Jaguars Positional Analysis: Special Teams

In 2006, the Jaguars special teams unit was anything but special. Outside of super rookie Maurice Jones-Drew, long-snapper Joe Zelenka, who we only notice if he makes a mistake, and kicker Josh Scobee, who has a strong leg but still struggles with accuracy, the special teams unit did more to hurt the team than help.

The poor play resulted in special teams coordinator Pete Rodriguez losing his job after the season. Rodriguez didn't miss any tackles on punt returns, or miss any field goals, or shank any 15 yard punts off the side of his foot, but someone had to be held responsible. That is simply the way the cookie crumbles if you're an NFL coach.

Strengths:
There weren't a great deal of strengths in the Jaguars special teams units in the '06 season, so it makes these few easier to pinpoint. (1) Josh Scobee's kickoff leg. Scobee finished second in the league with 21 touchbacks. (2) Maurice Jones-Drew's kickoff returns. Drew finished third in the NFL with a kickoff return average of 27.7 yards including a 92 yard touchdown return in the blowout of the eventual Super Bowl Champion Colts. (3) The dazzling long-snapping of Joe Zelenka. Joe Z. snapped perfectly all season long. I realize that it is his job to snap perfectly, but long-snappers don't get a lot of love across the league in publications or internet media, and I'm trying my best to change that.

Weaknesses:
Where do we start? Let us begin with punting. Chris Hanson had his worst season as a pro, as he averaged just 40.6 yards per punt, ranking him 31st in the NFL. The Jaguars as a team were also terrible in punt coverage. The Jaguars were 28th in the league at covering punts, allowing 12.5 yards per return. The Jaguars were also the only team in the league to allow two punt return touchdowns in '06. Another weakness was the kicking accuracy of Josh Scobee. Scobee made just 81.3% of his field goals which ranked him 19th in the NFL. Scobee's long field goal for the season was just 48 yards as well, ranking him tied for 29th in the league in that category. The punt return department was average at best. Alvin Pearman took over the duties almost midway through the year because Chad Owens simply couldn't get the job done. Pearman is a straight ahead return man, but he is not much of a threat to break one as he has little speed.

Overall 2006 season grade: D
The Jaguars special teams was a thorn in their side all season long. The special teams unit almost single-handedly lost the first Indianapolis game, as well as the Buffalo game. A crucial special teams fumble hurt the team in Washington, and there were big penalties levied against them on returns in almost every game of the '06 season.

Are changes necessary?
Absolutely. Chris Hanson battled a hamstring problem all season, but that's no excuse for letting the team down on a weekly basis. I expect there to be real competition in this years' training camp at the punter position, being that the team can't have a repeat of last years' performance. New special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis has been hired by Jack Del Rio to take over Pete Rodriguez's old duties, and he's already signed former Falcons practice squad punter Tony Yelk to challenge Hanson. With the addition of Dennis Northcutt, the team finally has some speed at punt returner. Part of the reason for the poor play of the coverage units was that the usual special teamers were thrust into action on offense and defense due to the large number of injuries. Although that was the case, the team can't use that as an excuse for poor play.

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