With Mike Westhoff retired, new Jets special teams coordinator has big shoes to fill. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
During Mike Westhoff’s seven year tenure as Jets Special Teams Coordinator, his units have always been just that...special. Even before he joined the Jets, Westhoff has made other NFL teams cautious of his player’s abilities to return kickoffs and punts for touchdowns at anytime.
Arguably one of the game’s greatest special teams coaches, Westhoff had to call it quits after last season as the 60-year-old needed to take time off to undergo major leg surgery this past February.
While it would be near impossible to find another coach with the track record that Westhoff has, Jets head coach Eric Mangini thinks he came very close late February as he hired Kevin O’ Dea and named him as the new special teams coordinator.
While Westhoff is certainly a tough act to follow, O’Dea certainly has the qualifications to make the Jets special teams units as consistent as they were last year. Despite a 4-12 losing record last year, the special teams unit was one bright spot. Led by KR/RB Leon Washington and lead blocker Brad Smith, they were able to return three kickoffs for touchdowns.
“O’Dea is a great coach and apparently he has been successful where he has been in the past,” said Brad Smith. “His record speaks for itself.”
Prior to being hired by NY, O’Dea spent the last two seasons as the assistant special teams coach for the Chicago Bears. Not only did he mold the NFL’s most electrifying kick returner Devin Hester, he helped improve every aspect of the Bears special teams. During his tenure in Chicago, the Bears led the NFL in overall special teams rankings, according to the Dallas Morning News ranking system.
Additionally, Bears placekicker Robbie Gould (who played in the 2006 Pro Bowl) led the NFL with 63 field goals and 269 points last season. O’Dea he helped Gould become the ninth kicker in NFL history with back-to-back seasons of 30 field goals made.
Chicago’s punt team was also statistically near the top of the NFL standings. Bears punter Brad Maynard landed 31% of his punts inside-the-20 over the last two seasons and under O’Dea’s tutelage, the Bears punt coverage unit ranked third in the NFL last season allowing just 5.9 yards per return. Prior to Chicago, O’Dea was the special teams coach for the Arizona Cardinals. In 2005 O’Dea turned kicker Neil Rackers, into a Pro Bowler as he helped him set an NFL record for most field goals in a season with 40, including a streak where he hit 31 consecutive field goals.
“Kevin comes in from a team that does really well on special teams in Chicago, so obviously his knowledge of the game has already made an impact on us,” said Washington. “And just knowing different situations he has been through in Chicago are situations we haven’t been through here, so he has just been showing the things that worked for him in Chicago.”
O’Dea’s initial impact on the team has gone noticed through Organized Team Activities (OTA’s) and the Jets mandatory mini-camp. Though the Coach shows some of the traits that Westhoff showed while was here, (for example, a loud fiery voice similar to Westhoff), O’Dea has shaken things up a bit most noticeably, with the return men.
Besides focusing on the potential controversy at the punting position, O’ Dea has worked closely with all the returners on keeping the elbows when fielding a kickoff or punt.
In all practices opened to the media so far this off-season the Jets returners were required to hold rolled up towels between their arms and bodies. Not only do the returners have to field the kickoff/punt cleanly, they are also forced to keep the towels between their bodies. According to Washington, the purpose of holding on to the towels is to keep the returners elbows closer together, which in turn should minimize any chance for a fumble or turnover.
Washington, who returned three kickoffs touchdowns last season, said this is one many new ideas O’ Dea has brought to the Jets Special Teams unit.
“On the return side, especially punt returns he’s doing some things that are innovative, he has a lot of new ideas and we have an opportunity to go out and execute some of the things he experienced in Chicago,” said Washington. “We are doing some new things that give us the best chance to win.”
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