Special teams are often the most overlooked aspect of football. No one remembers an eight yard punt return or a touch back on a kick off. However, when something goes wrong (or right) then Special Teams is perhaps the most important part of any team.
2009 was not a banner year for the Jaguars' special teams. After an excellent fake punt by Montell Owens on opening day, the Jaguars special teams constantly missed tackles, shanked punts, and played below par in general. Their play, along with some "encouragement" from Coach Del Rio, led to Joe DeCamillas being sent packing. New coordinator Russ Purnell is looking to make the Jaguars' special teams a top unit again. However, do the Jags have the players to do that?
Josh Scobee was drafted in the 5th round of the 2004 draft. Many questioned the drafting him, as he had a big leg, but accuracy issues.
Scobee is entering his 6th season in the NFL and had easily his worst year since his rookie year. Scobee only had 10 touch backs last year, one fewer than 2008 when he missed 8 games. Worse, after seemingly overcoming any issues with his accuracy, Scobee was only 50% from between 30-39 yards in 2008.
The lone bright spot for Scobee in 2008 was that he was 4 of 5 from 50+ yards, which shows he still has one of the biggest legs in football. Perhaps this is the only reason Scobee doesn't find himself in a competition, as does Adam Podlesh.
The main thing for Scobee in 2009 is to regain his kickoff ability. Scobee went from being one of the league leaders in touch backs for the last 3 years to being in the middle of the pack last year. If he doesn't regain that, then Scobee begins a slide towards being "just another kicker."
Adam Podlesh/Steve Weatherford
Another Shack Harris special, Podlesh was drafted in the 4th round of the 2007 draft. However, unlike Scobee, Podlesh hasn't demonstrated that he was worthy of using a draft choice on. Podlesh has been in the bottom third of the league in punt average, net average, and inside the 20.
Podlesh currently finds himself in a battle with Steve Weatherford for the starting punt job, and a spot on the team. Weatherford isn't that great of a punter, but showed more than Podlesh had in a short time starting last year.
Either way, the punting position has to improve for the Jaguars to have a better record in 2009. There were too many punts that bounced into the end zone, didn't hang high enough, or were just plain shanked last year.
Not much to mention except that the longest tenured Jaguar and one of the most consistent long snappers in the league will be coming back for another year. I'm a proud member of the Joe Z fan club, are you?
The biggest difference is that Maurice Jones-Drew won't be handling any of the kick returning duties in 2009.The kick returning duties are up for grabs. Brian Witherspoon seems to have the upper hand at the position going into training camp. Spoony set franchise records in kick and punt returning, not to mention reportedly having run a 4.16 40 time. However, I would expect the Jaguars to give him some competition to at least keep his competitive spirit going.
The current favorite to challenge for punt returning duties is 4th round pick Mike Thomas. Thomas only had one year of kick returning duties at Arizona, but took two for touchdowns and was named 1st team All-PAC 10 as a punt returner.
The worst area for the Jaguars special teams was their kick coverage. The Jaguars ranked 28th in the league, giving up 50 returns of 20 yards or more. The Jaguars were also middle of the pack in punt coverage.
The empahsis this year is on getting hang time on the ball and tackling, two things that weren't present often last year. Special teams ace Chad Nkang is no longer with the team, so a new gunner will need to emerge.