Brant Boyer, the special teams coordinator of the Jets, is among the rarest of assistant coaches.
When Robert Saleh was named the Green & White's head coach in January 2021, he brought along a new group of assistants. Boyer, who has been with the team since 2016, was asked to stay on.
"I think you've got to really get to know Saleh really well, and I have," Boyer, 50, said on this week's edition of "The Official Jets Podcast" with senior team reporter Eric Allen. "I'm grateful for that. Obviously, I'm happy for him to keep me here. We didn't have to move, and things like that. My kids didn't have to move and change schools. I think he's done a really, really nice job in his plan. He's positive as hell, the guys seem to like him. He's consistent. He's himself, he doesn't try to be anybody who he's not. And I think the players gravitate toward that. I think he's done a nice job.
"He's awesome, positive all the time. Always positive reinforcement. He'll get after a guy every now and then but that's coaching. I think players in this league want to be coached as long as we don't get personal with them and they know you give a damn about them, they'll play their butts off for you. And that's exactly what he's done. If I was a player I'd love to play for a guy like him."
Well, Boyer was a linebacker for three NFL teams (Miami, Jacksonville and Cleveland) over 10 seasons from 1994-2003. He was a special teams captain for the Jaguars and the Browns. Hired by the Jets in February 2016 after four seasons with Indianapolis, Boyer took over a special teams group that had uneven results under five different assistant coaches the previous five seasons.
Boyer was part of the Jets' coaching staff that directed the National team at the Reese's Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL, in early February. Though the focus is usually on the top college performers who are expected to go in the first couple of rounds of the NFL Draft, Boyer said he looks beyond the marquee names for possible special teamers.
"One of main things I say to them is that this can change your career," Boyer said. "It's a chance to make a roster just by doing this. A lot of these kids don't understand because half of them never played on special teams. In the NFL, you've got to play specials. Out of a roster of 53, 22 are starters and another 10 to 15 have to do everything. Half of these guys [at the Senior Bowl] were never on a punt team. They were like a bunch of baby deer out there. There was a lot of teaching that week.
"I gave them a few examples of some guys who have made a heck of a lot of money doing just that. I used [New England's Matthew] Slater. He's done a great job, he's played so long and he's never had many reps on offense or defense. He bought into a role and has done it for years and years. He's a consummate pro and plays the game the way it's supposed to be played."
Slater, 36, technically a wide receiver, has been a special teams star since 2011, earning first-team All-Pro honors in 2016 and 2019 in addition to second-team All-Pro honors in 2017, 2020, and 2021. Over 14 regular seasons, Slater had two rushing attempts and a single pass reception.
The Jets believe they have a unique special-team player Justin Hardee, signed in free agency last year. Hardee, listed as a cornerback, took a single snap on defense in the 2021 season but 368 special-team snaps (78.8%), second on the team to linebacker Del'Shawn Phillips (374 snaps). Hardee led the special teams with 12 total tackles, Phillips had 11; the next highest was the 5 tackles made by rookie Hamsah Nasirildeen.
"He's got the dog you look for," Boyer said of Hardee. "And he plays his butt off. I keep saying this is the kind of guy I want. I asked him to take on a leadership role and he bought in. His teammates voted him a captain. He did a nice job. He works when we ask him to go on a Wednesday, when everyone else is sore. He wants to do that every week. It's a sign of being a good leader that his teammates respect the heck out of that."
Overall, across the NFL, there are various ways to rank special teams play. Rick Gosselin of SI.com had the Jets No. 13 overall (across 22 categories), No. 1 in kickoff returns (27.4 yards per), No. 2 against punt returns (12.1 yards per) and No. 2 in kickoff coverage. Football Outsiders, using a metric it calls DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) had the Jets second in the league.
Boyer is all-too aware that the numbers are what the numbers are, while he acknowledged that the group is usually fluid and subject to adjustment throughout a season because of injuries and other factors.
"Last year we had 60-something guys on IR," Boyer said. "We had [one of] the youngest groups in football. We had to overhaul and change every year, week to week, at the mercy of roster changes and a bunch of injuries."
He added: "Hardee, Phillips, the whole tight ends room really saved our butts with all the injuries. They're smart and we can put them anywhere, really good guys. We had a lot of people play, all the guys bought in. [Javelin] Guidry, all those guys did a pretty nice job."
Among the tight ends, Daniel Brown, Ryan Griffin and Trevon Wesco were among the top 11 players in terms of snaps taken on special teams. Overall, Boyer used nearly 80 players on special teams throughout the season.
"People don't understand all the work involved," Boyer said. "There's only a short amount of time after practice."