Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff has long been considered one of the tops in his field. He has overcome many difficult personal health issues battling cancer and has persevered to have a potential Hall of Fame coaching career. It was known that this would be Westhoff’s last season coaching in the NFL as he plans to retire when the year is over.
Unfortunately it seems as if he has taken an earlier retirement given the production of the Jets special teams unit this year and even during the 2011 season.
Westhoff decided that the Jets would be better off moving on from punter Steve Weatherford, who has never had a punt blocked in his career, and brought in T.J. Conley as a replacement. Conley finished the season with 42.7 yards-per-punter average ranking him 30th in the league.
Kicker Nick Folk had a terrible 2011 season with 76% of field goals made, 26th in the league, and while Westhoff does not actually kick, he is responsible to ensure the kicker is capable of doing a competent job.
The Jets also led the league (2011) with six special teams turnovers, which of course gives the ball back to the opposition in good field position, a devastating mistake. Westhoff does not return kicks/punts but is responsible for who the returners are.
On the positive side the team was ranked 2nd (31.6 yard-per-return) in kickoff returns during the 2011 season.
A week before the season began Westhoff and the Jets decided to release Conley, who had a punt block returned for a touchdown during the preseason against the Cincinnati Bengals, but was never blocked in the regular season, and replace him with free agent punter Robert Malone.
Head coach Rex Ryan and Westoff both decided that it would be a good idea to use backup quarterback Tim Tebow as a personal protector on the punt team. Coach Ryan explained that teams would have to “think twice” before rushing the punter because Tebow’s ability to fake would force them to play safe.
While Tebow has had three successful fake punts (two runs, Dolphins/Texans, one pass, Colts) Malone has had two punts blocked in eight games (San Francisco 49ers, started drive on Jets 4 yard-line, Miami Dolphins returned for touchdown).
The Jets kickoff team allowed New England Patriots returner Devin McCourty a 104 yard touchdown return during their loss on October 21st.
The team gave up a 57 yard kickoff return to Dolphins returner Marcus Thigpen, allowed the Dolphins to recover an onside kick and block a field goal . Witnessed live with my own eyes last week’s Dolphins game was the worst special teams performance I’d ever seen.
Westhoff has had a productive coaching career and overcame personal adversity to succeed but it seems like the timing is right for him to move on to something else next year as the Jets special teams performances over the past two seasons make you wonder if he is still fully committed to coaching?