Miller lays out RB Ahman Green
The New York Jets ought to feel confident before kickoff Sunday. That's because they'll either have Mike Nugent or Justin Miller playing a prominent role on the game's first play.
After a couple of years struggling with the depth on his kickoffs, Nugent built up his leg strength in the off-season and delivered three touchbacks in preseason play.
"If you get a touchback as a kicker, then that's what you want. But the biggest thing I'm trying to do is give my guys a chance, my teammates a chance," said Nugent, now an Ohio State alum. "Give them a chance to get down there and make a tackle. I don't give them much of a chance if I kick the ball to the 12-yard-line with a 3.8[-second] hang time. If I can give them a good hang and good distance, then that will give them a chance to get down there and make the play."
With Laurence Maroney concentrating full-time on his role as the Patriots' top tailback, former Dolphin Wes Welker and Ellis Hobbs are the Pats' top two returners. Now in his fourth pro season, Welker averaged 22.2 yards per kickoff return in Miami last season. The goal for Nugent will be to kick it out of the end zone or deliver kicks with at least four seconds of hang time.
Nugent converted on 88.5 percent of his field goal attempts last season and he's bringing a regular-season streak of 18 consecutive makes into the opener, but he knew there was room for improvement on his kickoffs.
"It was one of my bigger off-season goals. Whatever happened positively in the preseason, you have to be able to carry it over to the regular season," he said. "You have to go out there and do the exact same thing and make sure you stay consistent with what you do."
Miller's consistency landed him in Hawaii last February as the Jets' lone representative at the Pro Bowl. He averaged 28.3 yards per kick return and he's also scored three touchdowns off kicks in the past 17 regular-season games.
"His kickoff returns give you a lot of problems," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.
"I can improve leaps and bounds. I still think there are lots of things we can accomplish as a return team and as a team," Miller said. "We just want to go out there and do that."
While in Hawaii, Miller was named the NFL's "Fastest Man" for a performance in a four man 40-yard dash. He'd like to outrun the Patriots this weekend and may even be used as a punt returner. The 23-year-old corner fielded six punts his rookie season.
"I am comfortable," he said when asked about possible punt duty. "Whatever job is needed from me, I am going to go out there and do it. I am just going to go out there and help the team at whatever position it takes."
In addition to Miller, there are a number of candidates who could return punts for the Jets and that list includes rookie CB Darrelle Revis and RB Leon Washington.