The New York Giants special teams were anemic in 2017, one of many culprits in the team’s long and torturous tumble to an embarrassing 3-13 season that saw both their head coach and general manager fired during the season.
- The Giants finished last in the league in net yards per punt attempt (36.7). Awful punts by Brad Wing contributed mightily to crushing early-season losses to the Philadelphia Eagles and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
- The Giants gave up 10.4 yards per punt return, sixth-worst in the league. They were middle of the pack in kickoff coverage (19th), giving up 20.5 yards per return. The Giants were 31st in the league in punt return, averaging 5.5 yards, and 28th in kickoff return (19.6 yards). Those numbers contributed to a significant amount of lost field position.
- Rookie placekicker Aldrick Rosas made only 18-of-25 field-goal attempts (72 percent). Only the Los Angeles Chargers kickers (66.7) made a lower percentage of field goals last season.
In a perhaps under-appreciated part of the roster reconstruction undertaken by new GM Dave Gettleman, the Giants have aggressively set out to change that.
The Giants have a new special teams coach, will have a new punter, several new players who have been successful coverage players in other NFL stops, could have new return men and, while Rosas is still the current favorite for the kicking job, could have a new kicker.
That was Michael Thomas, a free agent-signee who has been perhaps the game’s best kick and punt coverage player for the past several seasons, talking this spring about the Giants’ new emphasis on special teams play.
“I think that obviously from the top down we understand the importance of special teams and field position in being able to impact the game. I think that obviously with the moves that we’ve made we’re making strides in that direction and we look forward to getting better,” said new special teams coach Thomas McGaughey. “You always want to be the best and I think that when you look at building a roster from the top down, the bottom up, yeah you’ve got to have those [special teams] pieces and I think those pieces are extremely important for us to move forward as a unit and as a team to get back to where we want to be.”
Let’s go through the different areas of special teams as we continue getting you ready for training camp, which officially opens on July 26.
The Giants have set up a competition between former Denver Broncos punter Riley Dixon [90-man roster profile] and Trevor Symmank [90-man roster profile], who lost a competition for the Minnesota Vikings job last season.
Dixon, formerly of the Syracuse Orange, was ousted after two seasons in Denver when the Broncos signed Marquette King. His reputation is as a directional kicker. Symmank is reputed to be a boomer with consistency issues.
McGaughey said in the spring that the Giants were not going to simply give up on the 23-year-old Rosas, formerly an NAIA kicker.
“I see a kid that was a rookie last year and like most rookies in this league, they’re inconsistent. It’s rare where you see a rookie that just comes in and just rips it up just walking through the door,” McGaughey said. “He’s young and like Dave Gettleman always says, we’re not going to give up on talent. He’s a talented guy and there’s some things that he can do that a lot of people can’t do and I think there’s some talent there and we’re going to work with that talent.”
Marshall Koehn, who kicked in one game for the Cincinnati Bengals last season, is currently his only competiton. No one would be surprised if the Giants add a more experienced to kicker to compete with, or replace, Rosas at some point.
Kick and punt coverage
Thomas was the Pro Football focus Special Teams Player of the Year for 2017, withy PFF calling him “the standard bearer for special teamers in the NFL right now.”
The roster is dotted with several newcomers who have been quality special teams players for other teams. Former Bronco Cody Latimer has been a good punt gunner and has kickoff return experience. Cornerback Teddy Williams is another. Linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong, who joined the Giants midseason a year ago, has long been a valuable special teams player. If he makes the 53-man roster, the return of Mark Herzlich will also boost that group.
Kick and punt return
As mentioned above, the Giants were lacking in the return game a year ago. Perhaps Hunter Sharp, who played two games for the Giants at the end of last season, will emerge as the primary return man on both punts and kickoffs. Rookie Saquon Barkley was a dynamic kickoff returner at Penn State, though the Giants may be reluctant to use him regularly in that role. Latimer can also return kickoffs. Sharp and Kalif Raymond, holdovers from last season, figure to be in the punt return competition. Who else will be part of that is not yet clear.