NFL special teams units have parallels to MLB bullpens in that the faces frequently change and it’s hard to stay on top. After the Jets’ special teams units were arguably the best in football, coordinator Brant Boyer will attempt to duplicate the success the Green & White had in 2018 with some different personnel.
At the conclusion of his hour-long session with reporters at the NFL League Meetings, Jets head coach Adam Gase was asked about free agent pickup Josh Bellamy.
“I love Bellamy. Bellamy is one of those guys that can play all three spots at the wide receiver position, and he’s a really good special teams player,” Gase said. “This guy has never had a bad day in his life — I promise you that. This guy brings juice all day long. You talk about a guy that loves hitting the practice field, he loves being in meetings and he loves being in the locker room. He loves playing football and he’s infectious. When you see Josh and you’re a coach, you get juiced up because you see he infects everybody. He is a fire starter.”
Upon signing with the Jets, Bellamy said he was comfortable playing on all four special teams units and added that he wanted to be the backup kicker. Gase, who was the Bears’ offensive coordinator in 2015, loved the 6’0”, 206-pounder’s competitiveness as Bellamy contributed with 19 catches for 224 yards with two touchdowns.
“The year I was with him in Chicago, he was one of our starters. This guy was a former DB. He caught six balls in a game and that was the most he’d ever caught in his life, including high school,” Gase said. “I learned what a competitor he was, I learned what a worker he was. He is a self-made guy. He has made himself who he is at this point in his career. He’s a fun guy to coach and guys love playing with him. I’m excited to just be around him again.”
Backup linebacker Neville Hewitt and reserve safety Doug Middleton will both be donning green & white again after re-signing this offseason. Hewitt (12 tackles) and Middleton (7 tackles) finished second and fifth, respectively, in special teams tackles for the Jets in 2018.
While safety Terrence Brooks, who led the club in special teams snaps with 392, joined the Patriots in March, outside linebacker Brandon Copeland and tight end Eric Tomlinson re-upped with New York’s AFC representative. Despite making a career-high 10 starts last season and racking up five sacks, the 6’3”, 263-pound Copeland was second to only Brooks in terms of ST snaps with 323 and he pitched in with five stops.
The Jets will have new specialists in 2019. After Jason Myers turned in a stellar campaign, the Jets negotiated with the AFC Pro Bowler before he elected to sign a lucrative deal with the Seattle Seahawks. So the Jets immediately transitioned back to Chandler Catanzaro, a strong-legged kicker who converted 83.3% of his attempts for the Green & White in 2018 while working with LS Thomas Hennessy and P Lachlan Edwards.
“They will always want to keep the guy that they had. It didn’t work out with us and then Cat Man ends up coming on board,” Gase said. “They felt great about him because they’ve worked with him before, they know him. They know kind of how they’re going to work with the long-snapper and the punter. They have a good system to where they feel good about him.”
While the Jets filled their hole at kicker, a critical vacancy remains at the return position. Andre Roberts departed to Buffalo in free agency after being named first-team AP All-Pro for a season that saw him rank first in the NFL in punt return average (14.1) and second in kick return average (24.9).
New slot receiver Jamison Crowder was Washington’s primary punt returner from 2015-17 and Trenton Cannon, a sixth-round pick last April who ended up leading the Jets with 16 tackles on special teams, is a burner who was originally drafted primarily for his potential impact at returner.
But who will be the Jets returner in 2019?
“That’s a good question. We’ll leave it at that,” Gase said in Phoenix. “That’s going to be one we’re going to have to work through and we still have a ways to go. We might not see Brant for like months.”