There always seems to be a handful of big-name players each year who don't make their teams' 53-man rosters. Through the first round of cuts, as the Jets trimmed their roster to 75, WR Braylon Edwards, G Stephen Peterman and RB Joe McKnight all qualify as some of those players.
While all three of these veterans were initially projected to make meaningful contributions on offense, only the release of McKnight has an impact on special teams. Without our dynamic kick returner, the Jets hope that third-year wide receiver Clyde Gates can fill the void.
"You've got to have a take-it-to-the-house mentality" as a kick returner, Gates said.
Entering his third NFL season, Gates has some professional experience returning kicks, averaging 25.3 yards on 39 career returns. Despite his mentality, he has yet to take one to the house, but he did come close to accomplishing this goal as a rookie in Miami, when he returned a kick for 77 yards.
Gates will have to be at the top of his game to match the special teams production from McKnight. The fourth-year running back out of Southern Cal. has been one of the best, if not the best, kick returners in the NFL since the Jets drafted him in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. His 29.0 yards per return ranks first of all qualifying return men over the past three seasons.
Clyde chose not to speak about how McKnight's release would impact his own chances to return kicks for the Green & White on Sundays.
"I feel like I already had an opportunity when I was brought here and I just have to take full advantage of it," he said. "I have to go out and compete and see what I'm called on to do and stay consistent."
It looks like the Jets will be calling on the third-year wideout to fill the special teams void, as he has been penciled into the No. 1 spot on the team's depth chart, although we might not know for sure until Sept. 8 when the Buccaneers kick off for the first time.
Thus far this preseason, Gates has looked good as the return man, albeit with a limited sample size with three returns for exactly 100 yards (33.3-yard average). In addition to working on his wide receiver skillset, Clyde wants to continue to improve as a special teams player.
"I feel like I've done a good job, but it can be better," he said about his kick-returning ability. "I'm not just complacent with what I have put on tape. I feel like I can do better, and it's only going to get better."