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Something Special About Westhoff's Return


Chemistry class isn't just for the Jets' offense or defense. There's the interaction on special teams, specifically at the top between coaches Mike Westhoff and Kevin O'Dea and in reestablishing the links between Westhoff and his players.

Westhoff said all those bonds have been strong, and perhaps as a result the teams are getting stronger as well.

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"I've very much enjoyed it," the respected coach said this week about working with O'Dea, in his first remarks since rejoining the coaching staff the week before the start of the season. "I think it's been very good. Those things are never real easy. But I like Kevin, and we've worked well together."

O'Dea was hired by head coach Eric Mangini, with Westhoff's input, before Westhoff underwent one more surgery on his left leg in February. Mike knew he wanted to coach again but not how soon that could happen.

But as he ripped through his rehab, finishing in six months a program normally projected to last from nine months to a year, returning to coaching this season became thinkable. And Mangini made it doable with the Green & White.

Westhoff's relationship with O'Dea has made this "thing that's never real easy" a lot smoother of a transition.

"I like Kevin. I think he's a very good coach," he said. "How I looked at it was that we'd work together. I made it very clear. We talked about how he and I would do things. I'm used to doing things a certain way. I'm not that flexible. He's been fine and I certainly respect him. I like the guy. We've gotten along fine."

The players have embraced Westhoff since he left the Dolphins for the Jets staff in 2001.

"They've been great, they've been great," he said. "I had a good relationship with them when I left. It's been picked up where it left off."

Teams performance hasn't been the smoothest in the first quarter of the season, for several reasons. One of them has been the weekly status of the kickers. Mike Nugent injured his right thigh in the Miami opener, necessitating the signing of Jay Feely. And punter Ben Graham was waived after the New England game, re-signed for San Diego when new punter Reggie Hodges injured his left thigh, then released again after Arizona.

A reporter asked if the kicking situation has been somewhat comedic.

"Yeah ... except it's not funny," he said.

But each week the Jets have gotten something important accomplished on specials:

Miami —Dangerous punt return Ted Ginn was held to 13 yards on three returns, and despite Nugent's in-game difficulties, the kick coverage unit held Miami to a 17.3 average on four returns.

New England — Not a good day, but at least Ellis Hobbs, who scorched the coverage units wit his NFL-record-long 108-yard kickoff-return TD on opening day 2007, was contained to returning two kicks on average to the Patriots 24-yard line.

San Diego — Leon Washington returned with a vengeance with a 39.6-yard average on five kickoffs, including a 94-yarder to set up the Jets' second TD and a 45-yarder, while Jerricho Cotchery added a 54-yard return of his own.

Arizona — Kris Jenkins collapsed the middle of the Cardinals line to register a key first-quarter block of a Neil Rackers field goal. It was only the Jets' second FG block since '01. And while it was the fourth blocked placement of Jenkins' career and you might think there's not much coaching required to have the 350-pounder flatten an opposing player, it was his first block since 2003.

As for Westhoff's health, there's nothing but good news to report. We detailed on * *back in February the almost 10-hour surgery that Westhoff underwent to replace his fragile and once cancerous femur with a state-of-the-art titanium femur. Ever since he's been working fanatically to get back.

"I walk almost perfectly now. I won't be using the cane shortly. I'll be playing golf soon," he said. "Coaching has been a great experience. It's something I missed, something I do fairly well. It's been a tremendous experience with the Jets and I was very, very happy to have the opportunity to come back."

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