Training camp preview: Special teams

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
8:00
AM ET
Breaking down the New York Jets' roster, unit by unit, in preparation for training camp, July 23:

Position: Special teams

[+] EnlargeJacoby Ford
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesJacoby Ford has the speed to make the Jets more dangerous on special-teams returns.
Projected starters: Nick Folk (PK), Ryan Quigley (P), Tanner Purdum (LS), Jalen Saunders (PR), Jacoby Ford (KR).

Projected reserves: Jeremy Kerley (PR), Kyle Wilson (PR), Shaq Evans (KR).

Notables on the bubble: Clyde Gates (KR).

Player to watch: Ford. Once upon a time, he was one of the most feared kickoff returners in the league. In 2010, he flashed his 4.22 speed (his 40 time at the combine) by scoring on three returns as a rookie for the Oakland Raiders. If Ford can stay healthy, a problem in recent years, his explosiveness will be a major boost to a unit that disappeared last season. Rules changes have altered the game, but it never hurts to have a 4.2 guy at the ready.

Top storyline: There's a new sheriff in town -- Thomas McGaughey, most recently the special-teams coordinator at LSU. He knows the NFL (he won a Super Bowl ring as the New York Giants' assistant special-teams coach in 2007), so it shouldn't be a difficult transition. For the Jets, this marks a clean break from the Mike Westhoff era. The legendary coach ran the special teams from 2001 to 2012, and one of his disciples, Ben Kotwica, was in charge last season. McGaughey will provide a much-needed new perspective for a once-formidable unit that has slipped in recent years.

Training camp will be a success if ... : No one is longing for the days of Westhoff.

Wild card: Saunders. If he can bring his college production to the Jets, it'll change the face of the punt-returning unit. It was awful last season, as the Jets failed to generate a return longer than 24 yards. Saunders is tiny (5-foot-9, 165 pounds), but he can take off faster than a Johnny Manziel tweet from Vegas. At Oklahoma, he averaged 15.4 yards per return and scored two touchdowns last season.

By the numbers: Folk was fantastic last season, earning a four-year, $12 million contract -- his first multiyear deal since joining the Jets in 2010. One area he needs to improve, however, is his distance on kickoffs. Since 2010, the Jets rank 25th in kickoff distance, 62.4 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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