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Robert Saleh on Xavier Gipson's Jets' KR Role: 'He Took It and Ran with It'

'X', 5th in the NFL in PR Average, 10th in KR Average: 'You Come In and You Handle Business Every Day'


It's been an instructive first "half" of the season in terms of the growth and impact of the Jets' undrafted rookie wide receiver/kick returner from the state of Texas nicknamed "X".

"I learned a lot," Xavier Gipson said this week as he and the Jets prepare to return to action from their bye week for their Game 7, at the Giants on Sunday. "The mistakes I made, the lessons I learned, knowing what not to do, taking care of my body — there were some big steps that I took on."

And there was one teammate and competitor that he helped change the Jets' plans for 2023, with last week's return of Mecole Hardman to Kansas City via trade. Hardman is also a very fast wideout and was an experienced kick returner his first three seasons with the Chiefs.

Head coach Robert Saleh painted the Gipson-Hardman exchange as a classic NFL tale of an accomplished veteran inadvertently leaving the door open for a younger, nearly-as-fast challenger to come in and stake his claim.

"Mecole's been fantastic. He's a good young man. He was very positive in the locker room and all that," Saleh said. "He was battling injuries during OTAs and training camp, trying to get himself up to speed. But in the meantime, here comes this undrafted rookie you don't expect anything from but you're like, 'Wow, this guy's pretty good' in OTAs, and in training camp it's like, 'Man, this guy's really freaking good.'

"So it's just an opportunity for us to develop a young guy, and it's nothing against Mecole. It's unfortunate, but also I'm excited for Xavier and his opportunity. ... He was able to get some reps because Mecole was still recovering from his injury, and he took it and ran with it, and he's doing a heck of a job."

Gipson's initial role was as the returner to replace Braxton Berrios — no big turf cleats to fill there. Yet Gipson sped out of the preseason games onto the active roster and into his starring role as the game-winning overtime punt-returner on opening night against the Bills.

He's packing a 13.7 yards/return average on punts, fifth-best in the NFL and his 23.8 yards/return on kickoffs, with a minimum of six returns, is 10th.

Plus he's being slowly stirred into the offense, with 38 of his 39 offensive reps and his three end-arounds for 31 yards coming in the last three games.

"Oh, man, just working hard really," Gipson said with his trademark wide smile about moving on without a hiccup or a doubt from his four seasons as a standout receiver at his Dallas high school and at Stephen F. Austin. "It's just a testimony to the way you work. You come in and you handle business every day."

"You can't help but root for a kid like that," special teams coordinator Brant Boyer said at the start of the regular season. "He works so hard and is such a good kid and is willing to work his way into a position, and I think he's done a great job since he's been here. He has really settled in on it and done a great job."

As the "matchups" with Berrios near — the Jets host the Dolphins on Black Friday, Nov. 24, then play at Miami three weeks later — it may be instructive or just a statistical fluke to note that after the 17 punts Gipson has fielded (returns and fair catches) this season, the Jets' average drive start is their 33.3-yard line. Their average start after Berrios' punt returns as a Pro Bowler in 2021 was their 24.5 and last year it was their 26.1.

But first things first. Gipson and the Jets punt-return team have a stern test against the Giants, whose punt-cover unit is allowing 7.0 yards/return, tied for eighth in the league. To get himself ready, among the business he handles and not just occasionally is working with one of the best punt/kick returners in franchise history, assistant ST coach Leon Washington.

"That's every day," X said.

See the Jets back at 1 Jets Drive to begin Week 8 in preparation for the New York Giants.

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