Football is a grueling team sport and most times, certain positions don’t get the credit that they deserve.
New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh is trying to change that one press conference at a time. On October 22, the player-friendly HC highlighted a role that “represents manhood,” and a Jets team leader that personifies that position.
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Don’t Sleep on Special Teams
Special teams are often overlooked but the championship teams always seem to dominate in this area, whether we’re talking about kicking, returning, punt coverage or even long-snapping.
For Coach Saleh, the gunner role is “very underrated” and one of his personal favorites in the sport. “So gunner, to me, is one of my favorite positions on the team,” stated the Jets HC, “that is a check your manhood [job], it’s [a] mindset, it is an absolute dogfight when you’re a gunner and you gotta beat a one-on-one or a double-team. It is an absolute war on the edges and those guys are responsible for field position, flipping fields, they can win a lot of games without it ever really coming to attention.”
Saleh then highlighted special teams captain Justin Hardee, a veteran that the Jets signed specifically to play gunner in 2021 and beyond. “So Hardee is probably one of the best in football at that position,” he said, “on top of it, his leadership skills, his deliberateness, his veteran presence — he’s everything that you would want out of a football player from a character standpoint.”
The former New Orleans Saints fan favorite didn’t take long to win over Jets nation. In his initial press conference after signing, Hardee gave an emotional answer where he voiced that he plays like he’s trying to feed his son on every snap.
He also didn’t take long to win over teammates, being that he was voted as a team captain before ever playing in a regular-season game for the franchise. When asked if that was rare, Saleh commented that “if you’re doing a good job with regards to bringing in the right people, it can happen.”
“It’s a new voice, they come in with the right amount of energy, they demonstrate everything that you’re expecting them to demonstrate, so it’s not abnormal,” the head coach concluded. Corey Davis was also voted as a Jets captain after being signed in free agency.
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New Kick Returner on the Block
One other special teams’ performance took center stage in London as running back Tevin Coleman tried his hand at returning kicks. This was somewhat surprising, being that Braxton Berrios seemed to have a stranglehold over the return game most of the season.
However, the slot receiver is definitely better at punt returns and was only averaging 23.3 yards per kick return, so perhaps ST coordinator Brant Boyer decided a change was in order. Then there was the choice of Coleman, who hadn’t done any returning in training camp compared to players like Ty Johnson and Elijah Moore.
Saleh revealed that the suggestion came from an unlikely source — DC Jeff Ulbrich.
The Jets HC explained: “It starts with Ulbrich. When they were in Atlanta together he kept asking [Coleman] why aren’t you returning kicks? You’d be a Pro Bowl kick returner. [Coleman] just shrugged it off… then we get here and [Ulbrich] was telling me the stories about how he was always trying to nudge him, asked [Boyer] and [Boyer] said yeah if he wants to give it a try… so I said TeCo why don’t you just go back there, man? It’s never too old to put a tool in your toolbox, and he went back there during practice, fielded a couple of kicks, looked natural, threw him out there and [Coleman] did the rest.”
No matter how it all went down, the veteran RB flourished in the role with 46.0 yards per return including a headliner that went for 65 yards to start the second half. After a performance like that, it would be fair to assume that we’ll see Coleman returning kicks again in Week 7.
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