possibly the most important key for the Green & White to earn a positive result will be the play from special teams. 

Not enough consistency led to the team releasing T.J. Conley, their punter from 2011 on Tuesday.

Conley’s replacement: Robert Malone, 24, with his fifth team since 2010.

Malone was cut by the San Diego Chargers on Aug. 31. Special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff said the punter had been on the squad’s radar for quite some time. 

“Malone, we were thinking about signing him way back in the offseason,” Westhoff said. “It just didn’t work out. And then when he went to San Diego, in some ways that was OK, in a lot of ways that was good, because he’s out there competing with [Mike] Scifres. Scifres is one of the best punters in the NFL.”

The former Fresno State Bulldog practiced three days with the Jets this week and said Thursday was his best of the three.

“Most of the punts were punt returns so we don’t really necessarily chart them," Malone said of his hangtime, "but as far as watching them on film I would say probably 75 percent of them were over five seconds, so I was hitting them real solid yesterday.”

Besides being the Jets’ punter, Malone also will be the holder for kicker Nick Folk. That's a role he is familiar with, having held all four years at Fresno State for both right- and left-footed kickers.

In 2010 with Tampa Bay, he held for Connor Barth, who scored a career-high 105 points and converted 23 of 28 field goal attempts. He also was a holder last year for Jason Hanson during his one-game stint with the Detroit Lions. With San Diego, Malone only held during practice.

On Wednesday, Folk said of Malone, “I think he understands what I need and I’m building that trust with him that he’s going to get it down and get everything just the way I need it. He did a great job the first day.”

Folk stated he wasn’t concerned about kicking Sunday despite just having worked three days with Malone. Last week in the Jets’ preseason finale at Philadelphia, Folk connected on his career-long 58-yard field goal out of the hold of Spencer Lanning, whom the Jets acquired on waivers on Aug. 28 and waived on Aug. 31. Folk only spent one day of preparation with Lanning and it didn’t seem to matter. He added that he was in a similar situation with Mark Brunell prior to last season’s opener.

“I think I had two practices with Bru before the first week because his finger kept getting banged up a little bit,” Folk said. “Then he had a calf problem, I think, too, so they weren’t going to put him in any preseason games.”

For Malone, the adjustment to serving as Folk’s holder hasn’t been as difficult as one would expect. While in San Diego, he was teammates with former Jets kicker Nick Novak. Malone said Novak and Folk, who competed for the Jets job last summer, like their holds almost the exact same way.

"[Novak] even told me once I signed here, ‘Nick Folk will like your holds,’ ” Malone said. “They’re actually the only two kickers that have ever told me about the difference in lean depending on the wind. Most kickers I’ve worked with, they like the exact same lean no matter what. So it’s actually been good to work with Nick Novak a little bit because it directly reflected here.”

Some may classify the late punting switch risky, especially since Malone has just 57 regular-season punts in his NFL career. But Westhoff felt the Riverside, Calif., native deserved a shot, adding that Malone was signed to the Green & White more from what he showed during his workout compared to what someone else on the roster wasn’t doing.

“This guy has punted before,” Westhoff said. “It’s not that he hasn’t punted in the league. He certainly has. He has the tools to be outstanding. I’m hoping that he’ll do those very things. As far as the risk, there is a big risk with everything that we do.”

Malone hasn’t ever punted at MetLife Stadium but is approaching his first game at the Jets’ home with a positive outlook.

“I heard the old stadium was a little tougher to play in,” he said. “But stadiums can do a lot of weird things to wind. It’s a pretty high stadium, though, so it should block out a little bit. But I hear Sunday is supposed to be a fairly good amount of wind. We’ll see how it plays out in pregame.”

Regardless of what happens in tomorrow’s game, the Jets coaches feel confident with their latest special-teams addition.

“This guy’s got a cannon,” Westhoff said. “He can rocket it. We’ve had more five-second hangtime punts in the last couple of days than we’ve had for some time. I’m very happy with that.

“Will there be some bumps in the road? Yeah, there will be some bumps in the road. There always are. But we’re hoping that we can fight through that and go. But I like the upside of this young man, so we want to give him an opportunity.”

Folk Hears from Brown

Folk said he has texted Josh Brown since Brown was cut by the Jets and believes the kicker will join another team following the first week. Westhoff called the competition between the kickers the best he’s seen in his coaching career. Although Folk beat Brown out, he said he's still constantly battling,

“I always feel like I’m competing every day,” Folk said, “not only against myself but with everyone around the league. I’m competing to stay here. I’m competing to help this team win a bunch of ballgames and I’m hoping for a good year. Not only from our part as a field goal unit, but as a kickoff unit, a special teams unit, and this team as a whole. I feel like we have a pretty solid team, and I feel like we can do a lot of good things.”

Tebow Adds to the Arsenal

Westhoff said he's enjoyed getting to instruct Tim Tebow, the Jets’ backup quarterback who also is the personal protector on the punt team.

“Tim is one of my favorite guys,” the coordinator said. “I go back my whole career and there are certain individuals you just really like. But then I have this tremendous respect for him. I watch how hard he works, how hard he studies. I’ve never heard him make an excuse, ever. Not even an inkling of one. I’ve gotten to know him actually personally very well, which I don’t always get to do. He’s just an outstanding young man. He’ll give us an additional weapon.”

*Special Team Saturday

Preseason Live: New York Jets

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