With a veteran-laden front-four rotation awaiting them, it was going to be hard for both first-rounder Jermaine Johnson and fourth-rounder Micheal Clemons to contribute in their Jets rookie seasons.
And it has been. Both have been on the field for about 200 of the Green & White's 861 defensive snaps. Johnson has notched the first 2.5 sacks of his NFL career while Clemons has 2.0 sacks.
But what to do while waiting for "opps" to contribute big-time to the defense? Make special deliveries, of course. And Johnson and Clemons have done that as well.
Clemons' blocked punt at Green Bay that Will Parks took to the Lambeau house was a key piece to the Game 6 win over the Packers.
And while Johnson's blocked punt at Buffalo didn't lead to a win, it did produce points, as in a safety when the rejected pigskin skittered over the end line.
"I just knew I'd been coming close all game," Johnson told newyorkjets.com's Caroline Hendershot. "Anytime I'm on the field, I look for any ways I can put the team in a better position. So with our scheme and my teammates around me doing their job the right way, I was able to come free and block it."
While JJ may have put only two points on the board in the 20-12 loss to the Bills, he also placed a new entry in the franchise record & fact book.
Johnson became only the second Jet to block a punt that resulted in a safety, and the first in 54 years. The late Paul Crane was the only other Jet to do it, snuffing Jim Norton's punt to provide the first points of the Jets' 20-14 win at the Oilers and perhaps triggering the start of an important four-game winning streak in the middle of their 1968 Super Bowl season.
Johnson also is the first Jets rookie to be credited with a safety regardless of method since Muhammad Wilkerson sacked Jake McCown's kid brother, Luke, in the end zone vs. Jacksonville in 2011. (Sauce Gardner's safety-inducing blitz vs. Miami goes in the books as a team safety.) And it was the first safety scored by a Jets rookie special-teamer in franchise history.
Safety via blocked punt is one of the NFL's rare plays, occurring roughly once a season since 2000. But the blocked punt itself is not as rare, especially under the auspices of Jets ST coordinator Brant Boyer, whose kick blockers have produced the second-most blocked punts and the second-most blocked kicks of all varieties in the NFL since 2018. And this eruption after four seasons of no Jets blocked kicks of any kind from 2014-17.
The BK leaderboard since '18 (regular-season blocks only):
|NFL Team||Blkd Punts||Blkd FGs||Blkd XPs||Total Blks|
Boyer welcomes all contributions from all players, so he was happy to talk up Johnson back in August, when the 26th overall pick of '22, who blossomed as a pass rusher in his only season at Florida State after two years at Georgia, was throwing his weight around again on kick returns, this time in front of Braxton Berrios.
"What's really good about this entire draft class is they've come in and bought into anything we've asked them to do," Boyer said. "Jermaine specifically, he's getting better every day. He's working his butt off and he'll do anything I ask him, and that's just a testament to how he works. How he's blocking out there is from him paying attention in meetings, and his willingness to do it is good to see.
"That's what a team does."
And here's a repeat of Johnson's take on his Sunday snuff-and-score: "Don't be a non-factor when you're out there. When you have an opportunity, make the most of it."