The Oakland Raiders have the Two Face of special teams units. On the one hand, they have very good kick coverage teams led by one of the best gunners in the NFL, Taiwan Jones. But on the other, the Raiders have been struggling to find consistency in their return game. Luckily for them, they have one of the better special teams coaches in the NFL in Bobby April and general manager Reggie McKenzie made a concerted effort to upgrade special teams during the offseason.
In the seventh round, the Raiders took a punt return specialist in seventh-rounder T.J. Carrie and a safety who will be very good in kick coverage in Jonathan Dowling. They also signed a familiar name: undrafted rookie free agent George Atkinson III, a kick return specialist. Obviously, all three are big question marks to actually make the team, but each player was added with special teams in mind.
2013 Return Statistics
- Taiwan Jones: 26 kickoff returns, 623 yards, 0 TD (24.0 yards per return)
- Jacoby Ford: 9 punt returns, 77 yards, 0 TD (8.6 yards per return)
- Greg Jenkins: 6 punt returns, 49 yards, 0 TD (8.2 yards per return)
- Phillip Adams: 8 punt returns, 59 yards, 0 TD (7.4 yards per return)
- Team kickoff returns: 22.2 yards per return (22nd in the NFL)
- Team punt returns: 8.2 yards per return (21st in the NFL)
The Raiders ranked 26th in the league in average starting position (26-yard line) last season. Four of the top five teams in starting field position last season were playoff teams: Kansas City, San Francisco, New England and Seattle, and the Seahawks and 49ers were the best teams in the entire league last year. While special teams is only a part of why those teams were successful, it’s not insignificant. Winning the field position game means a shorter field for offenses to score points and more room for defenses to keep points off of the board.
The Raiders have done well in kick coverage, but without a good return game they cannot truly take advantage. While they can prevent opposing return games from doing much, if the kicks all come from deep within the Raiders’ own territory, their opponents can start with good field position even without a return. Offense obviously plays a role in that as well.
Sebastian Janikowski and Marquette King aren’t going anywhere, providing some roster stability on a team where change has been a constant. With that out of the way, one of April’s primary goals this season will be to take a unit known for good kick coverage and turn it into an all around solid unit.
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