In the lead-up to training camp, NewYorkJets.com will be breaking down the key storylines for each position group. Today, we look at special teams.
Returners with Burners
One of coordinator Brant Boyer's main goals this year is to improve the return game. With a revolving door at returner since taking over in 2016, Boyer likes the current group on the roster and hopes someone emerges from the pack in training camp. In the spring, Andre Roberts, Eli McGuire, Lucky Whitehead and sixth-round pick Trenton Cannon took reps returning kicks and punts.
"There are a handful of guys that possibly could be the guy," Boyer said. "I think there is some stiff competition at that spot and I think let the best man win and see what happens. I think there's going to be some real good competition once camp comes."
Cannon, whom Boyer personally worked out during the pre-draft process, averaged 33.1 yards/kickoff return with three return TDs his final two seasons at Virginia State. However, fielding punts is new to the running back who possesses 4.4 speed.
"It's been a little bit of an adjustment for him," Boyer said. "We knew that coming in. He's got a lot of talent, but it's something that he never had to do before, so it's just like anything. There are going to be some ups and downs every day. He's doing a nice job of softening his hands, getting square on the ball and squaring his shoulders up every day and day-by-day he's learning. He's doing a nice job so far."
The Jets will have a new placekicker this year following the departure of Chandler Catanzaro in free agency to the Bucs. Cairo Santos joined the Green & White in March and Taylor Bertolet tried out for the team during rookie minicamp and eventually signed. Bertolet handled the majority of kicks in the spring and converted on 83% of his attempts according to Boyer. Meanwhile Santos continued to recover from a groin injury he suffered last season and will look to start training camp on the right foot.
Similar to last year, Boyer said preseason performance will be a big determining factor in who wins the job.
"Santos has done everything we've asked him to do," Boyer said. "Both he and Bertolet, I think they've done a nice job."
When Boyer first took over as coordinator for the Jets, he wanted to establish an identity. Fast forward three years and he feels good about the special teams core despite the losses of his two top tacklers in Rontez Miles (knee injury) and Julian Stanford (free agency). Boyer made some changes in the scheme this year and he's excited to see how the unit looks once the pads come on.
"I thought we did a great job at protection last year — protecting punts, things like that," he said. "That's part of the communication aspect and we did really well. Parts that we didn't do well — we didn't cover as well. They didn't communicate running down the field and things like that. That's something we need to improve on this year. Those are the types of things that we need to get better at."
Best Images of the Jets Specialists at Multimedia Day
New Rules Impact
Earlier this spring, the NFL tweaked some special teams rules in an attempt to improve player safety. Considered perhaps the most dangerous play in football, the kickoff modifications prevent the return team from forming wedges to block players on the kicking team. Additionally, players on the kickoff unit aren't allowed to have a running start, which Boyer believes will result in an increase in returns.
"I would also think that those balls that were getting kneeled on, regularly getting kneeled at three to five (yards into the end zone), some of those balls are going to be brought out," Boyer said. "Most of those balls are going to be getting brought out because that timing is going to be like it used to be (when the touchback came out to the 20-yard line)."