The Jacksonville Jaguars offseason has been flooded with noteworthy headlines. There’s been plenty of talk about the pieces on defense, and if this will be the year they can collectively be considered a top defense in the NFL. We’ve heard the predictions surrounding the fourth overall pick from the NFL Draft Leonard Fournette, and how a dominant rushing attack could help the offense. And of course, the chatter surrounding Blake Bortles and the importance of this season for his future has never been louder. But one of the most important aspects of this team that must improve in order to win some games would be the special teams unit.
For a while now, the Jaguars have been one of the worst in the leagues in nearly every facet of special teams productions. In 2015, Jacksonville returned one punt for a touchdown, and zero kickoffs for touchdowns. Then last season, they were able to return one kickoff for a touchdown, but failed to return any punts into the end zone. They finished dead last in the league in yards per punt return, which is a statistic that shows how consistently poor not only the return specialists have been, but the entire unit as a whole when receiving punts. With regard to field goal production, Jason Myers has shown some flashes of production. He drilled 7 field goals in 2016 that were 50 yards and beyond, which is tied with others around the league for the second highest total. However, Myers was 7-12 on field goals from that distance on the year, missing some decisive and important chances as well. The offensive struggles with special teams have been staggering for many years, but defensively exists other areas that must be worked on.
For a while the Jaguars have been poor punting the ball, but heading into last season, they were able to pick up Brad Nortman from the Carolina Panthers, who helped the team as much as any punter could. He was tied for the longest punt of the season being at 78 yards, which was a big boost from Bryan Anger who was on the roster in 2015. However, the unit still struggled, giving up the second highest average of yards per punt return last season at 12.5 yards. With regard to kickoffs, on paper, the Jaguars gave up the fewest total yards in the entire league to opponents. However, what must be acknowledged here is that the Jaguars also gave up the fewest return attempts in the league, being a shocking 13 total attempts from opponents. This largely could be due to the fact that a lot of games, the Jaguars fell behind early, lending opponents to not feel it necessary to run the ball out of the end zone. While the unit still needs to perform to a higher quality, this also gives evidence to require the entire roster to fight and be competitive through all four quarters of a football game.
Overall, it comes down to an altering in mindset and atmosphere amongst the locker room for this team. Ahead of Doug Marrone’s first full season as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, he must instill the importance of special teams into all 53 players that make the final roster. Management did their best through the draft in acquiring more pieces to improve the special teams unit. Jalen Myrick has the rare quickness and speed that will prove useful during return situations. Big, bulky players such as Blair Brown and Marquez Williams can be strong bodies on the field to either block for their returner, or bring the physical presence to hit the opponent down the other end. In the end, turnovers and scoring through special teams are simply game changers, which can turn into season-changing moments. Tom Coughlin knows this to be true, so hopefully the players will show this season that they can make the difference.
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