As training camp approaches, we're counting down to camp by taking a look at the defending champions, position by position.
Position: Special teams.
Projected starters: K Lawrence Tynes, P Steve Weatherford and LS Zak DeOssie.
New faces: WR Rueben Randle, CB Jayron Hosley and RB David Wilson.
Going, going, gone: PR Aaron Ross, KR Devin Thomas and PR Will Blackmon.
Player to watch: Weatherford. He turned a position of weakness back into a strength for Tom Coughlin with his outstanding punting last season. Weatherford averaged 45.7 yards per punt with a net average of 39.2 with 25 punts landing inside the 20-yard-line. He also was terrific in the postseason, landing a total of five punts inside the 20 against San Francisco and New England.
The Giants gave Weatherford their franchise tag before re-signing the punter to a five-year deal worth a reported $12.75 million according to the Newark Star-Ledger. That’s a lot of coin for a punter but Weatherford is eager to show that he is worth it.
Potential strength: Weatherford’s punting is just one reason why the Giants’ special teams improved last season. The other major reason was the coverage units. With Jerry Reese infusing the coverage team with youth and athleticism with several draft picks like Jacquian Williams, Mark Herzlich, Greg Jones and Tyler Sash, the Giants did not allow a single punt or kickoff return for a touchdown.
Considering that those rookies are now second-year players, the Giants coverage units could actually be better this season with more experience. Also, as the season progressed, the Giants utilized some of their defensive ends like Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck on the front line to try and block punts or field goals and it paid off with JPP blocking Dallas’ potential overtime-forcing field goal in December.
Potential weakness: The punt return game was abysmal last season, providing no spark. The kickoff return game was slightly better but the Giants longest return of the season was for 40 yards but Thomas. Both Ross and Thomas left in free agency.
The Giants drafted Randle and Hosley knowing that the two have experience returning punts. Wilson has experience returning kickoffs as well. Randle, Hosley, Jerrel Jernigan and Domenik Hixon are in the mix at punt returner. They also give Victor Cruz reps in practice on punt returns as well. And on kickoffs, Da’Rel Scott, Jernigan, D.J. Ware, Hixon and perhaps Wilson could be the starter this season.
Wild card: Hixon. He is attempting to come back from a second torn ACL in as many years and the Giants likely will be cautious with Hixon, who is competing to become the third wide receiver spot. If the Giants don’t think Jernigan, Randle or Hosley is the answer at punt returner, they could look to Hixon. Hixon has scored a touchdown on a punt return and kickoff return during his Giants’ tenure. But if the Giants don’t want to risk Hixon, they may hope that Jernigan emerges as the primary returner since he shined on special teams while in college.
Tell us what you think of the special teams below.