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Jets' Gunner Justin Hardee on Ravens' Matchup: 'We Have to Be Ready for a Fist Fight'

ST Coordinator Brant Boyer on His Special Teams Captain: ‘I Think He’s a Pro Bowler’


During his first stop in the NFL in New Orleans, he was listed as a wide receiver who caught a single pass over four seasons. In his most recent stop with the Jets, he is listed as a cornerback who has yet to defend against a single pass.

Justin Hardee is a rarity in today's NFL -- a specialist with an advanced degree in special teams. That's what he does. That's all he does. And he does it well.

"From my perspective, he has one kickoff, he makes one tackle," said Brant Boyer, the Jets' special teams coordinator. "He has one punt, he's in front or standing in front of the returner to force a fair catch. So for me, a guy like that I think he's top five in this league, I do. I think he's a Pro Bowler, he does a really good job for us. He takes a leadership role in the room, so he has done a heck of a job and done everything we asked him to do."

Hardee came to the Jets in free agency last season and took 368 snaps (84%), all on special teams in 16 games. That number eclipsed his previous career high of 363 snaps taken with the Saints in 2019.

"I remember my first year, and it's funny, because that is literally my goal to set the tone," Hardee said. "I did not even mean to say it out loud, but that's something I've just been telling myself, to set the tone. Because, I am the leader of this special-team group and I take pride in it and I'm embracing it. I love it. I have to lead by example."

Even though roster turnover tends to be a given in today's NFL, Boyer and Hardee know that when it comes to special teams, the churn is usually off the charts. But coaches also acknowledge that when it comes time to cobble together a 53-man roster, a player's ability to play, and play well on special teams could be the difference between making the team or not making the team.

"That is unfortunate that it is how the NFL goes," Hardee said. "We never get the same team again, it's kind of impossible. But you just got to kind of ride out with the guys you have here. Being able to bring guys in and have the same goal to be the best out there and make sure we all are on the same page and make sure we all have the same mindset."

See the top practice images leading up to the first game of the 2022 season against the Baltimore Ravens.

When it comes to the likely new guys on the Green & White special teams, Hardee namechecked UDFA Tony Adams (a fellow Illinois alum), Ashtyn Davis, Brandin Echols and Jamien Sherwood.

"​​A lot of guys who definitely played defense last year and even some new guys that just need to come in and step in and just know that it's all just football," Hardee said. "The roles change, but that is how you stay in the NFL. The NFL literally stands for 'Not For Long,' so just finding that role and by any means embracing that."

The Ravens stress special teams play, which presents an additional challenge for Boyer, Hardee and the rest of the Jets' special-team players. Baltimore last season led the league, averaging 13.8 yards per punt return; the Jets were third with a 12.1-yard average per punt return.

"You are going into a game against Baltimore knowing Coach [John] Harbaugh is a special-teams guy," Hardee said. "So just going in you already know you got to be ready for a fist fight, knowing the background of the Baltimore team is physicality. As far as special teams, there is no difference. So, coming in with the right mentality and just knowing what you're up against. It is going to be four quarters of the physicality."

Boyer, who spent 10 years in the league carving a niche as a special teams standout, knows what it takes to excel on special teams and he knows exactly how special Hardee is, how important a role he plays.

"Want to, want to," Boyer said. "That's what it all comes down to. Are you going to say that that guy when I have a 40-yard head start, can I get singled by that guy? I tell my guys all the time, there's absolutely no way in hell a guy should be able to block you, when you have a 40-yard head start all the time. It's all that mindset that they have to have in that room.

"You need to beat any single [blocker] that you got and that's how we coach them and Hardee's one of those guys that has that right mindset and he plays 150 miles an hour on every snap and never stop. I think he has done a fantastic job in what we've asked him to do here since he has been here."

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