Brian Witherspoon (Getty Images)
Although each game begins with a special teams play, special teams’ matchups are often overlooked. When the Jaguars take on the Buffalo Bills in their home opener on Sunday, two of the best special teams units in the entire NFL will take the field.
In an otherwise dismal opening day performance for the Jaguars, their special teams units shined as bright as the Tennessee sun, as they covered kicks and punts to perfection, and debuted an explosive return man who has game-breaking ability in Brian Witherspoon.
“We were pleased with what Witherspoon did for us last weekend and we want to build on it,” Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said. “He’s a young player, he’s finding his way, he’s competing. He had a positive impact on the game for us and we’re pleased with that.”
Witherspoon averaged 22.5 yards per return on a pair of punt returns, and an amazing 41.3 yards per return on three kickoffs. At the end of the game, the Tennessee Titans were squib kicking, which is an enormous compliment for an undrafted rookie playing in his first game.
Even with his strong preseason performance, it was somewhat of a surprise that Del Rio went with the undrafted rookie from a little place called Stillman College on opening day.
“If you see enough to believe that the guy’s ready to handle it, then let him play,” Del Rio said. “He’s really been very steady. He’s come in from day one, he’s very comfortable in the situations we’ve placed him in and we’ll just continue to develop him and coach him and allow him to compete and create a role for himself. I think that’s the one thing that he attempted to do the day he got here, was to try and find a role.”
Lining up opposite Witherspoon and the Jaguars will be the dynamic Buffalo Bills return man, Roscoe Parrish. Parrish has been one of the top return men in the league, and on opening day, he returned a punt 63 yards for a touchdown. The Bills also faked a field goal and scored a touchdown.
“It set the momentum especially on offense,” said Roscoe Parrish of the special teams performance. “Special teams was a big part of that game. (Ryan) Denney had that big touchdown, we had a forced fumble and my punt return. That always sets the momentum and gets the team going.”
Parrish’s speed and vision in the return game is second to none, and although most small, quick return men tend to flame out after a few years, Parrish appears as if he’s going to be a valuable weapon for years to come.
“When he touches the ball you can sense it in our stadium,” said head coach Dick Jauron. “The people they start to buzz, they expect him to do it. I guess electrifying is the right word for him. The guys do a great job. They blocked well and then they stay alive because they know he may go by you three or four times on one run. So if you miss a block or get a block you have to get up and keep going because he keeps it alive for a long time.”
Roscoe Parrish has been a special teams stud ever since he was selected from the University of Miami in the second-round of the 2005 draft, and many who have seen the Jaguars Brian Witherspoon play believe he may have some of the same attributes.
“Parrish, I think, led the league last year, was probably one of the most dangerous guys with (Devin) Hester, in the league,” said Jack Del Rio. “Right now I think he’s got a ways to go to catch a guy like Parrish. They’ve got three guys that are really good returners. (Terrrence) McGee can return; he’s outstanding. Leodis McKelvin coming out of the draft this year was our top rated returner. So they have three guys that can really go. They’re collecting some really good talent at that return position.”
As for the rest of the special teams, Buffalo has advantages at both the kicker and punter positions, and Ryan Lindell has one of the most accurate legs in football, and Brian Moorman has earned a trip to a pair of Pro Bowls.
If the Jaguars are going to find a victory against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday they will likely have to win special teams, which is a task that’s much easier said that done.
Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering multiple teams in the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie is a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports and Sirius NFL Radio, and has been featured on the NFL Network. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.
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