Under longtime coordinator Mike Westhoff, the New York Jets boasted one of the best special teams units in the NFL for nearly a decade. More specifically, Gang Green’s return game rivaled the best in the league season after season.
In just his last half dozen or so years, Westhoff had Justin Miller, Leon Washington, Brad Smith and Joe McKnight at his disposal. While none of the four aforementioned players surfaced as primary contributors at their respective offensive/defensive positions, all of them had the great burst, speed and gap instinct to make for stellar return men.
From 2005 to 2012, Miller, Washington, Smith and McKnight combined for 12 kickoff returns for touchdowns, with longs of 103, 98, 106 and 107, respectively. And scoring aside, they consistently put the Jets in favorable field position for the ensuing drives.
With coordinator Ben Kotwica at the helm and a handful of fill-ins last year (and in 2013 with Westhoff), the Jets’ return game suffered. Josh Cribbs, one of the greatest returners of all time, was an intriguing prospect when he joined the team last fall, but he clearly had lost a step and ended up getting injured before he had a chance to make much of an impact.
So earlier this offseason, Kotwica walked, and the Jets brought in a fresh face. And that fresh face, Thomas McGaughey, just got a fresh face of his own in Jacoby Ford, who may the be key to bringing the Jets back to their Westhoff days. At least if he can stay healthy.
The former Oakland Raider Ford has been plagued with ailments for a good part of the last three years, but his 2010 rookie campaign was a large enough sample size for the Jets to take notice.
Ford returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in a seven-game span — all of which came at the opening of a half.
“That year, everything was just clicking. We had the right people on the return squad. Everybody bought into the scheme,” Ford told NewYorkJets.com recently. “I trust they’re going to get their blocks and they’ve got to trust I’m going to hit the hole.
“It’s all about trust. Not one guy can do it. It takes all 11 to do it.”
It also takes a speedster like Ford.
While Ford will challenge for a gig atop the Jets’ receiver depth chart, his bonafides in the return game will certainly earn him a regular spot on the game day roster.
And in that role, Ford could give the Jets the lift they need on special teams — a lift they’ve been in desperate need of since Westhoff called it a career. Contributions at receiver would be gravy.