Brian Daboll is prepared to cast a wide net to solve the New York Giants’ problems in the return game. Specifically, the Giants have been trying out a host of alternatives to punt returner Richie James, the wide receiver who fumbled twice against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 8.
One alternative to James would involve the Giants using a key starter to field punts. It’s an option Daboll isn’t afraid to use, despite the player’s importance on defense.
The head coach compared the ploy to something the New England Patriots did during the early years of their Super Bowl dynasty in the 2000s.
Shutdown Starter Can Transform Giants’ Return Game
Adoree’ Jackson is the lone, true shutdown cornerback on the Giants’ roster, but that won’t “deter” Daboll from using him as a returner, according to Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News:
It would be a bold switch, given Jackson’s obvious status as the Giants’ best cover man. The 27-year-old has started all eight games, deflected five passes and allowed only 55.1 percent of throws to be completed against him, per Pro Football Reference.
Yet, for all his worth on defense, Jackson also offers the dynamism and game-breaking speed the Giants lack in football’s third phase. He showcased those qualities during practice on Friday, November 11, according to Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post: “Jackson sure looked the part of returner — and the uncatchable Forrest Gump — as he fielded kickoffs and punts Friday and broke a big return down the sideline with a convoy of teammates cheering him on.”
Experience as a returner wouldn’t be an issue for Jackson, who thrived in the role across three seasons with the Tennessee Titans. Dunleavy noted how Jackson also made his share of big plays in the return game during his collegiate days: “He averaged 8.8 yards on 53 returns with the 2017-19 Titans and 12.6 yards with four touchdowns on 46 returns (2014-16) at USC.”
Those numbers make him a better choice than the other contenders Dunleavy mentioned, including James, rookie wideout Kalil Pimpleton and Jackson’s fellow corner Darnay Holmes. The latter appeared a lock to replace James, but special teams coach Thomas McGaughey refuted the idea, per Leonard:
Holmes might not get the job, especially if Jackson continues to impress enough to encourage his coaches to overlook the risk of exposing their top cover man to more hits. Daboll can always turn to history for an example of when a similar gamble paid off handsomely.
Patriots’ Super Bowl-Winner an Inspiration for Giants, Jackson
Aware of the risk, “Daboll drew on his experience as Patriots receivers coach when New England used leading pass-catcher Troy Brown as a punt returner,” per Dunleavy.
Brown led the Pats with 101 receptions for 1,199 yards in 2001, the same year he tallied 14.2 yards on 29 punt returns. The Patriots knew putting an athlete as creative and versatile on the field as often as possible gave them a better chance to win games.
So it proved when Brown scored on a 55-yard return against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game to help propel the Pats to Super Bowl XXXVI and their first title:
Daboll was part of the staff in New England during that season and his first-hand glimpse of Brown’s impact is good news for Jackson. The Giants need big plays from special teams to complement a tough defense and help an offense lacking game-breaking talent in the passing game.
That’s the formula for how rebuilding teams win ahead of schedule. Daboll’s Giants have been a surprise package, but their fast start will soon become a memory without more impact from all three phases.