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Hodges Returns for Second Jets Tour of Duty


Proposed book title (with apologies to Joe Garagiola): Football Is a Funny Game. Subtitle: Welcome Back, Reggie Hodges.

Yes, Hodges is a Jet again. The man who punted the last 12 games of last season for the Green & White, then was dismissed in April, is back and began competing this morning with undrafted rookie T.J. Conley for the punting job after Eric Wilbur was waived.

He's happy to be here, but after building a résumé that lists eight releases by six NFL teams, he's not opening the final-53 bubbly just yet. He knows how funny this game can be.

"I had moved on," Hodges said of his Jets career in between minicamp practices in the Atlantic Health Training Center locker room, "just because usually when you get cut by a team and they want to bring in somebody else, that's it."

In fact, Hodges said, general manager Mike Tannenbaum told him when the Jets released him, "We're looking to go in a different direction."

He and his agent checked with a number of teams but all said they were set either with their veterans or the young legs they just signed. So Hodges spent some quality time with his wife, Arin, took care of the kids, and "made sure I was ready for the next call."

"I squat a lot more and I do a lot more position-specific exercises," he said of his work between punting gigs. "Obviously, I kick a lot more footballs."

The next call did come, and from an unexpected caller. Tannenbaum checked back recently and asked Hodges how he was feeling, if he was in shape and if he'd be available to come back.

Head coach Rex Ryan was asked about Wilbur's waiving at his news conference today.

"We think Wilbur's got a chance to be a decent punter," Ryan said, adding, "We had some issues with his hands and consistency, and for a punter that's not a good thing. If you're a punter, you've got to work on your hands. We certainly don't need somebody back there dropping the ball — that'll kill you. And your punter is generally your holder on placements."

That's one reason Jay Feely was happy to see Hodges return. Feely was the Jets' kicker for Mike Nugent for the last 15 games of the season, and for the last dozen of those, Hodges was his steady holder.

"And I thought he was getting better and better as the season went on," Feely said.

"I felt that I struggled last year," Hodges said candidly, "but I came along at the end. I know I've made improvements in my technique."

His 12-game numbers weren't gaudy. His 42.8-yard gross average was 21st among the NFL's 32 qualifying punters and his 35.5 net was 24th. But he did get incrementally better. In his last six games, he had eight of his 14 inside-the-20s and two of his three inside-the-10s, and unofficially he improved his hangtime each game from the previous game starting with Game 11 at Tennessee.

There are, of course, no guarantees for Hodges. Conley's 47.4-yard gross average for Idaho last season was the best in all of college football for the past four seasons, and as a former backup QB for the Vandals, Conley's hands haven't been an issue.

But Hodges has experience, he's healthy and he has a goal of becoming a vested veteran.

"I've only had two seasons in the NFL. I want to make it four seasons," he said. "I'm not going to be too high or too low. I'm just going to do what I do. I'm going to work hard and punt the ball the best I can."

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