Report card analysis: Special teams

I recently gave my report card for the Giants 2011 season position-by-position. But because there was only so much space to discuss each position, I wanted to go more in-depth on each position and spin it forward to next season.

Today we look at the special teams. Tomorrow: Coaching.


Grade: B+

A huge weakness from the season before became a strength at times. The Giants drastically improved their punting game thanks to the signing of Steve Weatherford. Weatherford’s punting was exceptional at times and he basically was almost as consistent and even clutch at what he did as Eli Manning was at quarterback.

They coverage on punts and kickoffs drastically improved as well thanks to an infusion of young athletes. Rookies Tyler Sash, Mark Herzlich, Greg Jones, Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger were among several young players who helped turn around a weakness from the season before.

Lawrence Tynes made 19-of-24 field goals and sent the Giants to the Super Bowl with a game-winning overtime field goal in San Francisco. He also had 34 touchbacks on kickoffs in the regular season.

The special teams, maligned in 2010 for allowing DeSean Jackson to break the Giants’ backs, had moments that saved and made the 2011 season. Jason Pierre-Paul provided a season-saving field goal block in Dallas.

And Devin Thomas’ two fumble recoveries on punts during the NFC Championship Game and Williams’ strip in overtime on a punt helped send the Giants to the Super Bowl. Heck, the Giants even tried blocking punts by using defensive ends like Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck to rush. And the Giants came close on several occasions.

The Giants’ weakness is the kickoff and punt return game, which basically provided little to nothing all season.

Looking ahead, Weatherford is an unrestricted free agent and an offseason priority. Thomas, Domenik Hixon, Michael Clayton, Aaron Ross and Will Blackmon are among other special teams contributors who are unrestricted free agents.

The Giants could try to address their return game from within with last year’s third-round pick Jerrel Jernigan, who did return some kickoffs. And the Giants likely will re-sign Hixon, who will be coming off his second torn ACL.

The Giants could draft a speedy returner to help upgrade the return game as well.

Tell us what you think the Giants should do on special teams and how you would have graded the unit.